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HP Proposes 'VR Snacking' as a Solution for Engineering Workflows

Design News - Fri, 2018-11-16 05:00

An attendee at the 2018 Autodesk University Conference tries a demo of HP Labs' proof of concept for Opera Glass. (Image source: HP)

Even VR enthusiasts have to admit it can be a cumbersome experience: putting on a head-mounted display (HMD), handling controllers, possibly setting up sensors, and more. This experience is just inconvenient enough to keep engineers working with CAD and a standard workstation setup.

One solution, as proposed by HP Labs—the exploratory R&D wing of HP—is the concept of “VR snacking”—letting users quickly and easily switch between a standard monitor display and a VR headset. Think of it as having a dual-monitor setup—only the VR headset functions as the second monitor.

HP unveiled a proof of concept for VR snacking at the 2018 Autodesk University Conference in Las Vegas with a headset called Opera Glass. True to its namesake, the design of Opera Glass harkens back to old opera glasses (or theater glasses)—essentially, a small pair of binoculars on a stick. The idea is to eliminate the need to completely strap on a headset and allow designers to quickly look through the headset for quick work checks.


Let's say an engineer is designing a new part in 3D CAD. Anyone that has done this will be familiar with potential issues of scale and fit. One of the advantages of VR-based design and digital twins is they offer a glimpse of real world fidelity without having to produce a physical part. However, not many engineers are yet inclined or accustomed to designing solely in VR. In addition, switching back and forth between VR and 3D CAD can be a time suck.

According to a statement from HP, “HP Labs asked, 'What if...without leaving the desk, the designer grabs the VR Opera Glasses and looks through the VR view? The [product] is virtually presented at full scale. The designer returns to 3D CAD and modifies the design. The designer can quickly—nearly seamlessly—switch from 3D CAD to VR without getting up or gearing up.'”

An HP spokesperson told Design News that the company as of yet has no official plans to make Opera Glass an official product. Rather than a working prototype of a new product, what was on display at Autodesk University appears to be HP's Windows Mixed Reality headset with some external modifications to allow for the stick attachment.

What do you think of this idea? Would you opt for VR snacking over a full-on VR setup for your workflow? Let us know in the comments!

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at  Design News covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, and robotics.

Reader Submitted: now gear: Physical Products Designed to Enhance the Solo Traveling Experience

Core 77 - Fri, 2018-11-16 04:07

Travel needs a lot of planning and organization, but it should still be a magical experience. That's what now is about. As AirBnB transitions to the provider of 'magical trips', now offers a complete adventure for the solo traveler: from booking a home that is safe and verified for solo travelers to finding unique experiences at your travel destination. The hardware called now gear becomes an enabler of the experience. A true integration of physical, digital and experiential spaces to provide a magical trip for every solo traveler.

View the full project here

Midair 3D Printing: Making Coil Springs Without Support

Core 77 - Fri, 2018-11-16 04:07

This article was originally published on Makefast Workshop's blog. Check out the original article here

Note: If you just want to make some midair springs, skip ahead to the G-code generator.

Most 3D printable parts are designed to limit overhangs to 45 degrees or less. That's because maker-style 3D printers (technically FDM) build each layer from the bottom up, fusing the current layer onto the previous, and if there's nothing below a layer, the plastic will sag (or worse yet, form a glob and potentially ruin your part).

To get around the overhang limit, parts are often significantly modified (with chamfers to reduce overhangs) or support material is used to hold up sections that extend too far. But neither approach works all the time; sometimes you can't chamfer away the overhangs and/or rely on support material to bail you out.

Going Midair

Have you ever noticed that at the end of a print there's sometimes a small thread of plastic that seems to follow the exact path of the extruder after it finishes printing? This is often caused by a little extra filament continuing to flow/ooze as the print head pulls away. The plastic is thin enough to cool as it moves, tracing out the path in midair.

While those little threads aren't likely to be very useful, we wondered if we could apply that same approach to purposely trace out a 3D contour.

Note that this isn't something most STL/G-code slicers are going to do for you (yet). Slicers are focused on fusing layers together to create solid parts or shells and don't typically try to extrude filament in midair (with the exception of bridges that are supported on two sides).

Making Springs

We figured an extreme test of printing in midair would be to print a coil spring (specifically a helical compression spring).

Besides some high-end research using metal and lasers and a few one-off demos, midair printing seems rather underexplored -- the perfect opportunity to get hacking!

After a few quick refreshers on generating custom G-code, we made a short javascript function that traces out the desired 3D path, setting temperature, feedrate, fan speed, etc. along the way.

It took several iterations to dial in the parameters and sort out what worked/failed. Eventually we were able to consistently produce springs of various sizes and shapes.

The spring constant is admittedly tiny (i.e. it pushes back very lightly), but it's by far the springiest print we've ever made (incredibly smooth, consistent, and doesn't show any major signs of fatigue after lots of squeezes). And since the coil itself is a single strand, there's no worry of delamination along the coil (as is the case with most 3D printed springs).

Lessons Learned

Go with the flow.

The ideal extrusion flowrate should be pretty close to 1:1 for the distance traveled. 

Not extruding enough material pulls on the part, deforms it, and sometimes gets too thin or breaks. Extruding too much material causes uncontrollable ripples, sags, or globs if it collides with previous layers.

Move slooooowly and evenly.

Plastic takes a significant amount of time to cool (even with the fans on) and that means the print head must move slowly to allow time for the plastic to harden in midair as it goes.

Many plastics also ooze differently as the feedrate and temperature change, so once the midair section is started (or even slightly before), keep things steady. 

To give a sense for the time scale, each of the springs shown above took between 3-7 minutes to print (the first few layers are quick, then the midair coils move much more slowly).

