Electrical engineer swaps disciplines in industrial furnace project
Howard Evans has a long career as an electrical engineer. After decades of working on 2D schematics, the 66-year-old has recently been picking up new engineering skills – mechanical ones.
He currently works for UES, a Dayton, Ohio research & development lab that specializes in a broad range of emerging technologies. Evans’ department develops and tests innovations in advanced coatings used to protect surfaces in industrial processes.
Evans has had a chance to change professions hats, at least to some extent, over the past year. Evans has been using Alibre Design to build a prototype of what he calls an Accelerated Thermal Fatigue Test Apparatus.
The test equipment consists of a laboratory-sized bench-top furnace that heats a vat of molten aluminum. Mechanisms continuously dip samples of the coating into the vat and then into a cooling emulsion. The machine simulates the thermal wear of the coating used to protect dies in the aluminum injection molding process. “The dipping cycle continues until our proprietary coating fails, or 2000 cycles occur, whichever comes first,” explains Evans.
Evans decided to try modeling the parts with Alibre Design, CAD software that he had earlier purchased for his personal use, when the mechanical engineers in his department were overloaded with other projects. Many components of the design were commercially available, but for parts he couldn’t purchase, he modeled in Alibre and sent to a prototype fabricator.
“This is not my first mechanical project, but it is the first using Alibre, which I started learning about a year ago,” he says. “Before that, it was back-of-the-napkin sketches and 2D drawings to document mechanical designs. “
Traversing the gulf between 2D sketches and solid modeling required a significant shift in perspective. “What I knew about 2D drawings was not much use for running Alibre.” At first flummoxed by the new technology, Evans eventually found success in Alibre’s simple visual tutorials.
“I bought the $50 Alibre step-by-step visual training package, which gives you mouse click-by-mouse click, screen-by-screen explanations on how to model the parts and assembly of a hand-cranked universal joint,” recalls Evans. “By sitting down and actually doing it, and following each step, it finally dawned on me what I was doing and why I was doing it. I began to see how I can start with a sketch and turn it into a 3D model with extrusions, cuts, sweeps, lofts, etc.
“The trick seems to be getting that first sketch right. I sometimes think of the modeling process like it’s machining, and then it makes a lot more sense. But I also learned there is no ‘right’ way to approach 3D modeling. Two people might model the same part in two different ways and arrive at the same result. Of course, with experience, you learn that some approaches are more efficient than others. The Alibre Forum has been a big help in learning from the experience of others.”
Evans also discovered that his mechanical engineers in his department could freely import parts he modeled in Alibre into their SolidEdge parametric applications and vice versa. He thinks Alibre Design expands the capability of his department by allowing a non-mechanical engineer to jump in and help when needed. “Companies are not going to be able to justify paying an extra seat of SolidEdge for someone who’s not a mechanical engineer or professional designer,” says Evans. “But there are a lot of problems in the lab that can be solved without an expensive modeler.”
Evans’ testing apparatus is mechanical testimony that you can teach an electrical engineer new tricks. After climbing the learning curve over the past year, Evans is confident to try more advanced modeling techniques in Alibre, like sheet metal folds. “Now I love it,” he says. “If I can learn it, anybody can. When you take the time to go through it, you discover the training documentation is very good.”
After his first R&D project in Alibre Design, does Evans feel like more of a mechanical engineer? “Hell no,” he laughs. “But I do have a new appreciation for what they do.”
Founded in 1973, UES, Inc. is an innovative science and technology company that provides its government and industry customers with superior research and development expertise, world-class support, and value-added management services.
We take great pride in developing products and services from our technologies for commercialization and transition. For more information, please visit: www.ues.com.
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