Thursday, June 19, 2008
Some time back (don't remember exactly when) I was reading my monthly issue of Fine WoodWorking magazine and there was a piece about designing furniture with Google's free SketchUp 3D modeler. I read the piece with some interest as I've been designing woodworking projects in SolidWorks for a long time.
The problem is designing casual woodworking projects in SolidWorks is it's akin to taking a Formula 1 race car to get a gallon of milk at the grocery. While it certainly can be done, it's not the most cost or time efficient methodology out there. Some time back I had casually reviewed SketchUp (I honestly don't remember which version) and had been underwhelmed. In any event, I downloaded a copy and began investigating.
Spelunking around, I found some on-line tutorials and began to play with SketchUp. It's a completely different mindset than SolidWorks and no where near as powerful, but it was just the thing I was looking for to hash out casual woodworking projects. The neat thing about SketchUp is being free, an amazing user community has sprung up which includes a 3D model depositry hosted by Google.
While all this was going on, my wife and I purchased a house in Reston that is definitely a fixer upper. We knew from the outset that it was going to need a complete kitchen makeover, so I decided to use the opportunity to fold SketchUp into that process. After flailing around with a design for a while that neither Melanie nor I liked as a result of the odd dimensions we had to work with, we got the opportunity to see the kitchen of a neighbor who has a similar floor plan as ours. She had completely transformed the space into a way we hadn't imagined so we immediately asked her if we could steal the idea (which she admitted wasn't hers!). Taking the new layout the new ideas and building them into the layout I had been building of the floor space allowed us the opportunity to get a really good feel for the design. We had decided early on to use CraftMaid cabinets in the kitchen and fortunately enough CraftMaid offers 3D AutoCAD models of their cabinets which can be imported directly into SketchUp
Spending a lot of time tweaking the layout resulted in the following:
Using the basic layout, we got the cabinets ordered from Home Depot, some $15,000 worth, and began demo. Some 4 1/2 months later this is what the kitchen looks like:
Which is pretty close! SketchUp is a pretty amazing tool.
One of the things we did was open up the big space in the wall leading to the living room which greatly increased the feel of space in the kitchen. The SketchUp models really gave us a good feel for this.
Some wonderful SketchUp resources are:
- Google of course
- Go-2-School has a great series of on-line tutorials, highly recommended!
- Sketchucation has a plethora of resources including a really great forum section and some add-in Ruby scripts that are mandatory.
The one thing that SketchUp (the free version at least) doesn't do is create 3D pdf's. I got used to having those in SolidWorks and they are really great. But for the price, I can't complain!
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
The month of February has been very busy on a number of fronts.
As indicated in the previous message, I spent the entire week at the Underwater Intervention show which was held at the Convention Center in New Orleans talking to a lot of folks. I had a prolonged chat with a guy who was the customer's representative while we were developing a deepwater ROV at SubSea International. Anyway, he asked me what I was doing and asked if I would like to work in the Washington D.C. area as he knew of companies looking for expertise like mine. I indicated that in the past I would not have been interested, but at this point in my life I might be. He indicated that he worked very closely with a company which he had a lot of respect for, was small enough to get noticed, and had a good workload.
To be honest, I had completely forgotten about the conversation when I got a call from a manager at a consulting company in Nortyhern Virgina to ask me to send them a resume. I do so and soon after I'm asked me to come up to DC to meet with him. We have made arrangement to meet in late March as it's the earliest all our schedules allow. I'll keep you posted.
In any event, I am applying for a number of different positions through a variety of sources and getting little if any response. The market for technical talent at my level is rather small and definitely specialized. Companies have the luxury of being very selective about the experience level of the people they hire, and I as attempting to change industries, it's something of a challenge.
In addition, I am pursuing no less than three other developmental opportunities for new company startup type opportunities.
- The first is the three company roll up I mentioned last time. We are working on arrangement to get all the interested parties together to discuss the issue in detail. Thus far it's been a severe cat herding exercise and we still haven't successfully scheduled a meeting date
- The second opportunity is with a guy I've known since my Neptune Sciences days. Charles Whitehead called me out of the blue when I was working at Neptune to discuss his business development activities around something called shape memory alloy materials. Charles is a rather dynamic individual so our initial conversations tended to very long, but informative. Recently Charles has focused his energy on the offshore oil and gas market and we have put together some idea for products around which to create the first component of a multi-tiered corporate entity. Charles invited me to go to the Houston Technology Center's Venture Capital Conference at which he was invited to speak. It was an interesting experience in that I got to liaise with a large number of investors both small and large. We did meet a couple of investors who were very interested in the technology, so in that regard the conference was a success
- My third opportunity is with a guy I've known since my SubSea days, and is rather out in left field. I met Paul Tidwell while at SubSea as Paul was looking for a deepwater ROV to conduct a survey mission on a German submarine he had located in very deep water of the Cape Verde islands. The deal with SubSea to use the ROV never materialized, but I've kept touch with Paul ever since. He has recently moved from the Washington D.C. area to Mandeville, which is near my house. Paul and I have been meeting regularly to discuss his plans to develop a company around search, recovery and conservation of undersea antiquities.
