Technologies

This page outlines a few technologies that are important to our work and some recent developments that present new and interesting opportunities for solving engineering problems.


Parallel programming

One of our current projects is the signal to connector contact assignment program which ADE is currently developing. The design problem which this program is intended to solve involves an enormous number of potential solutions and is a challenging problem both for the designer and for a computer program. In one example, the theoretical number of potential solutions to analyse is 2.82e+128. Even if a computer program were able to check 100 million assignments per second it would take longer than the age of the universe (estimated at 4.33e+17 seconds) to analyse all the permutations!

With this type of problem it is, of course, essential to optimise program execution time. The most important factor is the choice of programming algorithm. But in the past few years multi-core processors have become very affordable and now provide us with an additional means of improving program execution time for certain types of problem. Also extra features have recently been added into the Microsoft .NET programmers framework to help with the many challenges involved in developing and testing parallel programs.

In the past software developers have been able to rely upon a continual improvement in processor speeds to help improve program execution times. But now we are having to learn how to harness the power of multi-core processors.

Parallel code is much more complicated than sequential code both to design and test and parallel algorithms should, therefore, be used with care. But the inescapable fact is that increasing numbers of processor cores now seem to be the only way that computing power will improve. Therefore, programmers have no choice but to face up to the fascinating and exciting opportunities provided by parallel programming techniques.


Microsoft Expression Web

We used Microsoft Expression Web V4 to produce this web site. Expression Web provides advanced standards-compliant handling of HTML/XHTML, CSS, PHP and ASP.NET Ajax. In this it is in a different league to Microsoft's previous web authoring solution, FrontPage. It is around half the price of the market leading Adobe Dreamweaver but Microsoft's offering includes most of the necessary features.


SpaceClaim

SpaceClaim appears to represent a significant step forward in the 3D CAD world, especially in terms of ease of use. However, it is a new system that has yet to establish a track record. Normally we prefer to let others contend with the risks inherent in new systems but in this case the risks were reduced because:

  • Key staff at SpaceClaim have had long and successful careers in the CAD industry.
  • SpaceClaim uses the well proven ACIS modelling kernel.

The unique features of SpaceClaim include:

  • Ease of use. It certainly seems easier to use than the likes of Pro/E, Catia and SolidWorks.
  • A clean, modern and uncluttered user interface.
  • Easy to modify geometry created by others users, even in other systems.
  • Clean application programmer’s interface (API) which will enable us to develop software add-ons and extensions.
  • Relatively low-cost compared to SolidWorks, Inventor, etc.

3D

Since the late 1970's major CAD vendors have been promising that 3D would revolutionise engineering design and production engineering. Since the late 1990's PC graphics capabilities have shot ahead and hardware prices have plummeted. More affordable hardware now means 3D is economically viable for more people and more applications. Also recent software advances mean 3D has become a little easier to use. It seems the time for 3D might at last be arriving. Click here for details on one alternative to general purpose 3D modelling systems.


Computer languages

In recent years we have used Microsoft Visual Basic or VB.NET for most of our work. Over the 40+ years we have each been working with computers, we have tried to choose languages that had an assured future and sound support. Thus we have avoided many of the language fads that have come and gone during that period. Three key reasons we currently prefer VB for our sort of work are:

  1. It's generally much quicker to develop a program in VB than it is in languages such as C++. Therefore, we can quote lower costs to our customers and we can deliver working programs much sooner.
  2. VB, in all it's various forms, is the first or second most popular language for developing Microsoft Windows applications and, therefore, it is the language in which our customers are more likely to have some expertise. This provides our customers with the opportunity to make enhancements after they take ownership of the software source code we develop for them.
  3. It's easy to create attractive user interfaces which conform to the common standards employed by most commercial software which runs on Microsoft Windows.

There is also an increasing range of tools available to help programmers in their work. Among those we currently use are the Redgate ANTS Performance Profiler and LogicNP's Crypto Obfuscator for .Net.