Bubbles Break Things.

New filament should be dry and unlikely to bubble, but older filaments can have moisture trapped in the plastic that boils and sputters as it gets heated (causing uneven flowrate and weak sections).

When printing solid parts, small bubbles are usually just a cosmetic concern since other layers can share the load. But with midair printing which leverages a single continuous strand of filament, weak spots caused by bubbles can cause the part to fail.

Compensate for the extruder's pull.

As the filament is extruded, it tugs slightly on the existing cooled strand. Near the bottom where the part is well supported this has very little impact, but as the part grows taller the force displaces the strand more (think of it as a vertical end-loaded cantilever beam, with a growing lever arm as the print proceeds).

This means that the gGcode for a cylindrical coil spring actually flares out slightly near the top to produce a spring that is straight when completed.

Note that fully modeling the extruder's pull (or even push in the case of over-extruding) is tricky. Prints that only stretch out into midair briefly probably don't need to compensate much, but others (like very tall springs) require it to produce accurate parts.

Midair Spring G-Code Generator

Note: To view and experiment with the generator, visit the original article here.

Tuft + Paw is Not Your Grandma's Cat Furniture 

Core 77 - Fri, 2018-11-16 04:07
Image copyright Mia Cara and Tuft +Paw 2018

One of the main reasons why I don't want a cat (besides being allergic, which is a pretty big reason) is the ugly furniture cats require. I'd rather not invade my apartment with fragrant litter boxes, tan carpeted climbing posts and whatever else cats need so stay content with their indoor lifestyles. 

My mind is slowly changing, though, thanks to cat furniture and accessories brand Tuft + Paw. Instead of sticking with designs and materials that have sold well for years, Tuft + Paw saw a need for cat furniture that fits in with a modern home. To fill this need, they've designed a full collection of furniture and home items for cats, consisting of beds, shelves, scratching posts, litter boxes and more. Of course, the price points are higher than your typical plastic litter box, so you'll need to carefully consider how much (in dollar amount) your cat's luxury means to you. 

When asked if there are any special considerations when designing furniture for cats instead of humans, Tuft + Paw's design team responded with the following:

"Usually when you're designing a product, you start by asking potential users about their problems. Cat furniture presents a unique challenge because we can't actually ask cats what they want, what makes them happy, or the issues they have with current products. The way we solve this is by starting from the ground up and researching basic questions like 'what makes cats happy? why do cats scratch?'.

We work with cat behaviorists and local shelters to find the answers to these questions so that we can make some calculated design choices. And finally, the most important step is to test our assumptions by creating product prototypes and carefully observing cats use the product before moving forward with production."This cat shelf focuses your cat's jumping desires to a single, comfortable placeThis is a litter boxThe front opens up for easy cleaningThis cat is so cozy it's almost cute. (Image copyright Mia Cara and Tuft + Paw 2018)A scratching post that's more friendly on the eyes than the typical ones you find in pet stores or your grandma's living roomA subtle, wall-mounted scratching post. (Image copyright Mia Cara and Tuft + Paw 2018)

Explore more here.

Successful Networking by Design

Core 77 - Fri, 2018-11-16 04:07

There's an unfortunate trope that freelancers sit alone in coffee shops all day doing "computer things", like poring over the minuscule details of their work, scrolling through portfolios of fellow creatives for inspiration, or sending cold emails out to people who could potentially offer them their next freelance project. At the end of the day, they return home only to realize they haven't used their voice at all for warm conversation, and all that typing on their computer has been nothing close to personal or meaningful. 

Here's where Shapr comes in. Shapr is a free networking app that's designed to help creatives—and aspiring creatives—to connect with the right people. If you're a producer looking for freelance DPs, or a photographer hoping to team up with a writer on your next documentary project, chances are you'll be able to find someone on Shapr. 

The best part is that, unlike LinkedIn where people portray an image of professionalism and success in their headline (think: "seasoned industry professional with track record of boosting business sales"), Shapr takes a more personal approach served with a dash of vulnerability. You don't have to be at the top of your game on Shapr; instead, you should be someone who's working towards something and interested in learning more. When setting up your profile, the app asks you to describe your goals as well as how you can help others. It promotes a caring and sharing community, with no pressure to put your best face forward.

Shapr is also designed to encourage users to network for a small amount of time every day, instead of in spurts of hours. To make networking a daily habit, users are presented with a maximum of 15 profiles (or double that for a premium account), and then have to come back again the following day day for their next batch of people. The point is that these connections should be meaningful, and not mindless thumb swiping left and right when you're bored. 

The app also presents a lot more interesting information on each user's profile page to encourage you to take pause, read, click around, and get to know someone. Click on their LinkedIn if you want to learn about their career path. Click on their Instagram if you want to see where they like to go on vacation. The point is that Shapr makes an effort to present a multi-faceted image of a person. 

If you just matched with an awesome, super inspirational person who's juggling 5 projects that you'd LOVE to be a part of, and you don't know how to start talking to this person, Shapr's got your back. The app takes the awkwardness out of first conversations through a user interface that offers suggestions on conversation starters. Here's an example first liner, short and sweet: "Thanks for swiping right! Are you up for grabbing a coffee?" 

Another lovely feature is the "How we can meet" portion on everyone's profile. Users can choose up to 4 options, these include: "on a walk," "video call" "breakfast" and "weekends." Alas, no more being afraid of encroaching on personal time by suggesting a weekend rendezvous. Go ahead and have an early morning meetup over croissants right before work, if you know your match is a breakfast person too! 

