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Sunday, August 02, 2015

Does the Future of Making Things Spell the End of the How it Was Done?

There's a lot of buzz about the "Future of Making Things" lately.  Personally, I'm a big fan of the possibilities this new wave has to offer.  Things like connected devices, cloud technology, and 3D printing, just to name a few.

But while I excitedly absorbed this new age, I was reminded of an experience I had.

Not to long ago, perhaps a year at the most, a colleague needed to find a component in an industry catalog, like many of us designers needed to do.
Most of us have thumbed through catalogs like this one from Aircraft Spruce
But we were standing in a large hangar, the closest computer wasn't readily accessible.

I began browsing in my smart phone, to which he proclaimed to me defiantly, "I bet I can find this in the catalog faster than you can find it on that contraption.

"You might."  I responded, sensing his need to prove a point.  I willed my smart phone to pull those bits and bytes faster.

And in fact.... He did beat me! He found his part before I had found it in my smart phone.

"See!  Those smart phones aren't the answer to everything! I'll take that over that fancy thing any day!"  He stated proudly.  I'm sure he felt he had proved that his older technology had beaten my new tech.

You might think I would have felt the frustration of having "lost".  My colleague certainly felt like he'd "won".  But in truth I had earned valuable experience.

Sometimes, I find myself looking at new technology as a "replacement" to old technology.

Throw away your catalogs and reference books!  Dispose of your paper prints.  

The Internet, connected devices, and data shared via the cloud will replace that!

3D printing is the future!  Why machine, mold, or cast parts when you can print them at will!

We've all likely heard a similar mantra before.


Will the Future of Making things make prints like this a thing of the past? 
But reflecting on that inner monologue, I asked myself a different set of questions.

Will it the future of making things spell the end of the "Past of Making Things"?  

Should it?

And finally.

Does it have to?

I have battery operated screw drivers now, but that doesn't mean I threw away my hand screwdrivers.  I've reached for my thirty year old screwdriver for a quick job, or when the battery in my power screwdriver is dead (usually because I forgot to charge it).

I have a belt sander and two orbital sanders, but I've still folded sandpaper over a block of wood to make a sanding block.

Why?  It was the right tool for the right job.

The power tool vs the hand tool.  Is one better than the other?
Or does it depend on what you need it for? 
Doesn't each one of those cases represent a situation where an old technology wasn't replaced by a new one, but instead augmented by it?

I've lost count of how may times I've seen oil, water (including coffee), or grease smeared on paper prints.  Would you rather see that on paper, or an expensive tablet?

In this environment, paper gets torn, but tablets get shattered.
Would you rather print a new document, or replace a tablet? 

But why not use that tablet to quickly find the information, then print to a piece of paper?  All without a trip to the engineering department!

Does that make one better than the other?  Or does it make one better suited for one type of job over another?

The lesson I learned was valuable indeed.  My colleague's catalog beat my smart phone.  No doubt about it.  On the other hand, what if his catalog is out of date?  Even if it was slower, it's likely my smart phone would have been more accurate, since an online catalog can be easily updated with new information.

So what?  What's the lesson, the "call to action"?

Stay open minded, and don't throw the "baby out with the bath water".  Don't integrate new tech at the cost of your old tech, but use the "new fangled", add it to the "tried and true', and make it greater than the sum of it's parts.

Jonathan Landeros

Acknowledgements

photo credit: should you really be letting those just hang around? via photopin (license)

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Future of Making Things Event in Los Angeles - That's a Wrap!

Last week I attended the Future of Making Things Event in Los Angeles, hosted by KETIV and Autodesk.

Why?  I was supposed to be there!  But more importantly, I was excited to be there.  I was more excited than I've been in a while.  The concept of the Future of Making Things is something I not only find appealing, but invigorating.

First of all, the event was held at the California Science Center.  Just the location was enough to make me want to start building something!

In the parking lot was a Lockheed A-12.  What a way to be greeted!

The Lockheed A-12.  It looks fast just sitting there. 
But I was here for the Future of Making Things event, so in I went though the museum lobby past the T-38 Talon and F-20 Tigershark and into the event.

I can actually tell you which is a T-38 and which is a F-20 from here. 
After meeting and greeting everyone, and naturally getting coffee, it was time for the presentations to start!

