Sunday, June 2, 2013

Emflume design. Lawyers and architects.



I spent my weekend checking and finalizing design details for our Emflume; we debuted a prototype at ASEE a year ago.  We’ll build hundreds of them, even a tiny mistake will cost us, and our clients and colleagues, a lot.

As I work, listening to This American Life: horror stories about “patent trolls.”   A fascinating tale from the amazing Ira Glass and his team.   


Especially for me -- My designs have been stolen and patented by others.  It’s easy to do.

This problem is more immediate:

Architects and other fraction-lovers in the United States use a Stone Age measurement system.  Non decimal fractions and Imperial (or "English") units.

Our US military uses  the SI system. Our medical system, mostly.  Scientists, of course. The United States could have converted in the1970’s with minimal pain and cost.  I’m going to take a wild guess a who (hint: reactionary) didn’t like that idea.

2013:  Engineers mostly use decimal feet (or inches); the many miles (oops, km) of streams I’ve surveyed were done that way.  Everything is xxx.xxx.  10.30.  3472.56

Architects and most builders still use feet, inches, fractions.   Fabricators, too.  Our machinists contractors.

Add 2’ 3” + 1’ 4”.  Then divide by three.  Then try 13 1/8” +  1 9/64”.

I lose perhaps 10% of my design time converting fractions to decimals and back again to order materials.  Another 10% when we're building.   It causes errors.   This Mars mission mistake cost us $600 million.

I work in a purgatory where all materials come in Imperial sizes.  Fractions.  Engineers are trending away, but the architects cling to it.

CAD packages are forced to accommodate this, including Sketchup, the one I’m using.

Architects:  Fractions of inches? Twelve inches to a foot, then inches, and then fractions of inches?  For real?

Scene:  An architect in the Emergency Room could be dying!

Nurse:  “I’ve calculated the dose to save this designer -- it’s  27 milliliters!"

In this ER, in a stunning building hated by all those who have to actually work in it, syringes are marked only in ounces and fractions.  Its designers insisted that its gesture extend even into the tools used in it.....anyway:

He's dying, hurry!  27ml = 0.950 ounces.

The syringe has 1/32 ounce calibrations, so:

1/32 = 0.03125 oz per graduation;  0.950 oz / 0.03125 = 30.4 graduations, so fill that thing to 30.5/ 32 oz, right?


Right?  Doctor? Oh my.  His left pupil is 13/64 inches, his blood pressure is down to 2 and 37/64 inches over 53/64 inches!  We're losing him.......

I do that ridiculous stuff day after day.  All my nuts, bolts, shafts, shims, sheets, rods and drill bits are in this stupid system.
 

 It must cost our economy $billions every year.

Can't show you all my work (remember those patent trolls?), but here's a jig I'm designing tonight.  It'll hold the big acrylic parts of the flume while they're being joined.















1 comment:

David Eaton said...

Oh, how I feel your pain. I'm an R and D chemist, working for a company that is mainly engineer-centric. Some subgroups (electrical, optical) are completely metric. But many of the design and mechanical guys are hardshell Imperial unit. Our industry is peculiar and hybrid (we make thing for the automotive sector).

Nothing prepared me for coming from a national laboratory to industry, but most of the cultural weirdness dies down. The clinging to antiquated units is still galling after a decade of being here.

IP is a constant battle. We have patent trolls pecking at us all the time, and we are successful enough that we're have a sharp-fanged legal team ready to punish those who would trifle with us, and still it happens all the time. Good luck. Keep good records. Ingratiate yourself to some IP lawyers.