A Tale Of Two Events16 Jan, 2008 By: Jeffrey Rowe
Being shut out of one event and welcomed at another made for an interesting beginning of the new year.
As I have for the past several years, I was hoping to cover and report this week on some of the highlights of the 2008 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, Michigan. However, that plan was foiled late last month when I was denied credentials to get into the show, even though I qualified based on the requirements and my past coverage, for example, issues #198 and #200 of MCAD Tech News that discussed GM's hybrid vehicle, the Volt.
When I received the email notifying me I had been denied admission as a press member, I immediately called the press office and asked why I had been denied a credential. I also implored that I was especially interested in this year's show because I understood that a number of sustainable automotive technologies would be introduced and showcased, as well as providing an opportunity to speak directly with some of the designers and engineers who created the vehicles. I was put on hold while the person on the other end looked for my application and associated story files to support the application. With more than 6,000 media attendees accepted, I was upset and curious as to why I did not make the cut.
When the representative returned to the phone, she told me the reason for my denial was because the articles I had written in the past for Cadalyst were too "technical" in nature and focused on design technologies and not necessarily design as an end. She reminded me that the Detroit Auto Dealers Association (DADA) literally runs the show and determines which press members get in and which do not. From a press perspective, she said that the organization considers the glamour and the glitz to be more important than technologies, because in the opinion of the organization, it is the former that sells cars, and after all, that's why they're in business -- to push more metal. When asked why I had received all of the mailings and emails regarding press coverage of the show all throughout 2007 and to this day, and still denied admittance, she couldn't come up with an answer.
From afar, I am following the press coverage, and GM continues to make news as it did last year with the Volt, this year announcing that it may produce the car for the 2009 or 2010 model year. The company also unveiled the Cadillac CTS-V, a production model with a 550-horsepower supercharged version of GM's historic small-block V8, as well as a 620-plus-horsepower Chevrolet ZR1 Corvette. Talk about a mixed message! Anyway, I got shut out this year, for reasons I still don't fully understand, but I'll try again next year, because I, along with many of our readers, am concerned for the future of the transportation industry and its many implications with regard to technical and technology issues regarding resources, the environment, and sustainability.
On a much more positive note, last week I was invited to the official grand opening of Autodesk's Customer Briefing Center (CBC) in Lake Oswego, Oregon. I got a personal tour by Robert "Buzz" Kross, senior vice-president of the Manufacturing Solutions Division (MSD) at Autodesk. The CBC is an idea that Buzz had hoped would come to fruition, and with his vision it did. I've known Buzz quite a few years and could detect the pride he felt when showing off the new CBC to me and others with an event that included other Autodesk employees, members of the media, customers, and members of the local chamber of commerce for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Kross said the purpose of the new center is to inspire designers and engineers by creating an interactive, immersive design environment that showcases how technology can be used to stimulate creativity, increase collaboration across disciplines, and foster greater innovation.
The center itself is a real multimedia treat with huge high-definition projector screens, touch screens, and architectural elements in the center that transform to accommodate various types of presentations. The center also houses and displays a wide range of working equipment used in the manufacturing environment, including a laser scanner for reverse engineering, a machining center, and a rapid prototyping machine. The Lake Oswego facility is serving as the prototype for several other CBCs that Autodesk hopes eventually to build around the world. This facility also houses a good portion of MSD development staff, an organization that now numbers more than 1,500 worldwide.
When Kross spoke to the entire group later in the evening, he was genuinely emotional as he spoke about the CBC being a realized vision and some of the things his customers are designing with Autodesk software. One of the more interesting and inspiring customers that Kross talked about was Magic Wheels, one of the companies whose products are displayed in the CBC's reception area lobby.
The company uses Autodesk software to design and manufacture a two-gear hypocycloidal reduction drive for wheelchairs that does not depend on motors or batteries. It is shifted by hand with two gear ratios: a 1:1 high gear for flat surfaces, and a 2:1 low gear for inclines and holding position on inclines, such as hills or ramps. Although the system does add some weight to a wheelchair, the 2:1 gear lets users exert half as much effort to negotiate a grade, greatly reducing shoulder joint and muscle stress, and can be fitted to most manual wheelchairs. I actually saw an opened gear box and was impressed with the design's relative simplicity, dependable functionality, and the craftsmanship with which it was built.
So, while 2008 began with a bit of frustration regarding the glamour of the automotive industry, it also got off to a great start with my introduction to inspiring companies such as Magic Wheels that are at the forefront of using MCAD technologies for the greater benefit.