If you think that Shapr is not for you because you're not creative or cool, take a pause and listen up. While targeting creative professionals and freelancers, the app is also remarkably popular in other industries as well. In just a few days on Shapr, I've come across lawyers hoping to make a career change, businessmen looking to invest in a new project, executives offering mentorship, and even a health coach who's interested in discussing ideas about how to live a life of wellness and meaning.

A close friend of mine who has been in the finance industry for the past 6 years recently asked me for some advice. He's hit a stalemate. He wants to branch out, meet new people, and work on a creative project—it's about time for a change! The problem? He doesn't know how to get started doing that. He needs mentors and partners but his social circle is so limited to the same people. My advice to him? Try Shapr! You should too.

So what are you waiting for? Download Shapr today and get started!

Design Job: Need Some Direction? The LA Metro is Seeking a Senior Graphic Designer

Core 77 - Fri, 2018-11-16 04:07

To provide advanced-level professional graphic design solutions that convey information about Metro’s wide ranging programs, projects and services. Leads design teams from concept to completion of small, medium, and large-scale projects including defining design criteria, conducting research, creating team assignments, and schedules, providing design direction and refining presented concepts and designs. Conceptualizes, designs, refines, and produces creative work for Metro’s internal and external clients and/or employs Metro’s existing design standards and templates.

View the full design job here

How to Build a Type of Fire You've Never Seen Before: The "Long-Log" Fire

Core 77 - Fri, 2018-11-16 04:07

Paul Kirtley is a professional outdoor skills instructor in the UK. Founder of Frontier Bushcraft, Kirtley teaches wilderness skills and self-reliance to both camping enthusiasts and hardcore survivalists.

In an old Swedish book, Kirtley uncovered a description of unique type of fire called Nuorssjo, and referred to as den bästa stockelden (literally, "the best logfire") by the Swedes. This type of fire differs from others in both its configuration and its long-lived design; it is intended to be used in deep snow when it's time to get some shuteye, and the way it's constructed provides enduring heat. Check out the technique:

Kirtley's tip-loaded blog is here, and he's got a dense and informative YouTube channel here.

3D Printing Ligaments and Tendons

Design News - Fri, 2018-11-16 04:00

Researchers are trying to make things easier on people who damage ligaments and tendons by 3D bioprinting the tissue using patients’ own cells to help speed their recovery.

A team at the University of Utah has developed a method to 3D print cells to produce this type of human tissue by taking stem cells from the patient’s own body fat and printing them on a layer of hydrogel to form a tendon or ligament, said University of Utah biomedical engineering assistant professor Robby Bowles. They then grow the cells in vitro in a culture before implanting them in a patient, he said in a University of Utah press release.

“It will allow patients to receive replacement tissues without additional surgeries and without having to harvest tissue from other sites, which has its own source of problems,” said Bowles, who led the research. The novel process can allow for faster recovery for people with damage to ligaments and tendons because it eliminates that need to harvest tissue from other sites on the body, which is typically done today in such tissue-replacement surgeries, he noted.

University of Utah biomedical engineering assistant professor Robby Bowles and his team have developed a method to 3D print cells to produce human tissue, such as ligaments and tendons, using a patient’s own fat cells to help improve recovery outcomes. (Image source: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering)

This surgery is not easy for clinicians to perform because connective tissue such as that of ligaments and tendons is made up of different cells in complex patterns, Bowles said. For example, cells that make up the tendon or ligament must then gradually shift to bone cells so the tissue can attach to the bone.

What researchers have developed “is a technique in a very controlled manner to create a pattern and organizations of cells that you couldn’t create with previous technologies,” he said. “It allows us to very specifically put cells where we want them.” 

Bowles and his team had help in doing the intricate work required for their method from Salt Lake City-based company, Carterra, Inc., which develops microfluidic devices for medicine.

A Special Print Head

Carterra provided the 3D printer for the work—one that is typically used to print antibodies for cancer screening applications. To customize it for the current research, Bowles’ team developed a special print head for the printer that can lay down human cells in a very controlled way, he said. Researchers then demonstrated a proof of concept by printing out genetically modified cells that glow a fluorescent color so they can visualize the final product. Researchers—including former University of Utah biomedical engineering master’s student, David Ede—published a paper on their work in the Journal of Tissue Engineering, Part C: Methods.


The team developed its method for creating ligaments, tendons, and spinal discs, but “it literally could be used for any type of tissue engineering application,” said Bowles, who specializes in musculoskeletal research. Scientists also can customize the print head for any kind of 3D printer and apply the work to 3D-printing entire human organs—something researchers have been aiming to do for years, he added.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York City. In her free time, she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga, and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

Pacific Design & Manufacturing, North America’s premier conference that connects you with thousands of professionals across the advanced design & manufacturing spectrum, will be back at the Anaheim Convention Center February 5-7, 2019! Don’t miss your chance to connect and share your expertise with industry peers during this can't-miss event. Click here to pre-register for the event today!


DesignCon: Go Because I Need To; Stay Because I Want To

Design News - Fri, 2018-11-16 03:00

Pictured is a young engineers’ panel at DesignCon. Engineers would happily stay up all night solving a problem rather than let it get the better of them. Why? (Image source: DesignCon)

Over breakfast recently, I was discussing with a friend how important events are in the life of an engineer. Then, I realized that in just a couple short months, I’ll be packing up to head to Santa Clara for one of the best and most useful technical engineering mashups of the year: DesignCon! 

Having spent many years traveling to and participating in shows as part of a large corporation, it has become clearer as an independent just how important events are as both educational and community meet-and-greet opportunities. The topic of discussion over breakfast was specifically about what’s most enjoyable at events: big loud evening parties where everyone acts like they’re having fun, or hands-on educational sessions.