While all this is going on, daily life continues. The house is for sale, but the market is still very slow. Work at Outland continues with new products being developed daily. Some of these are pretty interesting. Working at Outland pretty much leaves only Friday's for job hunting, but does provide much needed cash flow to keep the household functional.
Y'all take care now!
Monday, January 08, 2007
- Developed XML (Extensible Markup Language) based data management tool for managing file information for SolidWorks. The implementation is user configurable and provides a simple, uniform data interface. Data tool can be applied to any third party PDM (Product Data Management) or PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) applications. The application is currently in beta testing, and is scheduled for release early first quarter 2007.
- Developed robotic tooling for actuation of rotary devices in water depths to 3000 meters. The tool (shown in Figure 2) allows user selection of torque ranges from 50 foot-pounds to 2,500 foot pounds in 4 discrete stages. Torque ranges and tool dimensions comply with interfaces set forth in ISO 13628-8. The variable torque ranges are effected without the usage of costly and sophisticated electronics and can be implemented on virtually any hydraulic remotely operated vehicle.
- Managed team in long term project to evaluate and redesign autonomous pipeline plugging equipment for reliability and rapid configurability. This equipment utilizes radio frequency communication to control the actions of the tool in situ through the water and the pipe wall. Following a catastrophic field failure of existing equipment, TDW management engaged my services to embark on a complete review of the product line. Following the review, I made a recommendation to create modular designs for the electronic and mechanical segments of the tools in order to be prepared prior to rapid delivery service orders. The recommendations were accepted, designs were created, prototyped and tested to validate the concept.
- Facilitated the development of software and control systems to control operations of a 250-ton cable reel-handling cart for Ocean Dynamics, Inc. Rapid application development techniques were applied to bring the project on line alleviating scheduling issues created during construction of the system. Self-contained touch screen interfaces control all the operations including the reeling and level wind systems, cart movement and system configuration. The cart is shown in Figure 1 and the user interface in Figure 3. The control was written in National Instruments LabVIEW which communicates with a number of discrete Fieldpoint I/O modules. Additional functionality includes a remote control unit that communicates via radio frequencies to allow the operator to control the cart from safe working distances.
- Created calibration tool as shown in Figure 5 for documenting the torque-input requirements on industry standard under water rotation fixtures. This tool allows a full documentation package to be created for the exact performance characteristics of the rotary interfaces installed on subsea structures. The tool, combined with sophisticated PC based control software written in LabVIEW, operates the rotary fixture throughout the full range of operation while precisely measuring and logging torque values. At culmination of test, an HTML report is created and can be made available for certification purposes.
- Developed patented pipeline mensuration device allowing customers to effectively utilize pipeline materiel. The device schedules pipeline segments and orients ends to maximize welding process efficiency and minimize scrap. The tool was designed in a modular fashion allowing commonality between the 5 different tool sizes for different pipe sizes. The arrangement for the 10” measurement tool is shown in Figure 6. In addition, I developed all the electronics for control of the data collection and the control software for a Symbol Palm device. The design and development of this tool led to the award of two patents.
- Secured project and led team in the design and manufacture of automation equipment for a manufacturer of hydrographic sensing equipment. All software was developed in LabVIEW allowing for system-wide control of the machines from a central supervisory location. The equipment comprised the following:
- Pin Setter. This device arranged extremely small pins in a fashion suitable for pick and place operations. The pins were inserted into holes drilled in the bodies of the hydrophone coil forms and then the coil form was stacked to restrain the pins. A visual inspection of the completed assembly was performed for QA purposes.
- Link Setter. This device arranged a grouping of steel wire D-Rings for attachment to electrical hydrophone cable. The Cable was streamed through a wire measurement and cutting machine with the D-rings installed per user setup.
- Developed wireless control package for operation of an ocean going dredge hopper barge. System was FCC licensable and remotely actuated hydraulic control for safely dumping barge contents. The package was developed for a generic panel PC utilizing National Instruments LookOut SCADA development software. The control console is shown in Figure 7.
- Conceived and developed system to control distribution of all lubrication and auxiliary fluids sold by the Retif Oil and Lubrication Company. The completely automated delivery system was proposed to eliminate nearly $200K per year in lost revenues due to insufficient record keeping practices. A touch screen interface controls all fluid transportation activities and a host computer logs actions to an SQL database for end of month billing. System uses physical interface sensing to prohibit incorrect connection of the delivery hoses and pumps, eliminating contamination of hoses, pumps and tanks.
- Directed team in the creation of SCADA based modular large flow hydraulic manifold for use on a work class remotely operated vehicle (ROV) for Canyon Offshore. This system is used to install suction piles for the foundations of offshore structures. The system modulates hydraulic flow from 0 to 15 gallons per minute using discreet I/O devices communicating with a laptop computer over an RS-232 interface. Data from ambient pressure, water flow rates and height off the sea floor is acquired and logged with the pump output data for report generation. The system was design to operate in water depths to 3000 meters and the interface control was written in LabVIEW.