Andrew Anagnost kicked things off with his presentation.  The information was flowing.  But one simple statement made me take a moment of pause.

Five years ago, nobody owned an iPad. 

Wow.  I had to think about that.  iPads are commonplace now, I've used it to store recipes, there are videos of  pets playing games on them!

Many of us have seen an iPad replacing a cash register, or seen it used to take notes in lieu of pen and paper, Regulatory agencies like the FAA are placing their regulatory books, many of which are hundreds of pages long, online in a downloadable formats!

This Advisory Circular from the FAA can now be contained on an iPad, along with a myriad of other books.
Image from Marv Golden Pilot Supplies


And much of that change has come within the last decade!

But there's even more.

Andrew spoke about a 20 story building in China that was assembled on site in fifteen days.   How?  It wasn't built onsite.  The building was modular, with major components assembled offsite, then assembled onsite.

An entire 30 story building, in fifteen days!



Naturally 3D printing was a topic for discussion as well.  It's pretty well known that 3D printers are becoming more and more common.  Autodesk has their own version called Spark.

But did you also know that the 3D printing of metals is another frontier being developed?  A 3D printed heat sink was shown, purely designed and optimized by computer and printed in metal on a 3D printer.  By using these methods, they were able to create geometries never before imagined!

A heat sink designed by computer, and 3D printed in metal. 

The presentation moved on to connected devices.  Imagine a world where cars can talk to the infrastructure they're driving on.  Imagine traffic signals adjusted to traffic realtime.  How?  The cars themselves report it.

Andrew used the Skully motorcycle helmet as an another example.  Imagine a bluetooth enabled, fully connected motorcycle helmet with a review camera and a heads up display.  Ten years ago, this was the realm of the fighter pilot, now it's a device used to make motorcycle riders more connected and safer than before.



It was said "We are living in a connected world".  No doubt of that now!

Next, came the CAD demonstrations, Jorge Fernandez and Jeff Brown showed how data from different CAD vendors, obtained through this connected world can be tracked in Autodesk Vault, brought into Inventor, and edited and modified.

They demonstrated how legacy data, the knowledge built of experience,and captured in AutoCAD 2D could be brought into Inventor and reused via DWG Underlay.



Then they tested the data in Nastran In-CAD to validate the design.

Specifically they tested the part in fatigue.  After all, it's one thing to be strong enough once, it's another thing to be strong for hundreds of thousands, or even millions of cycles!





All of these tools that used to be exclusive to the specialist are now becoming easier to use and more available.  Now they're not limited to the select few of trained individuals, but available to more and more designers, so they can interact with the specialist more effectively.

The data is then returned to Autodesk Vault for safekeeping, and can also be distributed via A360 through connected devices to far flung places in the world for their consumption.

It's a web that's ever expanding, and becoming more powerful than the sum of its individual pieces.

Then after seeing all that awesome technology, the event wrapped up.  After saying my goodbyes to some great people, I was lucky enough to visit the Space Shuttle Endeavour, and gain some inspiration from the giants of design who have gone before me.

The future of making things is certainly here, and I think we're all fortunate to be able to be a part of it.

Endeavour on display.



This engine was once part of the Future of Making Things.
The Torch has been passed on now. 



Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Living the Future of Making, and Learning Things

About two years ago, I decided to return to school in the evenings and began taking Aircraft Maintenance Classes at Mount San Antonio College.

The practical, hands on nature is at times stressful and frustration, but most of all, inspiring and rewarding.

I realized that I miss having "dirty hands".  It's also teaching me to be a better designer.  After installing mounting bolts purely by feel, I look at Inventor 3D models in a renewed light of practicality.

The best way to learn how a jet engine's fan is assembled?
Take a wrench and take one apart!
  
It's been nearly 20 years since I've taken classes that contain a heavy theory component, in addition to labs.  I'm amazed that in many ways, college hasn't changed.  But moreover, I'm impressed at how much has truly changed. 

The Internet.  AKA the "cloud" has found away to change how I'm learning with a device nearly all of us carry around now. 

A connected smart device.

The new window to learning.

