Engineering News : Page 2 of 10

improving the material performance of the finished product."

The flexibility of robotic equipment fitted with fiber-optic-delivered lasers should reduce fixturing costs, making more-frequent design im-provements an economic possibility. And, since the laser source never touches the part surface, there's no worry about the cost of broken tools and concomitant downtime.

Micromachining laser. Another laser technology originally developed for defense purposes now seeking commercial applications: the visible-light copper laser. Richard Foster-Turner of Oxford Lasers, Inc., Acton, MA, explained the copper laser's advantages at the recent National Design Engineering Show. "Its green wavelength couples well with metals and silicon as opposed to IR lasers, where metals are highly reflective and silicon, transparent."

Pulsing at 30 to 40 nsec, the copper laser's 50W average translates into 200-kW peak power. "The material-removal event is over quickly," says Foster-Turner. "It can drill high-aspect ratio holes 1.5-aem in diameter with negligible heat-affected zones." The visible wavelength beam also simplifies operations. Machinists use an attenuated beam for alignment with the workpiece, then step up the power for processing.

Applications include drilling holes for fine-mist ink jets, creating through-vias in ceramic-substrate circuit boards, scribing photovoltaic cells, crack-simulation, and machining natural and polycrystalline diamonds. In the future, the company envisions manufacturing micromachines directly without environmentally questionable chemical processes.

For the moment, Oxford's main business is in materials evaluation and contract manufacturing. Why exhibit at a design show? "This represents a new capability," says Foster-Turner. "The shows always have people with drawings and new ideas for it."

SGI to merge with Alias, Wavefront

Mountain View, CA -Silicon Graphics Inc. will acquire Alias Research and Wavefront Technologies in a half-billion-dollar merger-a move analysts say may speed the development of design-software technology.

SGI, known primarily for its powerful graphics workstations, will form a software subsidiary to develop "the world's most advanced tools for the creation of digital content," the companies say.

"The tools still have a long way to go," Rob Burgess, Alias president and CEO and now president of the new subsidiary, told Design News. He envisions a new generation of tools that will allow industrial designers to work on computers as they now work with paper or foam - for example, picking up a marker and "sketching," instead of using a mouse or tablet. Such tools would also incorporate precise geometry, making it easier for engineers to preserve the intent of an industrial design.

"I think the amount of R&D going into their underlying technologies will steadily increase," says Bruce Jenkins, with the Cambridge, MA-based Daratech research firm. While the initial focus may be on the lucrative entertainment market, he expects the same technologies to be incorporated into engineering design tools as well. The entertainment industry has joined defense and aerospace as a place where important new technology is spawned, he notes.

Alias, based in Toronto, is a leading automotive and industrial-design software company, whose customers include BMW, Caterpillar, Ford, and Motorola. Wavefront develops graphic imaging and animation software. Both companies have a major presence in the television and moviemaking industries.

Grad students propel robots in new directions

Newton, MA -Hollywood gave

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