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Larry Rhoades Will be Missed

April 29, 2007

Filed under: life — Terry Wohlers @ 07:38

Last Monday, I received word that Larry Rhoades, founder and CEO of The Ex One Company, had died two days earlier while vacationing in Hawaii. I was shocked. Larry was a creative genius and an enthusiastic supporter of manufacturing technology. He was the CEO of Extrude Hone Corp. for 35 years where he launched ProMetal, which is currently a division of Ex One.

Larry was a strong supporter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and SME’s RAPID Conference & Exposition, which is this week in Detroit, Michigan. Larry was an SME Fellow, a distinction granted to less than one percent of the SME membership, making it one of the most prestigious honors presented by the Society.

“Larry touched you personally, he had a love and lust for life, and he had an intense intellectual curiosity,” said David Burns, president of Ex One. “Larry never found a problem that he didn’t want to solve.”

Larry had a very inventive mind, even at a young age. Burns explained to me that he and a good friend co-founded nine companies while attending Brown University. Larry holds patents on more than 25 inventions on nontraditional manufacturing processes for machining, finishing, forming, and measurement. This work has led to protective gear used in NASCAR, the NFL, NHL, NBA, and professional baseball.

I received pages full of honors and awards that Larry received. He was generous with his time and resources and contributed tremendously to the future of manufacturing, science, and business. He served on the boards of many corporate and non-profit organizations and was a part of U.S. government advisory groups.

I had the privilege of working with Larry over the years and it was honor to know him. A few month ago, I read an article written by him titled The Transformation of Manufacturing in the 21st Century and published in The Bridge, a publication by the National Academy of Engineering. As I read through it, I began to highlight interesting comments. By the time I was finished, it was mostly yellow. It turned out to be one of the most thought-provoking and well-researched articles I had read in a very long time. What’s more, it really captured what Larry was all about. The article is available here.

Larry is survived by his three children and one grandchild. He was 62.

Will Fab@Home Succeed?

April 15, 2007

Filed under: additive manufacturing,education,entertainment,review — Terry Wohlers @ 16:31

Fab@Home has been receiving a lot of attention lately. What is it? Fab@Home is an open source 3D printer development at Cornell University. Hod Lipson, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Evan Malone, a PhD candidate in Lipson’s Computational Synthesis Lab, are working together on the project. The plans for the machine are available at fabathome.org for anyone to download. Also, a kit is available from Koba Industries, a machine shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for $2,975.

About a dozen people are building one and three are complete and running, according to a March 5, 2007 story published by The Engineer Online, a web-based publication in the UK that quoted Lipson. Two of the assembled machines are at the University of Washington and one is in Innsbruck, Austria.

To some degree, the academic project has already succeeded. Will it become commercially viable? It may, if on-going improvements are made to the system. Currently, the quality of the parts from the machine is questionable. At fabathome.org, you can see parts made from silicone rubber, chocolate, and cake icing. Part quality aside, I believe that engineers, students, and others would enjoy assembling and experimenting with the machine and custom tailoring the process for a specific application and/or material. If the momentum continues, the development could grow into something much bigger and of commercial interest.

Lipson and Malone refer to the 3D printer as a “fabber,” a term that was introduced about 15 years ago. It received a cool reception back then and few have since warmed up to it. With the attention that Fab@Home has been getting, the guys at Cornell could popularize the term. More importantly, they could popularize 3D printing among those who would never consider a more expensive system.

Using a Smartphone for Laptop Internet

April 1, 2007

Filed under: Internet,review,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 08:34

A short time ago, I downloaded and installed PdaNet on my Treo 700. It allows you to use the smartphone’s broadband Internet connectivity as a wireless modem for your laptop computer. So, anywhere you get a cellular signal, you have free Internet access on your laptop. This includes hotels, airports, and traveling down a highway.

The download and installation of PdaNet was fast and simple. The product is available for a one-time cost of $34 at junefabrics.com. It works with several smartphones, including devices from Palm, Motorola, Samsung, T-Mobile, Cingular, and others. After installing PdaNet on my Treo 700, I was surfing the web within seconds with my laptop. The connection between the Treo and laptop is made using the sync/charge cable. One click (tap) on the Treo connects your laptop to the Internet.

Using the Treo 700 with Sprint cellular service, my laptop registered download speeds of about 150–250 kilobits per second, which is almost 3-5 times faster than the best dialup connection. Upload speeds were about 25–70 kbps. I did the speed tests at speedtest.net, an excellent website for checking the speed of an Internet connection. PdaNet also works with the older Treo 650, although speeds are closer to a dialup connection.

If you have a smartphone and are tired of paying Internet fees at airports and hotels, consider PdaNet. I found it to be much easier than using the Internet services offered at most hotels, which can be a hassle. You could even use it as your regular Internet connection at your home office or as a backup in case your regular Internet services go down. It is the best $34 I’ve spent in a long time.