Speaking from a purely personal point of view, it’s more enjoyable to get together and learn something useful while chatting and collaborating with other engineers. The starkness of my own preference was made clear to me at one of the Design Automation Conference (DAC) 2018 parties. A year ago, I got to sit down in Philadelphia at a LoRaWAN session and learn with a room full of engineers how to get up and running with a low-power LoRaWAN wireless connection. The session was led by a Microchip engineer, but as with almost all demonstrations and lessons, there were “complications” that were beyond his control, such as a flooded Wi-Fi router that couldn’t handle the packed room. But as it turns out, working with the folks next to me and collaborating to resolve ensuing complications with the software itself ended up being all part of the fun. I literally had to be dragged out by a colleague to get to the next session.

At the DAC 2018 party, however, the music was too loud (for me) and wasn’t something I’d normally listen to. I said a few hellos, tried to talk and listen, gave up, and went back to the hotel. Maybe it’s an age thing. Regardless, it wasn’t very useful or enjoyable (for me), though it seemed others were having fun.

The point is: Engineers are often happiest solving problems. And the best way to learn how to solve new problems is to learn new tricks, techniques, approaches, and technologies—even if that means making time out to attend an event.

I once heard someone comment casually about engineers and problems: A typical young engineer starting out would prefer to stay up all night in a dorm closet solving a technical problem, rather than give in to it.

That about sums it up. Is it purely the challenge? Is it ego? One-upmanship over classmates, friends, or colleagues? Maybe it’s a bit of all of the above. All I know is that there’s nothing quite like the feeling of euphoria that hits when something works that didn’t work before.


Feed Your Need at DesignCon 2019

To keep getting that hit of euphoria, events like DesignCon are not only needed; they’re compulsory. I’m personally not a fan of Chip Head. Like an electronic version of Pennywise, he just creeps me out and I always avoid him. But otherwise, DesignCon is almost the perfect way to start the engineering year.

For 2019, the management team added a new track on Machine Learning (Track 15). That’s about as appropriate and up to date as it gets. Machine learning is all about data and pattern recognition and feature extraction. I’ve often said that few people know more about gathering data than test and measurement gurus. The problem is analyzing the data. Typically, only 10% gets analyzed in any real fashion. Machine Learning is changing all that and exposing patterns for which one would never have even thought to look.

There’s lots more to look forward to, of course: technical papers, panels, and boot camps on literally everything from Track 1 on “Signal & Power Integrity for Single Multi Die, Interposer & Packaging” through to Track 15 on “Machine Learning for Microelectronics, Signal & System Design.”

I hope to see you there. But before I do sign off, there’s a music video from the ‘80s, or was it the ‘90s (oops)? In it, there’s a kid dressed in a bee outfit that can’t seem to find a place to fit in. Near the end, he comes to a wire fence and behind the wire fence, there are a whole “hive” of other kids dressed as bees, just like him, all playing and having fun. That’s the feeling I get when I walk into DesignCon: These are the real engineers making real things work. And that’s why I hope to see you in January (29 to 31, 2019) in Santa Clara!

Patrick Mannion is an independent writer and industry analyst who has been tracking developments in wireless communications for over 20 years. 

By Engineers, For Engineers. Join our in-depth conference program with over 100 technical paper sessions, panels, and tutorials spanning 15 tracks. Learn more: DesignCon. Jan. 29-31, 2019, in Santa Clara, CA. Register to attend. Hosted by Design News’ parent company, UBM.


HyperSizer Reduces Weight and Speeds the Design of the Dream Chaser Spacecraft

Design News - Thu, 2018-11-15 05:00

With a go-ahead from NASA for a first mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2020, the Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Dream Chaser spacecraft team is now reviewing flight performance data. It also is refining the vehicle’s design adaptations to meet mission requirements for changing payloads using the Collier Research Corp.’s HyperSizer software.

This is an artist’s concept of the Dream Chaser spacecraft. Its first trip to the International Space Station is planned for late 2020. (Image source: Sierra Nevada Corp.)

The HyperSizer tool provides critical insights into the strength, weight, and manufacturability of designs for both composite and metal structures. The goal of HyperSizer is to reduce the weight of existing designs by 20% to 40%. The software plays a role in margin-of-safety certification for aerospace projects and is also applied to wind, marine, and other fields that require high performance and light-weighting while maintaining durability.

Software Born at NASA in the 1980s

The Dream Chaser project is a coming home event for HyperSizer. “The software was originally developed by NASA in the 1980s and later commercialized by Craig Collier,” James Ainsworth, aerospace stress engineer at Collier Research, told Design News. “It was originally used on space launch vehicles, and now it’s being used to design parts for many commercial spacecraft. The software is also used to design sporting goods such as golf clubs. HyperSizer is an automation tool for detailed stress analysis and sizing of many strength and stiffness critical structures across many industries.”

The current model of the autonomous, reusable Dream Chaser—officially named Commercial Resupply Service 2 (CRS-2) —will transport pressurized and unpressurized cargo to and from the ISS with a launch window of late 2020. The vehicle also has the potential for satellite servicing, orbital-debris removal, and exploration technology testing.

Accommodating Stress While Reducing Weight

HyperSizer was used by the Sierra Nevada team on nearly all of the primary composite structures for the launch-approved CRS-2. “Our software is deployed in a big way on the Dream Chaser. It was used to make parts lighter in weight,” said Ainsworth. “SNC was able to do it with a small team, since the automation process reduces manpower. With other software, you’d need a larger team.”


