Engineers showcase technology



(December 10, 1998)
By James O'Brien

Technology is almost inescapable these days: we're surrounded by it in our offices and homes, it's embedded in our clothes and personal effects, and in many cases it's even installed in our bodies.

A recent exhibition at Memorial Stadium in St. John's was dedicated to highlighting provincial activity in the areas of business, industrial and consumer technology.  Sponsored by the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology Industries (NATI), the show featured a cross-section of the over 230 companies and organizations in the province's advanced technology sector.

The Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science was represented by displays focussed on the faculty's industrial development capability. Exhibits featured the rapid prototyping machine (RPM), motion analysis, and various engineered medical products. Visitors to the faculty's booth could see the RPM, which Industrial Development Engineer (IDE) Peter Saturley describes as "a computer-controlled glue gun," build a prototype of a common buckle fastener in a few hours. This type of product would normally be moulded out of plastic, requiring a much longer and more expensive development process.

From a business standpoint, using the RPM to make a model delivers a tangible object quickly and efficiently.  A plastic or paper laminate prototype is more convincing to a potential investor than a drawing or graphic, and it can be assessed for usability and appearance. The faculty's two prototyping machines can produce 3-D models of any file from a high-end CAD package, and have generated everything from guitars to marine propellers to model human jaws with removable teeth.

Also on hand at the show was a motion analysis display that uses video together with computing technology to create a digital record of human movement. The resulting file might be used to evaluate the  ergonomic properties of a workplace, assess the onset of fatigue in workers, or even to render a digital version of an athlete's performance for a computer game. It also had the interesting side-effect of mesmerizing children, who enjoyed watching their digital images march across a large projection screen.

Engineer John Tucker characterized the show as a great success.

"It gave us an opportunity to rub shoulders with important players in the local technology marketplace," he said.

Participation in events like the NATI Technology showcase helps make the public aware of important and interesting work happening in engineering at Memorial, while also highlighting the faculty's role in supporting the development of provincial industry and business, explained Andy Fisher, co-ordinator of the Manufacturing Technology Centre.

He said the availability of unique expertise and equipment in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science has the potential to tremendously augment the competitive advantages of local firms in the global marketplace.

These are just a few of the ways in which Memorial's engineers are designing and building the future here in Newfoundland and Labrador, he added.