Industrial Engineer Engineering and Management Solutions at Work

April 2014    |    Volume: 46    |    Number: 4

The member magazine of the Institute of Industrial Engineers

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Emerging Technologies

Innovative tools of the trade

Making thingies and conveying measurements

Industrial engineers can tackle challenges throughout the overall product lifecycle. As “time to market” becomes increasingly important in the competitive world of consumer goods, added focus has been placed on the product development process. Similarly, manufacturing environments have decreased production times to the point where the associated infrastructure may need to move at rapid speeds to support production levels.

The Thing-O-Matic directly addresses one of the largest cyclic processes within the product development cycle: prototyping. Designed as a build-it-yourself system created by a group of self-labeled hackers, the Thing-O-Matic is the second generation of a rapid prototyping machine sold by Makerbot Industries. Traditional rapid prototyping machines are large, expensive and complicated. These characteristics generally take a rapid prototyping capability out of scope for entrepreneurs and other small businesses that otherwise might be able to achieve a very short “time to market,” increasing their relevance and opportunity for success.

Thing-O-Matic, on the other hand, is inexpensive, easy to operate and small. Designs can be generated from scratch using 3-D modeling software. You also can download them from an online community that contains designs for (almost) anything: functional whistles, a bust of Stephen Colbert, shower curtain hooks and even alien spaceships. Designs are prepared for printing (steps vary based on design source) and then are sent to the Thing-O-Matic via USB or SD card, where they’re built layer by layer out of sturdy ABS, a common thermoset plastic.

If you already have a Thing-O-Matic or some other form of rapid prototyping system, then the Riegl LMS-Q20 rapid laser scanner may be more the product for your work environment. Specifically designed for use in support of conveyor systems, the LMS-Q20 uses light detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology to measure precisely the amount of material traveling along the belt in high-speed situations. The LMS-Q20 can capture up to 11,250 measurements per second, sending the data over a TCP/IP Ethernet connection for monitoring and analysis.

The high speed and accuracy of the LMS-Q20 make it perfect for mining applications where tons of raw materials are moved at one time. Measuring this output can inform other aspects of the process effectively, thus creating an active feedback loop and a more robust system. In situations where a completely clean belt is required, the Riegl system could be used to identify anomalies and direct corrective actions. These improvements to belt cleanliness could reduce rework, waste or downtime, leading to a smoother and more efficient operation.

Whether your focus is on rapid prototyping or monitoring of your high-speed conveyor system, technology can help enable your efforts as an IE professional.

Patrick Foxworthy is the Mid-Atlantic Region representative for IIE’s Young Professionals. He works for a federally funded research and development center in the Washington, D.C., metro area. His B.S. in industrial engineering is from Kettering University.