The engineers at SNC faced structural challenges with the design of the Dream Chaser. They had to accommodate changing cargo weights and different re-entry trajectories while withstanding significant deflection forces. “The SNC team did a great job of incorporating HyperSizer into their design and analysis process in order to hit weight and schedule targets,” said Ainsworth. “They took full advantage of the software’s scripting API to customize the workflow and automate data exchange with their suite of CAE software tools. This enabled the team to move rapidly from whole-scale optimization to detailed analysis and stress reporting.”

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

Pacific Design & Manufacturing, North America’s premier conference that connects you with thousands of professionals across the advanced design & manufacturing spectrum, will be back at the Anaheim Convention Center February 5-7, 2019! Don’t miss your chance to connect and share your expertise with industry peers during this can't-miss event. Click here to pre-register for the event today!


Why Product Testing and Certification Really Matters

Design News - Thu, 2018-11-15 04:00

Quality-built home and industrial electronic devices have marks indicating that they have passed a variety of tests. The UL mark shown here indicates extensive evaluation and testing. (Image source: AutomationDirect)

These days, we really don’t concern ourselves with questions around product safety all that often. Our homes and plants are full of electronic equipment and, under normal circumstances, we don’t worry about a refrigerator, computer, or electric motor causing a fire. We take it for granted that these products are built well and tested to ensure safe performance because most of them are.

At least this was the working assumption. But things are changing for the worse with some components—particularly for industrial use.

For the last 20 years and more, the bulk of the electrical components used in industrial facilities have come from companies that are known for their reliability and quality—much of which is assured through careful product design and thorough testing. Users might assume this is the case for all electrical components. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

What happens when inferior products are selected—either unknowingly or as a means to reduce cost? This type of situation is happening more often in the world of manufacturing because of both the growing interest in devices from the Maker community and the growing ease of purchasing inexpensive electronic components from no-name suppliers.

Understanding Quality Differentiators

Not all products are tested according to any government standards because testing is expensive and requires more sophisticated circuit design.

For someone working on a basic industrial project and needing a standard electronic automation device, there are many potential suppliers with a wide range of prices. Some searching on eBay can turn up unbranded units that cost barely one-quarter the price of even a high-value supplier, with other name brand units offered at far higher prices.

We’ll assume the un-branded unit works, but it will likely have few if any marks showing it has passed any certifications or tests. The customer in this case has no assurance that the unit has ever been checked for any type of manufacturing quality outside of powering up correctly. The more expensive choices will undoubtedly come with an assortment of testing marks, such as Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL), Conformité Européene (CE), Canadian Standards Association (CSA), and possibly others determined by the country of origin and intended markets. 

Similarly, someone wanting to use “maker” devices in a project has to be careful as to the source of the products. For example, the basic Arduino UNO, if made by the Arduino company, is provided with the CE and US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) marks. Additionally, it is ROHS compliant. These together designate that it meets the most basic requirements for levels of potentially hazardous chemical content, such as lead and cadmium—necessary for legal sale in the EU countries. The FCC mark indicates that it doesn’t cause excessive amounts of radio frequency interference (RFI).

Two functionally equivalent “Uno” boards, one from Arduino (left) and the other a clone, do not carry the same certifications. (Image source: AutomationDirect)

Why Testing Matters

Those are fine as far as they go, but they don’t mean nearly as much as the kind of analysis and testing done by a nationally recognized testing laboratory (NRTL) such as UL. Moreover, it only applies to products actually made by Arduino. The bigger problem is that an equivalent board can be purchased from multiple manufacturers because the UNO design is open source. Anyone can make and sell a functionally equivalent board. It may operate exactly as it should, but it may not have any certifications at all. Let the buyer beware.

Product testing and certifications do not create quality, but they ensure a product is designed and manufactured with quality as a primary objective. Testing always requires using some standard as the yardstick (see table). For example, making sure a PLC can operate without getting excessively hot can be examined under IEC 61131-2. It covers more performance areas and goes into much greater detail. Basically, it defines circumstances of normal operation, the potential amount of time involved, and what temperature qualifies as excessive. The more complex the standard, the more complex the testing.

Standards may be imposed externally or internally. Manufacturing a product so it can carry the UL mark means it has to be tested to the relevant UL standard, verified by UL. In other cases, another lab certified by the standard-issuing organization can perform the test, but it can’t be done by the manufacturer. On the other hand, a manufacturer may perform its own tests. It can follow an existing standard, such as a MIL-STD, and say that the testing has been carried out in conformance with the standard.


The actual testing process pushes the product to any limits spelled out in the standard. If the standard requires it to survive a drop of 15 feet to a concrete floor, it will be dropped 15 feet to a concrete floor. If a switch has to be capable of surviving 50,000 cycles, it will be switched 50,000 times. Testing labs take these things very literally.

If an existing standard is not available or doesn’t pertain to the product as desired, a company can impose its own standard on a product. For example, let’s say it wants to advertise a new device designed for use in cold climates, able to perform when it is -40 degrees fahrenheit. The manufacturer may hire an external testing lab to carry out the test, but it may do it internally because it is an in-house standard. It will write its own procedure saying the unit must be placed in a freezer at -42 degrees for 24 hours before powering up, etc. The objective is figuring out a way to prove the point being claimed in a repeatable and documentable manner. Prospective purchasers can decide if they accept its validity or not.

Shown are the internals of an unbranded, uncertified temperature display. It carries no marks at all, so there is no assurance it was designed well, uses quality components, or was assembled properly. For example, the MA+ connection at the lower left does not appear to be soldered, and the adjacent connections are hand soldered and inconsistent. (Image source: AutomationDirect)

What Standards Include

Standards go well beyond simply describing testing procedures. Testing is certainly part of the process, but it goes much deeper to include how the product is designed and manufactured. A new product going through initial evaluation by an NRTL like UL will need to be studied in great detail. The first step is deciding which standards might apply for the type of product and its applications. Once established, the examiners begin looking for a variety of characteristics, including but not limited to:

  • If the components are appropriate for the application and procured from reliable suppliers. UL maintains lists of recognized suppliers of individual components that are considered acceptable. Those not on the list have to be tested.