- Managed multi-year, multi-million dollar contract for the development of sophisticated battery charging and testing techniques. The project team included a hostile third party sub-contractor whose involvement was contractually mandatory. Reconciliation efforts were successful allowing the teams to overcome the obstacles and complete the contract. The project and Neptune Sciences later received a technical achievement award for the development efforts on this contract.
- Won contract and supervised design of large-scale shipboard equipment for Navy transportation vessels. The engineering development combined the usage of solid modeling techniques and advanced stress analysis software to produce a design that was light, strong and exceeded the Navy’s requirements for shock, vibration and radar cross sectional requirements. Equipment included stern gate assembly (Figure 10) and inboard sideport doors (Figure 11) for the LPD-17 vessels.
- Researched, identified, proposed and negotiated a contract for development of large scale underwater robotics systems valued at over $12M. This contract applied technologies developed for the oil and gas industry to non-energy related industries.
- Headed project team in the development and manufacture of undersea robotic equipment for usage in water depths to 5000 meters (17,400 feet). Project was completed on time (accommodating significant scope increase) and under budget. The equipment utilized innovative technology in the development of inertial navigation systems, redundant hydraulic power systems, high voltage electric power systems, fiber optic control and telemetry systems and sophisticated equipment deployment systems with state of the art feed forward control systems. The system, which was designed over 10 years ago, is still in use, and the design won the Parametric Technology Corporation design award for Industrial Equipment in 1999. The system is shown in Figure 12.
Friday, June 16, 2006
Latest Engineering Developments
While sitting at work twiddling my thumbs, I decided to write a broad based data management tool for SolidWorks. It's patterned after an application called swCP3 written by Vinodh Kumar M and I've named it XMLPropWorks. I investigated swCP3 extensively, but it really didn't suit my needs. So with permission from Vinodh, I plagiarized his idea and wrote my own XML based data management tool for SolidWorks. It's implemented as an add-in DLL for SolidWorks and uses an XML data file to completely customize the data handling per the users requirements. It's a modal dialog system with unique interfaces for each of the three SolidWorks files types, and can read from XML or Access files for pull-down selection, and also allows the user to write summary data to an Access database for file management.
This is a typical interface:
The application is still in beta testing, but if you would like to try it, send me an email.
SolidWorks Material Parsing
One of the things that XMLPropWorks does is make usage of the standard SolidWorks material database. I had found an extensive list of materials on the web here . Problem was getting this into the XMLish format of the SolidWorks material files would have been, um, tedious. So I got creative and whipped up a parsing routine in LabVIEW. It reads the standard sldmat files and can edit them, as well as read comma delimited files and convert to the appropriate sldmat format. I tried to use some of the standard XML tools for parsing the file, but the sldmat files are rather poorly formed and it wound up being easier just search on the appropriate tokens in the file.
The interface looks like
It works fairly well. If you want a copy send me an email and I'll compile it and forward it to you. Be forewarned that LabVIEW executables require the LabVIEW runtime files (which I will include). It's a non-standard executable format which is basically a tokenized file which calls the appropriate LabVIEW routines. It's works, but it isn't the smoothest thing in town.
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
First, something of an introduction:
I'm a degreed mechanical engineer (UNO, 80 and 84) with mucho electrical engineering courses who specializes in the design of high performance underwater equipment. In the course of doing this I use SolidWorks MCAD software to design the equipment, Nastran from Noran Engineering to analyze the equipment, LabVIEW from National Instruments to control the equipment and IntelliCAD to layout out hydraulic and electric schematics to operate the equipment. I've been doing this since the mid-eighties so I hopefully I'm pretty good at it by now!
Things at PCS have been rather slow, but luckily I've kept busy until the last week or so:
Over the summer of 2004, I helped the principles at Ocean Dynamics rewrite the control software for the RM-300, which is a large cable spool handling machine.
This thing is enormous and is the largest piece of equipment I've ever written code to control. All the software was developed inLabVIEW v7.0 from National Instruments. It had been a while since I had done any coding in LabVIEW, but the visual nature of LabVIEW allowed me to effectively jump right back in. You can see a more pictures here.
In the fall PCS decided to develop a tool to accurately measure the inside and outside diameter of pipe and collect the data for analysis of the optimum line up condition of pipe ends for welding. I designed and assembled tools for both 10" pipe and 16" pipe. The tools use lasers to measure the pipe and the data is relayed through interface boards from www.rs485.com to a Symbol Palm Pilot hand held computer.
The tools take measurements at 16 discrete points around the periphery of the pipe and a data analysis routine was written to properly line up the pipe ends for welding. There seems to be some interest in taking data at many more points, but nothing concrete has been defined as of yet.
Al Tortorich at New Orleans Machine and Fabrication did the machine work and all the mechanical and electronic assembly was done by yours truly. I'll post some pictures of the actual tools forthwith.
T D Williamson
As I mentioned on the front page, I've been commuting from my home in Slidell, LA to Houston, TX every week to assist in the development of some pipeline tools for the offshores services division of TD Williamson. I've been designing some extremely small hydraulic control systems for actuation of the pipeline tools. I can't tell you a lot more as I am under NDA, but it's been really interesting and a challenging project.
That's about all I have to talk about. More later....