My homework is no longer written out in long hours spent at a desk.  I keep them safe and sound with Google Docs.  I can even have them archived for years to come!


My homework, online in the cloud instead of on paper. 


I've sat on a patio enjoying lunch, and thought, why don't I answer a couple of homework questions?  

No looking for a book, no wishing I had brought a pen.  I just pull out my smart phone, and start working. 

When I wanted to get more practice building and understanding electric circuits, I was able to find a cloud based simulator that allowed me to build circuits at test them even when I don't have access to the lab with it's physical simulators.

The physical electric circuit simulator with a digital multimeter on top.


I showed it to a few of my fellow students, and I was met with various forms of the phrase "Where did you find that?!?"

Relay Activated Transistor switch - EveryCircuit
Cloud based applications, and connected devices are giving me a competitive advantage in improving myself.  Most of all, it's doing it right now, in my every day life. 

It left me realizing one thing.  The Future of Making Things may not be revolutionary.  It's happening every day, all around us.

It's not necessarily about making things.  It's about how we interact with the information we use to make things.

It's not a revolution.   It's an evolution.  

And it's not the future.  It's here, now, in an evolving information age.. 

I bet your using it, and don't even know it! 





Monday, July 13, 2015

Remove Unwanted AutoCAD Links when importing into Autodesk Vault

One of the biggest challenges when trying to get data loaded into Autodesk Vault are dealing with missing links.

They can't be loaded into Vault while broken, and resolving them can be difficult when the associated files may have been long lost to antiquity. 

One thing I see a lot of, is the notorious "lost logo image".  These are images linked into a drawing, many times these are nothing more than image files representing the logo for a company. 

I've seen many, many times! 

They were linked into these drawings at some point, but during some part of their lives, the original image files were lost.  The links were never repaired, because it wasn't a big issue before Vault came along.

In my example, I've created several AutoCAD files representing that exact condition.  Company logos that have been lost.  

If you try to push them through Autoloader stands in the path and like Gandalf the Gray shouts "You shall not pass!".  

Broken links  We never want to see these in Autoloader, but often do. 
You can't push them in through Autoloader, so now you're now stuck.  Fixing the files manually can be a daunting task.  So what options are there? 

I have one trick I can offer, and while far from an all encompassing solution, it can ease the pain a bit if you have a lot of AutoCAD files that have the "linked logo" problem. 

First, it's very important that the files meet the following criteria. 

The only link that exists in the file, is the link you want removed.  

That's it, the biggest consideration. But it's a doozy.  The method I'm about to show you will break every single link your file has.  That includes external references in AutoCAD as well as Inventor parts, assemblies, drawings, and presentations.

So make sure the links in the files are links you want broken! 

I'm going to show you how to do something Vault tries very hard to talk you out of.  But if you're crazy enough to try it, it's crazy enough to work. 

So here it goes. 

Log in as the Vault Administrator. Go to the Tools>Administration>Vault Settings, and on the Files tab, uncheck "Disable Check In of Design Files".  

Time t work without a net! 

You've just turned off the safety switch!  This allows you to drag and drop files into Vault.  

But now, take the files with the unwanted links, and drag them into a Vault folder. 

Dragging the files into Vault
The standard Vault Check In dialog box appears.  Enter a comment, and adjust any settings you want, and hit OK. 

The standard check in dialog box.


A warning appears advising you that any depending relationships, meaning file links, will be lost.  But the only links here, are one's we need to get rid of.   

Now the warning that links will be lost.  This time, this is what we're after. 

So shave your head, put on your best accent, and say, "Engage". 

The files will checked in.  In the meantime, Vault will be stripping away the links to the unwanted images. 

The files are getting checked in. 
Once the files are checked in, the "Used" functionality can be used to show that the links are all gone. 

Now, before you do anything else, turn the Disable Check In of Design Files back on! You don't want just anyone trying this, that is unless you want herd of files with broken links roaming free in your Vault! 



In this case, this functionality becomes a filter that cleans out the unwanted links, and while it may not be something that can be used when links you want to keep do exist, it can still help get important files into Vault.  

So keep this in mind when you need to add some files into Vault.  The next time there are a bunch of files with "lost logos", you can be the CAD guy who says "I know a trick..."