  • If the circuit board and internal component layouts ensure conductors and board traces are wide enough for expected current levels, components have sufficient space between them, internal spaces allow heat dissipation, etc.

  • If the power supply is stable and capable of delivering sufficient current for all operating conditions without creating excessive RFI or heat.

  • If the design and construction files detailing the thought processes used for overall configuration, component selection, and assembly demonstrate correct thinking and analysis.

The list could go on at great length. Suffice it to say there are many elements typically entering into the discussion that are dictated by the nature of the product and its applications.

How Much Testing is Enough?

Standards issuers and testing organizations used for industrial electronic components and devices:     ABS—American Bureau of Shipping FCC—US Federal Communications Commission ANSI—American National Standards Institute FM—Factory Mutual ATEX—Atmosphères Explosibles EU Directive IEC—International Electrotechnical Commission Baseefa—British Approval Service for
Electrical Equipment in Flammable Atmospheres  ISO—International Organization for Standards CCC—China Compulsory Certificate NFPA—National Fire Protection Association CE—Conformité Européene TÜV—Technischer Übervachungsverein CGMP—Current Good Manufacturing Practices, US FDA UL—Underwriter’s Laboratories CSA—Canadian Standards Association VDE—Verband der Elektrotechnik DIN—Deutsches Institut für Normung  

Most people who explore this topic in any depth are astonished by the number of testing organizations around the world and the mind-boggling number of standards. These stem from the days before globalization, when most industrial countries had their own locally manufactured products. Circuit breakers made in Germany were used there as well, and their own NRTL networks grew up to service those producers and users. The same thing happened in most other industrially advanced countries.

Nowadays, products can be produced and used anywhere, but the national concept of NRTLs persists. To a large extent, a user in Germany still has to have products tested and certified locally, but this is beginning to break down. For example, the CE mark in Europe applies to all the EU countries. Similarly, UL can do one test that applies equally in Canada and the US, but these are still exceptions to the larger regional rules.

Consequently, an automation product manufacturer has to launch a testing program for every major country. This creates a lot of duplicated effort, but at least most countries have relatively similar testing criteria. There are differences from country to country and some are stricter than others. But a truly well-designed and manufactured product can pass most examinations. Nonetheless, paying for all that testing can run up costs into the six figures and delay introduction of a product for months.

To further complicate matters, NRTLs usually insist on testing actual production models of a product rather than prototypes. This means a manufacturer has to gear up and produce months before they can have the necessary marks applied. This also adds cost.

The number of certifications required by a given customer will depend on a variety of factors. Some are regionally based and required by law. Specific types of plants—particularly those with hazardous environments, such as oil refining or chemical manufacturing—may have requirements outlined by a regulatory agency or industry group. Similarly, an insurance provider can impose minimum requirements needed to keep policies in force.

A Means, not an End

Product designers who know their efforts will be dissected under a microscope by a dispassionate evaluator realize they can’t cut corners. Everything has to be executed correctly at every phase of the process. Test and certification are simply a verification of the correct process. Passing the test is important, but not as important as a desire to create and build quality products.

Bill Dehner is a technical marketing engineer for AutomationDirect. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering with an associate’s degree in avionics from the USAF. He has spent the majority of his 14-year engineering career designing and installing industrial control systems for the oil and gas, power, and package handling industries.

Tim Dunn is a design engineer for Host Engineering. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from West Virginia University. He has worked as a reliability and design engineer for a variety of companies, including Siemens and Texas Instruments. At Host Engineering, is responsible for design, development, testing, and certifications of many PLC product lines for AutomationDirect.

Inside a "Luxury Survival Condo" Built Inside an Abandoned Missile Silo

Core 77 - Thu, 2018-11-15 02:56

The last time we looked at a home built inside a former missile silo, it was Matthew and Leigh Ann Fulkerson's "Subterra" home, which was then listed on AirBNB. But the Fulkersons have nothing on developer Larry Hall, who purchased a decommissioned Atlas missile silo in Kansas and converted it into 15 stories' worth of Luxury Survival Condos.

Take a look inside, and note that many of the condos are already sold:

I do like how they call it an "undisclosed location" in Kansas, yet if you Google "luxury survival condo" the address pops right up.

Novel User Interface Design: Special Projects' Experimental "Magic UX" System

Core 77 - Thu, 2018-11-15 02:56

London-based product design firm Special Projects has developed an experimental phone UI that's simultaneously forward- and backward-looking. I mean that figuratively, not literally. The designers focused on the non-intuitive nature of switching between apps, and came up with this Magic UX alternative:

?Magic UX by Special Projects from Special Projects on Vimeo.

On the one hand it's undeniably clever. On the other hand, technology has reached the point where I can no longer tell if we're moving forwards or backwards.

How Online Shopping Will Change the Shape of Bottles

Core 77 - Thu, 2018-11-15 02:56

"Shelf presence" has driven the design of bottles for decades. That's because consumer product bottles were traditionally sold on store shelves, as discussed in the previous entry on this topic. But now that online shopping is growing exponentially, bottle designs are changing to meet the very different needs of e-commerce.

Once shelf presence is removed from the equation, designers can now focus more on efficiency, as seen with Proctor & Gamble's new Tide Eco-Box for e-commerce. Since consumers aren't picking these off of a store shelf but have ordered them online, all the packaging needs to do is store the maximum amount of liquid using the smallest amount of packaging materials that will get the contents there safely, and be functional in the end user's laundry routine.

