Best Sites on the Web

Dec. 28, 2008
Here are the Web sites that MACHINE DESIGN editors this year thought deserved special recognition for features that go above and beyond

Editorial staff

Here are the Web sites that MACHINE DESIGN editors this year thought deserved special recognition for features that go above and beyond the call of ordinary engineering Web sites.

Plastic bearings, carriers, and flex cables
igus makes plastic bearings and cable guides, and its site included a section called Tech Talk, a forum created and written by igus product managers, which offers design guidance and tips. Also on the site is an online conversion calculator for numerous formulas, as well as expert systems for calculating application parameters, and videos demonstrating manufacturing, testing, installation, and use of bearings and guideways.

Motor speed, torque, power calculator
Expanding its online STP (Speed Torque Power) calculator, Groschopp now offers a downloadable version that adds features unavailable in the online version. This freeware program needs no registration and runs on any PC system with Windows 98 or later. The interactive screen updates information as you enter data, making “what-if” scenario testing easy.

Fast injection molds
Protomold claims to deliver real injection molded parts as quickly as the next business day and at prices starting below $2,000. They do so by automating the process of making injection mold tooling for relatively simple parts, those with four or fewer side actions where the part geometry can be machined. They use advanced aluminum alloys and high-speed CNC machining to do molds. The good stuff on this site includes guidelines for rapid injection molding, design suggestions for moldability, resin selection guidelines, cost/ benefit tradeoffs with rapid injection molding,

Sensor resources
Banner Engineering is the place to go to see sensors in action. Its products and applications section breaks down each sensor type for a particular industrial area such as automotive, food and beverage, and material handling. If you know a particular sensor model or part number, the page brings up a complete set of documentation for that sensor to aid you during those critical times. And for designers, 3D Models in Step and IGS format are available for many of the product families.

Online calculators for hydraulics, pneumatics, and electomechanics
www.boschrexroth-us com
Bosch Rexroth makes hydraulic, pneumatic, and electromechanical automation equipment. Its site contains CAD files, pneumatics calculation tools, an aluminum framing profile deflection calculator, configurators for cylinders, cylinder valves, pneumatic cylinders and valves, competitor interchange tools for ball rails, roller rails, bushings, as well as podcasts on cylinders and lean manufacturing.

Need a lift or a laugh?
This site features engineering jokes that readers can vote on as their favorite. One of ours is “Top 10 Reasons Why Computers Must be Male. ” Among the reasons: They have a lot of data but are still clueless; They’ll do whatever you say if you push the right buttons; The lights are on but nobody’s home. There are also links to gifts for engineers that includes items such as circuit board votives and flexible flashlights.

How to invent toys
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Opencourseware Web pages host a variety of resources for regular MIT courses. One of the more interesting is this links page for toys and games. Included are such topics as the art and craft of toy design, toy product design in the media, interviews with a child psychologist, and other topics related to designing cool toys.

Motion controls and systems
Ormec’s newly revised site devoted to motion control components is clean and easy to navigate. Scroll the mouse over a product image and a submenu opens that lets you select additional information about specific models or switch to an overview of the product line. While many company sitemaps are a jumbled mess, the Ormec sitemap lets you drill down into the site to find that specific product or service you’re after. The growing support area includes a range of highlight, technical, and best practices application notes as well as a number of manufacturing success stories.

Machine vision benefits
Many Fortune 500 companies use machine vision to eliminate defects, verify assembly, and automotive production. Small and medium-sized companies or low-volume applications can benefit as, says machine-vision supplier Cognex. An online ROI calculator (listed under Return on Investment in the Application menu) that helps engineers and designers estimate how long a machine-vision investment will take to pay for itself based on labor savings, improved production, or both, There is also a host of case studies that highlight various ways machine vision improves both the bottom line and customer satisfaction.

Calling all inventors
Inventors trying to make money off their ingenuity can find a lot of helpful data at this site run by inventor Ronald Riley. It’s also a good source of information on the U.S. Patent Office.

Details on hydraulic and pneumatic systems
Designers building hydraulic or pneumatic systems often have lots of questions regarding flows, pressures, and components such as connectors, orifices, and valves. The design team at Bird Precision Inc. have put together a toolbox of conversion calculators, data sheets, and technical lifesciences that can help answer most of those questions. (Go to the site and select Corporate Overview and the toolbox appears in the left column.)

A source for new ideas
This site is chock-full of “out of the box” thinking, perhaps enough to kickstart your design or send you down a path you never knew existed. It highlights a changing array of high-tech gadgets, oddball styles and hobbies. For example, the one item highlights a portable mouse pad with built-in USB hubs ( The roll-up pad has four ports and a speaker that connects to portable audio players, laptops, and other digital devices using a standard 3.5-mm audio interface. Another item shows new concepts in calendars (

X planes in action
Check out movies and photos of NASA’s experimental aircraft (X planes) over the years. The archival footage is available at the Web site for NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center.

An online toolbox for engineers
This site has tons of calculators and technical and reference papers, as well as links to products and information of interest to engineers and designers.

Digital prototyping assessment tool
This site has a nifty, free Digital Prototyping Assessment Tool that compares your company design practices to industry benchmarks. The tool also identifies and quantifies potential savings in product-development time and cost as well as provides best-practice recommendations. There are also a variety of free and trial programs that let you do everything from collaborate on 3D models to create photorealistic 3D models from photographs.

The low down on heaters and sensors
Have a question about a Minco Thermafoil or wirewound heater or about one of their wide variety of temperature sensors and instrument? This Web site lets designers configure and price components and then generate a request for quote (RFQ). There’s also an active engineering community section with ongoing discussions, online experts providing advice and answering questions, and in-depth tutorials and white papers. Finally, check out the raft of engineering tools, including a conversion calculator that handles everything from acres to yards and BTUs to Watts, a table of thermistor resistance values, and worksheets for specifying sensors and heaters.

Engineering for fun
Engineers drive trains, right? Not on this site, where you become the engineer in all manner of fun activities, experiments, and projects related to the many types of engineering. Learn to make slime (chemical engineering), design a plane (aeronautical engineering), or just build the strongest structure using only paper and tape (civil engineering.) And if you tire of the activities, just watch the cool videos.

Controls and drives
In addition to its complete catalog of automation products from ac drives to wiring systems, the Automation Direct Web site includes a comprehensive technical support area. Engineers can get technical and application notes, cable wiring diagrams, online user manuals and instructions, compliance documents, and software and firmware upgrades for the products they support.

A pipeline to prototypes
Phillips Plastics Corp. has set up ProtoWire, a Web site that offers instant prototype quotes and ordering. It lets engineers upload workable STL files, obtain quotes, place orders for prototypes, and then receive models in as little as two to three working days. Phillips offers several prototyping options to suit both applications and budgets. For example, designers can choose from stereolithography (SLA), 3D printing, foam models, fused deposition modeling (FDM), castings, and models machined in plastic, magnesium or other metals. There’s also good educational material on SLA and FDM, comparing the two on a variety of criteria.

Simulation for fun
Constructor lets you design a creature made of sticks and springs and give it motion. You end up with a lifelike simulation of 2D objects roaming a 3D world. Adjust wave motions, amount of gravity, strength of muscles, etc. and get your creature to move or fly around in their little cyber world. Physical properties like gravity, friction, and speed are adjustable to let your anthropomorphic models walk, climb, wriggle, jiggle, or collapse into a writhing heap.

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