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When NASA’s JPL landed the Curiosity Rover on Mars, I was impressed. Not just that they’d done it blind (because of the time-delay in communications from Mars), but also that they’d done it by dropping the rover on cables from a rocket-powered sky crane as it descended to the surface.
Think about that for a moment: That would be hard enough to do on Earth, where they’d be able to do full-scale physical testing of prototypes. Doing it on Mars, where the gravity is different from Earth, and where they had only one shot to get it right, took some serious engineering.
My first guess about how they did it was one word: Adams. And, it turns out, I was right. Adams, from MSC software, is possibly the best known multibody dynamics simulation software system, and JPL used it to simulate the process of dropping the rover onto the surface of Mars.
While I’ve known about Adams for years, I’ve generally not paid all that much attention to it, because it’s often used by rocket scientists and advanced dynamicists, not design engineers. It takes a lot of expertise to setup right, and just isn’t the kind of tool that the kind of people who I hang out with would typically feel comfortable using. (OK–I admit that I know a few people who actually are rocket scientists, one of whom uses Adams, but I think you get my point.)
Last year, MSC Software released a special version of Adams (called Adams/Machinery) that was designed for my kind of people. I wouldn’t have been surprised had MSC dumbed-down Adams to make it easier to use, but they did something very different: They developed a series of wizards, that could be used to design and analyze common machine subsystems, such as gears, belts, pulleys, chains, sprockets, bearings, and cables.
While Adams has long been able to design and analyze these sort of subsystems, the process has required a lot of expertise and work. That’s changed. The wizards in Adams/Machinery not only make the process easier, but they also allow the designer to adjust the level of fidelity of simulation, based on their needs.
Adams/Machinery can help designers solve some otherwise tough problems:
- Analyze bearing contact force, and predict service life,
- Predict load and performance of power transmission systems,
- Predict how gear ratio, friction and backlash impact the overall system performance, like the output torque or the system vibration,
- Analyze how the contact force between gears could change due to backlash effect,
- Study how different gear parameters impact the stress distribution of the input shaft,
- Predict how Bearing clearance affects the gear mesh,
- Calculate the dynamic loading of the gear, bearing, shaft or any component in the system,
- Calculate dynamic belt tension and how slippage would affect system performance,
- And quite a lot more.
Not too long ago, I attended MSC’s 50th anniversary user conference. While there, I got to talking with Leslie Bodnar, MSC’s marketing director, about Adams/Machinery. It occurred to me that many of the engineers who read Design World magazine are involved in designing machinery that incorporates the kind of subsystems for which Adams/Machinery is optimized. It also occurred to me that many of those engineers never do multibody dynamics analysis, because they assume the process is too hard, or too time consuming. Or, perhaps, they might not even know it’s possible.
I had an idea: What if, instead of using boring sample problems to demonstrate the capabilities of Adams/Machinery, MSC was to run an analysis on a really interesting real world problem, from one of our readers? It’s one thing for an engineering software vendor to brag about how good their software is, but it’s another thing entirely to step up and prove it on an actual customer problem.
So, I made Leslie a proposal: Design World would hold a contest with MSC, and ask our readers to submit real-world machine design dynamics problems. We would choose a really interesting one, and MSC would work side-by-side with that reader, to run a full Adams/Machinery analysis on the problem.
For the reader, the “prize” of winning the contest would be an analysis that could help solve a sticky design problem, and get their project done and shipped faster. For MSC, it would be a chance to “put-up or shut-up, ” by showing that not only is their software up to the task of running the analysis, but also that it’s easy enough for a mere mortal (as opposed to a PhD analyst) to learn to use. This wouldn’t be some simplistic sales demo: It would be a intimate customer engagement, where they’d need to deliver a real solution. Surprisingly, she said yes, she would do it.
So, I present to you the Design World Dynamic Design Challenge, sponsored by MSC Software. Choose your stickiest dynamic design challenge (it should include cables, bearings, gears, belts, sprockets, or chains), and visit the contest registration page. There, you can register, and tell us about your design problem. You can even upload pictures or videos. If we choose your problem as the winner, MSC will work with you to nail that problem to the wall, but good.
You might wonder: Will it be worth it? Is entering this challenge, just to have a chance to win an analysis of your mechanism, really worth the effort? You might ask the folks at JPL. Multibody dynamic analysis has paid off pretty well for them.