"Products sold online typically need to be packaged with a second or third layer of packaging like cardboard boxing and bubble wrap that's then discarded by the consumer. To address this, P&G designed the Tide Eco-Box to ship as efficiently as possible on its journey from a manufacturing site to a retailer's warehouse to a consumer's front door.""The Tide Eco-Box arrives on a shopper's doorstep in a sealed, shipping-safe cardboard box. Inside the box is a sealed bag of ultra-compacted Tide liquid laundry detergent. To use, a perforated cardboard flap is peeled off to reveal a dosing cup and a new "no-drip" twist tap. To make dosing simpler on flat surfaces, the box includes a pull-out stand to raise the height of the box so the cup fits easily beneath the tap."

I guess it's good that I got in the work experience I did with structural package design prior to this development. If all of my former employer's products were sold this way, I estimate that me and at least two other guys in the department would not have had jobs. Designing a cardboard box, and using what's probably an off-the-shelf Doi pack inside, would not have required the manpower of what was already a small team of designers.

h/t Gizmodo

Design Job: Refresh Your Taste Buds and Career: The Coca-Cola Company is Seeking an Experiential Design Manager 

Core 77 - Thu, 2018-11-15 02:56

Exciting opportunity for a newly created role to lead the reimagination of our World of Coke museum and expand the retail prescence of our brand locally, nationally,and potentially internationally. Projects include the creative design and production of new exhibits and shopping experiences, including audio-visual media, permanent and temporary exhibits/fixtures, way-finding signage and consumer messaging, artwork, and interactive applications. Function Specific Activities

View the full design job here

Why Consumer Product Bottles are Always Wider Than They Are Deep

Core 77 - Thu, 2018-11-15 02:56

The branch of industrial design I spent the most time working in was called "structural package design," i.e. bottles. Our SPD department was small compared to Graphics and Marketing, which is typical for most corporate I.D. gigs, and that was partially a function of how bottles were sold prior to the emergence of online shopping.

Just the five of us in SPD designed all of the bottles sold around the world by the global corporation that employed us. All of our consumer products, whether sold in Thailand, Peru or North America, were sold on store shelves. Consumers looked at our bottles, and looked at our competitors' bottles standing next to them, and made a decision on which to purchase.

So we didn't design our bottles in a vacuum. Marketing reviewed everything for "shelf presence"--when designing a vessel to hold 500mL of product, could we make it taller and wider than a competitor's 500mL bottle? Could we provide enough label area for Graphics to create an eye-catching display? This is why, if you look at most consumer product bottles today, they are usually wider than they are deep--even where a cylindrical shape would make better ergonomic sense. (Note that this does not apply to carbonated beverages and aerosols, which are always in bottles with circular cross-sections for the same reason airplane fuselages are: To evenly distribute pressurization.)

The labeling is always, obviously, on the wider faces of the bottle. Which presents a problem for end users: Face labels really don't make sense for storage. 

Look inside your medicine cabinet, pantry or garage. How are your bottles stored? Do you store them like this…

…so that you can see what each product is? Probably not. Imagine storing your books in this way; it would be ridiculous. You probably instinctively turn your wide-and-shallow bottles sideways for greater space efficiency. And unless you have memorized each bottle's color and profile, you fish through them to find the one that you want.

Ideally bottles would be labeled like books, on their "spines" or handle sides so that they could be stored more space-efficiently.

In situations with standalone bottles, like with dishwashing soap or liquid soap hand pumps, I think most people instinctively place them face-out, presenting the label. Go into anyone's bathroom and if they've got a liquid soap hand pump, I bet it's placed face-out--even though this needlessly eats up a disproportionate amount of real estate on the sink.

In other words:

Bottles were traditionally sold on store shelves. And that shopping modality drove the design--which is not the best design for actual consumer convenience, but the best design to get you to buy them off of a store shelf.

But as we shall see in the next entry, this is beginning to change.

Art Institute of Chicago Makes 50,000 Famous Artworks Freely Downloadable

Core 77 - Thu, 2018-11-15 02:56

Monets, Munchs and Mondrians: The Art Institute of Chicago has photographed over 50,000 artworks in their collection and made all of them freely available online, in high definition.

In addition to paintings and drawings, there are shots of architectural interiors and exteriors, floorplans, sculptures, writings, objects, draftings and sketches. At press time the site was a little buggy, with some of the images failing to load; but with some 52,446 works and counting to choose from, you're bound to find, for free, something you'd have paid good money to have a print of. Dive in here.

via Kottke

Toy Design History: How They Came Up with the Magic 8 Ball

Core 77 - Thu, 2018-11-15 02:56

It's a pretty weird toy, if you think about it: An ink-filled, oversized billiards ball that predicts the future when you shake it. But as with a lot of successful product designs--and make no mistake, the Magic 8 Ball is successful, with over one million units still sold each year--it went through several iterations before its current form was realized.

In the 1940s a woman named Mary Carter was earning a living as a clairvoyant in Cincinnati. She came up with an object that she'd use with her clients, a container that held a small chalk slate. It's not clear how she managed it, but she would reportedly shake the container, then open it to reveal the answer to a client's question written on the slate.

Mary's son Albert saw commercial potential. He advanced the design into something anyone could operate: A simple cylinder filled with molasses, and two dice with answers written on each face. Both ends of the cylinders were transparent. When it was shaken and up-ended, one of the dice would drift to the top, revealing a random face/answer. Carter called it the Syco-Seer.

