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Medical Modeling

August 31, 2008

Filed under: additive manufacturing,life — Terry Wohlers @ 12:42

Late last week I visited Medical Modeling Inc. of Golden, Colorado. I’ve been to the company a few times in the past, but this time was different. I’ve always been impressed by the company’s progressive thinking and dazzling projects. This time, however, I was taken to another level. There really is no other company like it. Not even close.

Andy Christensen has been the head of the company from the beginning. His youthful look makes you wonder how he could have started the company 12 years ago. Since then, he and his team have completed an estimated 13,000 individuals cases from around the world, many requiring multiple models. The breadth and complexity of the projects—all medical-related using CT or MRI scan data—is nothing short of extraordinary.

The core business has focused on the building of models that serve as a planning tool to teams of surgeons. Producing translucent models that reveal tumors, nerves, blood vessels, and other anatomy has been key. Most of these models have been produced using Huntsman’s Stereocol stereolithography resin. The company also runs several Spectrum Z510 multicolor 3D printers from Z Corp.  Very recently, the company installed a new Connex500 machine from Objet Geometries. Christensen said the company plans to introduce models in the future from this system using its unique multi-material characteristics.

Over the past year, the company has been producing metallic parts and implants on its two Electron Beam Melting (EBM) machines from Arcam. Most of the parts to date have been produced in Ti64 titanium alloy, although the company has also used cobalt chrome for wear resistant applications such as knee and hip joints. Already, the company has had components implanted into patients and expects this activity to rise significantly in the coming months with several innovative products in the works.

Accident victims, conjoined twins, cancer patients, brain tumors, severe scoliosis, dental problems, rare diseases and birth defects—Medical Modeling has seen and done it all. The display of parts and pictures of cases at the company is mind-boggling. Some are heart-wrenching. The next time you find yourself in the Denver/Golden area, consider a visit to this company. It will be like no other.

Are Cars in the U.S. Less Efficient?

August 16, 2008

Filed under: money,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 12:57

I was sitting at dinner last week in Austin, Texas when the subject of fuel prices came up. Individuals from the UK were present, so we estimated the cost of gasoline in the UK. Our estimate: $9-10 per gallon. One Brit was quick to point out that cars in Europe are much more efficient than those in the U.S., indicating that they often get 40-60 miles per gallon (mpg). In the past, I had wondered if European cars got better mileage, but dismissed the idea. The conversation, however, motivated me to do a little research.

Wikipedia publishes the 2009 UK fuel economy ratings and the 2009 U.S. EPA fuel economy ratings. The mpg for cars sold in the U.S., both foreign and domestic, ranges from a low of 12 to a high of 41 for highway driving. Most cars fell in the range of the mid-teens to the mid-twenties. (It’s interesting to note that the original Ford Model T got 13-21 mpg, according to Wikipedia.) I did not calculate the average mpg because of the number of cars presented in the list.

The 2009 UK fuel economy ratings divided the cars in two groups: 1) 100 cars with the highest fuel economy ratings, and 2) 99 cars with the lowest fuel economy ratings. All of the cars with the best economy run on diesel fuel. These cars range from a low of 66 mpg to a high of 88 mpg for highway driving. The mpg is based on an Imperial gallon, which is about 20% larger than the U.S. gallon. The cars with the worst economy was from about 19 to 29 mpg (also based on an Imperial gallon).

As you can see, the fuel economy of a car with a diesel engine is vastly different than one with a gasoline engine. It is believed that cars with diesel engines are more established in Europe, so this may be one reason for the belief that European cars get better mpg.

The other big difference between Europe and the U.S. is the fleet on the street. According to a March 2007 article titled U.S. vs. Europe in Cars, Gasoline and Energy published by AOL Journals, the U.S. fleet gets about 25 miles per gallon; China about 35 mpg and Europe about 37 mpg. This year, according to the article, automakers are implementing voluntary standards to improve European fuel economy to 44.2 mpg and China to 36.7 mpg. The U.S. will remain at 24.8 mpg.

Autodesk is Now the Giant

August 3, 2008

Filed under: CAD/CAM/CAE — Terry Wohlers @ 07:01

The first time I phoned Autodesk (1983), Mike Ford, then vice president of marketing and sales, answered the phone. That’s how small the company was at the time. Autodesk’s most recent annual revenues were $2.17 billion, making it the largest CAD company in the world. Who would have ever guessed that it would go so far?

Through the 1980s and much of the 1990s, Autodesk was viewed as a “second-class citizen” among its high-end competitors and many of their customers. Their comments would imply that if you wanted to do serious drafting and design work, you’d need expensive software from CADAM, Calma, Computervision, Dassault, or Intergraph running on high-end, proprietary, and expensive hardware. Even in the mid to late 1990s, when personal computers and software products, such as AutoCAD, were becoming quite powerful, they were not seen as real solutions to many.

I recall meeting with an established company in Japan in 1997. The company CEO was seeking advice on the future of design and manufacturing. I was surprised when he would not accept the belief that PCs could power his CAD software in the foreseeable future. He tried to convince me that his company could not do intricate design work using anything less than software running on UNIX workstations. At the time, his company was running hundreds of seats.

It’s been interesting to watch the migration from mainframe computers, to the VAX and MicroVAX, then Apollo, Sun, and HP workstations, and now to PCs. Autodesk strengthened and gained respect each step of the way, especially in the last couple years. It goes to show you that one should never underestimate a small company surrounded by industry giants and expensive products. When complacency sets in, almost anything can happen.