Archive for February, 2010

Branding the Ball – The Name

The average American consumer is exposed to about 245 pieces of promotional media on any single day. (1) I believe this has resulted in gradually shorter attention spans and an increasing low tolerance for uninteresting advertisements.  For this reason, advertising media that once only touted a product’s features now focuses more on entertaining the viewer.  Beyond traditional advertising, branding has become a popular technique in marketing a product.

What is “branding”?  Branding is more than a catchy name, an easily recognized logo and a cool tag line.  Branding is the entire persona of a product.  Color, sound, smell, other product association, user demographic, market placement, event sponsorship, etc. etc.  It’s the whole package.  It’s the clothes you wear, the accent in your voice, your cologne, the church you attend, the friends you keep, the places you eat, the car you drive and what brand of facial tissue you blow your nose with.  So, if I were interested in marketing my booger ball product, how would I go about “branding the ball”?

The first thing to consider when developing a product into a brand is its name.  Names have always been important for me.  One of my customers had me working on a new machine that was to be their flagship product of the future.  It was going to include all of the key features of the successful products of their past at half the cost.  It was going to trump the competition.  The name they chose was “Model TBD”.  Now, I understand that the design phase is still early in the product development process, but a product this big deserved a name.  I couldn’t stand working on the project.  Nobody wanted to take responsibility for naming it, so I did.  We called the project the Lancer.  It wasn’t the greatest name, but it did inspire some of the true vision of what the product was to become.  It was much better than TBD (to be determined).  Eventually the marketing department named the product something different, but at least it had a “code” name to help inspire us.

Every project/product I work on needs to have a name so I am always coming up with names for products.  A good product name should describe the product.  It should be easy to say and spell (most important today in the internet age where address is everything).  The name also needs to fit the overall theme of your product (e.g. a sophisticated product needs to have a sophisticated sounding name).  When working on a name, I usually search available domain names (website names) that I might use to market the product.  I also search the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) to see if the name has been registered as a trademark.  I do an internet search to see what else is out there in cyberspace.  I share the name with some of my friends and family to see what they think of it (in business, this is called a “focus group”).  I also say a prayer because I realize that my creativity comes from God who made me and He inspires me to come up with clever names.  All of these activities put together usually results in a suitable name for my project/product.

As it turns out, my story about how to make a booger ball, naturally leads to its own name.  The term “booger ball” is self descriptive.  A search on the USPTO site reveals only 2 registered trade marks including the words booger and ball and they are both expired.  A domain name search reveals is available.  The last thing that makes sense for this name is to combine the words booger and ball together into one word.  The website name does that naturally, but having a unique word (even if it is a combination of two common words) makes it easier to protect the name.  So from now on, I will call my product the BoogerBall.  Everywhere I need to talk about a ball of boogers, I will use the new word BoogerBall.  This is swell because the two words alone are nouns but together they can be used as an adjective.  A BoogerBall box is a box used to hold a ball fabricated  from rubber cement.  Capitalizing the two B’s hearkens back to my computer programming experience where I designed numerous database solutions for small companies and all of the field names were descriptive but mashed together with caps to make sense of them.

As I said before, branding is much more than just a name.  Now that we have established the name, we can focus on the many remaining facets of branding.  More to come…  -Amos

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Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010 Product Development Comments Off on Branding the Ball – The Name

Spirograph Design for CSWP Contest

I’m going SolidWorks World next week and I’ve been told that the CSWP event on Monday night should be a good time. I remember seeing details about last year’s event where everyone got to play with the iCoaster. It looked cool. This year everyone gets to test drive an RC car.  I’m not very good with RC cars, but there’s a design contest too.  That’s something I can do.

The Problem:  design a new wheel in SolidWorks for the SC10 RC car.


The Rules:  Points will be awarded in these key areas:  1) Is the wheel designed and supplied in SolidWorks format? 2) Is the wheel rendered and/or animated in a cool way? 3) Is the wheel construction feasible? (decided by Team Associated engineers/designers)

The rules seem a bit awkward to me – the company obviously wants some free design work, but I want to have some fun. My best designs come when I ignore the Rules and just get creative (notice I said “ignore” and not “forget” – eventually you need to come back to the rules, but if you can ignore them for awhile, your creativity will not be limited.)

My wife still has her childhood Spirograph!

My wife still has her childhood Spirograph!

The first idea that comes to mind is an old toy – the Spirograph. What if my RC car wheel had spokes that looped around in a continuous weave that looked like one of those designs you can make with a Spirograph?