Albert brought the idea to a local merchant, Max Levinson. Levinson was enthused by the product and contacted his brother-in-law Abe Bookman, a graduate of the Ohio Mechanics Institute, to figure out how they could mass-produce them. Somewhere during this process Albert died, leaving Bookman and Levinson to patent subsequent designs of the object.

Bookman first reduced the number of windows to one and changed the product name to the Syco-Slate. Molasses was swapped out for inky water. 

He then struck upon the idea of changing the overall shape to that of a crystal ball. In 1950 this attracted the attention of a Chicago-based company called Brunswick Billiards, who were seeking a unique promotional item for the company. They contacted Bookman, who produced an 8 ball variant. The design was so successful that after the Brunswick contract was up, Bookman continued producing the design as an 8 ball.

The product was a big hit with children, and the Magic 8 ball went from novelty store to toy store. Today it's owned by Mattel, and it's just been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

Fun Fact: Of the 20 possible answers provided by a Magic 8 Ball, ten are affirmative, five are negative and five are those lame non-committal answers.

Dutch Design Week 2018: "If Not Us, Then Who?"

Core 77 - Thu, 2018-11-15 02:56

Dutch Design Week is the largest design event in Northern Europe and presents work and concepts from more than 2,600 designers to more than 335,000 visitors from home and abroad.

This year's event took place from 20–28 October 2018 with the annual theme "If not us, then who?" the Dutch Design Week is addressing its role and responsibility of design(ers) in creating our future world.

We covered the main exhibitions from all over town in this gallery including material experiments, a few installations and product concepts. We'll follow up with a closer look on three major exhibitions.

If not us, then who?This year's theme focuses on the impact and responsibility of design(ers) in defining how our future world will look like.
Photo credit: Photo by Aart van Bezooijen
Making and Metal
The national Crafts Council organization is sharing results of a five day masterclass where eight curious designers collaborated with experienced metalworkers. These metal/wood experiments are by Nane-Sophie Bergmann.Photo credit: Photo by Aart van Bezooijen
Making and Metal
The national Crafts Council organization is sharing results of a five day masterclass where eight curious designers collaborated with experienced metalworkers. These metal/wood experiments are by Nane-Sophie Bergmann.Photo credit: Photo by Aart van Bezooijen
What Matter_sTen design studios and ten material researchers from southern Sweden have been collaborating at the intersection of art and science during six months.
Designer Anny Wang and architect Tim Söderström have been working with the NanoLund company. They were impressed with the (invisible) nanowire structures mimicked them into something visible, a heating element to regulate room temperature.Photo credit: Photo by Aart van Bezooijen
What Matter_sTen design studios and ten material researchers from southern Sweden have been collaborating at the intersection of art and science during six months.
Industrial designer Petra Lilja collaborated with bioscientist Ramune Kukaite and developed bioplastic recipies based on wheat-derived gluten. This material exploration titled "Gleather Glubber" demonstrates a wide range of shapes, colors and textures for future design applications.Photo credit: Photo by Marina Jackler
VEEMThis year, the Dutch Invertuals were invited as curator to transform the parking garage of the VEEM building into an impressive exhibition. Endless flows of visitors used the glowing car ramps to move between floors.
Photo credit: Photo by Aart van Bezooijen
This Is UrineSinae Kim (Central Saint Martins) is demonstrating her Urine Ware, a collection of decorative vessels glazed with urine-based minerals. Her project demonstrates the potential use of 2,8 billion gallons of human urine which is currently unused/wasted per day on a global scale. The shape of the vessels is inspired by the human bladder.Photo credit: Photo by Aart van Bezooijen
This Is UrineSinae Kim (Central Saint Martins) is demonstrating her Urine Ware, a collection of decorative vessels glazed with urine-based minerals. Her project demonstrates the potential use of 2,8 billion gallons of human urine which is currently unused/wasted per day on a global scale. The shape of the vessels is inspired by the human bladder.Photo credit: Photo by Aart van Bezooijen
This Is Not A VaseRobert Hahn (Burg Giebichenstein University Halle) takes an artistic approach to the industrial extrusion technology. Unlike creating perfect/straight profiles, his objects (not vases) are formed using the pasty behavior of various clays.Photo credit: Photo by Robert Haslbeck
150 Wooden ShoesMax Stalter (Burg Giebichenstein University Halle) has been exploring the symbolic power of the wooden shoe. He manipulated various wooden shoes to reflect contextual issues such as climate change, personal identity, political views, social status and advertising, or better said: "branding".Photo credit: Photo by Robert Haslbeck
View the full gallery here

Forthcoming Documentary Detailing the Formation of the New Bauhaus in America

Core 77 - Thu, 2018-11-15 02:56

Next year will be the Centennial anniversary of the Bauhaus' founding. And 2019 will also be the year that "The New Bauhaus," an upcoming documentary covering the Bauhaus' spread to America, will debut.

László Moholy-Nagy was a Bauhaus professor from 1923 to 1928, after which he started his own design studio in Berlin. Capable of industrial design, sculpture, photography, typography, painting and printmaking, Moholy-Nagy might have had a long career in Germany. But as the Nazis came to power Moholy-Nagy, a Hungarian Jew, fled first to the Netherlands, then the UK.

In London Maholy-Nagy and Walter Gropius hoped to started a UK-based Bauhaus, but could not secure funding. But by 1937 Moholy-Nagy made his way to Chicago to form the New Bauhaus in America, which is now known as the IIT (Illinois Institute of Technology) Institute of Design.

Thankfully, architect/director Alysa Nahmias, producer Petter Ringbom and their crew have captured Moholy-Nagy's story--and have successfully Kickstarted enough funds to complete the production. There are still three days left in the campaign if you'd like to contribute, and the film should be released around December of next year.