Microsoft Visio

We have developed software for use with Visio since 1995 for work we have done with BICC and Raychem (now a part of TE Connectivity/Tyco Electronics). Visio is an easy-to-use, affordable 2D drawing system that is suited to many schematic draughting applications. Click here for the resources to Roger's "Developing Visio Solutions with VB" talk he presented to the Visual Basic Users Group.


AutoCAD

We have used AutoCAD for a wide range of projects including:

  • An automotive wiring harness design system for Lucas Rists. We started this project in 1986 when the AutoLISP language was first introduced to allow customised extensions to be added to AutoCAD.
  • Design, draughting, parts listing and document management systems for BOC Process Plants sites in the UK and USA.
  • Maintenance, extensions and support of a landscape gardening design, costing and quantity take-off system for James Blake and Associates.

We believe AutoCAD is a good system for to-scale drawing work in such industries as mechanical engineering and architecture.


Medusa

We helped a number of companies implement and customise their Medusa CAD systems. These include: Babcock Woodall-Duckham, GEC Alsthom, Link51 Storage Products, Prime Computer (UK), Raychem, Root Solutions, Satake, Urenco and Williams Fairey Engineering.

Unfortunately Medusa has had four or five different owners and it did not receive the investment in development and support which it deserved. Also one of the previous owners failed to recognise the need for a low-cost PC version at the time when AutoCAD was being developed into a credible alternative during the late 1980's and early 1990's. As a result the number of companies using Medusa has declined significantly from the peak in the mid 1990's. The rights to Medusa are now owned by CAD Schroer www.cad-schroer.com.


Database systems

Many of our projects require some form of database. Where possible we use systems such as Microsoft Access, SQL Server or Oracle to avoid reinventing the wheel and to provide more flexible solutions. However we have also developed database systems specifically tailored to particular applications where necessary for reasons of performance or cost. Quadstar is an example of a special purpose textual and graphical database system we developed to help with welding quality assurance and project management in the offshore oil platform fabrication and nuclear construction industries.


OpenGL

OpenGL is a software interface to graphics hardware which is used to specify objects and operations needed for interactive 3D applications. OpenGL was developed by Silicon Graphics Inc but is hardware independent and is a part of the native Microsoft Windows operating system and many versions of Unix. Information, mainly intended for programmers, is available on the Official OpenGL Web Site: www.opengl.org/.

We have used OpenGL to produce 3D modelling systems for electrical wiring harnesses and warehouse racking systems.


Screen capture & recording systems

During the Windows PC era we've tried quite a few different screen capture and recording systems with varying degrees of success. One from a very well known software publisher, who will remain nameless, was so bad we even asked for, and received, a full refund!

Against this mixed background it's good to report that Camtasia and SnagIt are very much better. These two systems produce high quality videos and screen captures and they are easy to use. For further details refer to www.techsmith.com or www.greymatter.com. Grey Matter are the UK distributor and they're one of the best software retailers we know.


OpenHSF

The OpenHSF Initiative was an industry-wide effort, launched in February 2002, to establish a common, open format for sharing 3D data between disparate CAE systems. The Hoops Streaming File (HSF) was potentially a better file format than options such as IGES, VRML and STEP because:

  • At the outset key players like PTC, Dassault, SolidWorks and Autodesk signed up as supporters.
  • HSF files allow 3D models to be published on Internet web sites. Because HSF is a streaming file format you can pan and zoom around the 3D model even while the file is downloading.
  • HSF files can be structured so that individual components can be moved around within the receiving CAD system and can be associated with such attributes as part numbers, costs, etc.

Unfortunately, however, OpenHSF failed to gain widespread support and it now appears to have fallen by the wayside. Our HarnVis system can export OpenHSF files.

Signal to connector contact assignment program

This is a screen shot of the signal to connector contact program we are currently developing.

Microsoft Expression Web

IGES file imported into SpaceClaim

An IGES file generated by our HarnVis software that has been imported into SpaceClaim.

Visio drawing

A Visio drawing generated using one of our systems.

3D visualisation

A 3D visualisation generated using one of our systems.

3D piping and plant models generated by Medusa, a general purpose CAD system.

System diagram

Databases are a key part of most of our software.

3D output using OpenGL

We've used OpenGL for output from some of our 3D software.

OpenGL OpenHSF