There must be a mathematical equation to describe the path made when a point on one circle is plotted as it rotates around another circle. If I can plot the path mathematically, maybe I can create a 3D path in SolidWorks to describe a sweep for the spokes of my wheel.  After searching for “spirograph equation”, I discovered David Little’s page at Penn State University. As it turns out, the path of a Spirograph is called an epicycloid.  It’s described by a pair of equations:

x(t)=(R+r)cos(t) + p*cos((R+r)t/r)
y(t)=(R+r)sin(t) + p*sin((R+r)t/r)

R and r are the radii of the 2 circles, p is the position along the radius of the first circle (the hole you put your pencil in on a Spirograph).  Mr Little’s website has a cool Java applet that draws epicycloids based upon your input. If you experiment with this tool, you can discover all sorts of interesting geometry.  After a few iterations, I found a combination that I thought might look like the spokes of a wheel using the values R=72, r=66 and p=67.Applet

Where would engineers be without the spreadsheet? I remember seeing a documentary on PBS called Nerds where I learned that the first spreadsheet was called Visicalc and it was for accountants.  Excel is the tool that I am most familiar with – version 2003 being most preferred. The Excel version of these formulas seems a bit more complicated. First, cells are made for all of the constants (R, r, p). I added a few extra for scaling – the final goal is an equation of a curve that will intersect the hub and rim of our wheel. Examination of the formula quickly reveals that t is an angular variable. I made a column for t in degrees because I know this is a cyclical function that will repeat every 360º (remember, it’s a circle rotating around a circle). I also made a column for radians (degrees times pi divided by 180) because Excel evaluates sine and cosine in radians. I probably could change this default somewhere, but that is something I would probably forget later and it’s easy to remember how to convert degrees to radians.

I know I want X and Y coordinates for the entire path and that they will eventually return to zero. I wasn’t sure how to know how many points to plot so I made some check formulas that subtract the current X and Y values from the original X and Y values – when the check columns both hit zero, I know I’ve returned home. The last step for X and Y is to plot a curve using Excel’s graph tool. The Excel graph matches the epicycloid plot so I know I’m on the right track. (Actually, I’m thoroughly appreciating the same feature that the original users of Visicalc appreciated, Excel’s power to iterate until I get it right.)GraphXY

Some interesting observations: my epicycloid has 12 loops and the equation to describe it requires 3960 points at one degree increments. If I made another with 22 loops, I would expect it to take 7560 points to describe it (360 x 21). For some reason, my check equations did not exactly return to zero until I placed a round function into my formulas – I added a variable for the number of rounded decimal places as well.

What about Z? The equations for an epicycloid are only in 2 dimensions, but I want a 3D path for my wheel spokes. The options are limitless, but a sine function would make a nice smooth equation and it would behave in a similar way as the epicycloid equations. Some constants are necessary to vary how often the equation returns to zero and vary its scale. Graphing the function over the same range gives a clue how the path will vary in Z.GraphZ

PointsExcel’s worksheet functionality makes it easy to create formatted output. It turns out that the way the wheel was originally created, I need my X and Z data points to be swapped. By creating a new worksheet with only X, Y and Z values, I can swap the values very easily. The final result is a text file with 3960 points of X, Y and Z data.

Now to SolidWorks! The Insert Curve Through XYZ Points tool quickly creates a 3D path.

CurveMenuAs a point of interest, I believe it was because of this tool that Walt Disney Imagineering chose SolidWorks as it’s 3D design tool – they had 3D points to describe the path of a rollercoaster and needed a tool to model the track. I created a second sketch on a principal plane perpendicular to the path. I started with just a sketch point and some dimensions tieing it down to the path.

CurveThen I made the geometry for my sweep all tied to the sketch point. This way, if I want to change the profile from a circle to a square, I don’t lose my dimensions when I delete the circle. The Sweep tool turns all this hard work into an effortless expression of mathematical beauty. A few features to tie the spokes to the wheel and I have my entry.

Of course, I must return to the rules. I already know I will not win because, although my design is interesting, it cannot be molded which is the intent of rule 3. Rule 1 is easy – SolidWorks makes the whole thing possible. So Rule 2 is the only one left to satisfy.

AEA DesignI’m running out of time so a quick assembly with a cut-away view and a few minutes of rendering in PhotoView 360 and, at last, I have an entry.

Here are all of the files I used to create this design.  -Amos

AEA Entry 1 of 2
AEA Entry 2 of 2

Followup:  SolidWorks World was great. The CSWP event was very fun even though I am a very poor RC driver. CarI did not win the design contest (for obvious reasons). I did, however, win one of 40 SC-10 RC cars, which is VERY cool!

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Wednesday, February 10th, 2010 SolidWorks, Swell Ideas Comments Off on Spirograph Design for CSWP Contest

SolidWorks World Presentation

ShowPhotoLast week I taught a course at SolidWorks World called Nonwelded Weldments – Using SolidWorks Weldment Tools and 3DContentCentral to Create 80/20 Structures. I always enjoy teaching and this event was especially gratifying when a couple of the attendees told me that they had been designing 80/20 frames for years but had never thought to use the Weldment tools to do it. It will save them a bunch of time.  I plan to show the steps here in future posts, but I thought I would post the PowerPoint and support files for those who are interested.  -Amos

Non-Welded Weldments



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Tuesday, February 9th, 2010 CAD, SolidWorks 1 Comment