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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Seam carving pictures to remove unwanted elements

Recently while using a friend’s computer, I came across an image editing software that uses the Seam Carving technique to  resize images. Played around with it a bit and have now started getting some fairly decent results.

Before Seam carving

Original picture


After Seam carving

After Seam Carving


 (Click on the thumbnail to see the actual picture)

Resizing a picture by normal methods would mean that all elements in the picture would get resized – either all enlarged or all shrunk. However using Seam Carving method you can specify which part of the picture you want resized and which part you want to remain untouched.

Resizing with Seam Carving

As can be seen while resizing, the aircrafts in the pictures have remained untouched. Only the space between the aircrafts was removed with the Seam Carving method.

This method proved to be especially helpful to in using some earlier unusable pictures as wallpapers.

Original picture


Cropping without Seam Carving


Cropping after Seam carving


(Click on the thumbnails to view the bigger picture)

As you can see in the thumbnails above, when I crop the original picture (1) using aspect ratio 4:3, in the resulting image I get (2) the aircraft is not completely shown in the picture. So I apply Seam Carving to the picture to remove some space between the aircrafts and once that is complete, I crop the image. The resulting image (3) has the aircrafts shown completely and prominently.

There are a few terms you will have to deal with while applying this technique – Seams, Energy Lines, edges etc

Used Seam Carving GUI to apply Seam Carving to the pictures. Will try it in GIMP using the Liquid Rescale plugin later.

The October issue of IC-CHIP magazine also carries an article on Seam Carving. You might want to go though it if you living in India.

Some additional Resources

Youtube video about Seam Carving

Dr. Ariel Shamir’s Homepage

Shai Avidan’s website

All images courtesy


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Practices for an effective and safe Internet surfing experience

The Internet is the best source of knowledge and information one can access. The best part – most of these high quality and relevant information is accessible for free. However in this pursuit, people often become victims of break-in attempts, identity theft and other such unpleasant activities. The worst part – the number of such incidences are on the increase and is only expected to worsen – unless you yourself are careful and alert to thwart off any such attempt on you.

My friend from the forum, Dr. Neville Fernandez has written down some very good and handy set of guidelines which if followed will keep you a lot safer from the majority of threats present out there.

Follow these guidelines and you will enjoy a safe and effective Internet experience.

As for me, I am guided by one belief when it comes to my activities on the Internet,

“You are not paranoid....They really are out to get you.”

Download the document





Monday, October 27, 2008

Check if a username is available on a site with Username check

A nifty site that lets you check before registration if a desired username has already been registered on that site. Becomes especially handy if the site makes you fill up all the registration details again in case the chosen username already been taken.

Check available username


Username Check currently looks up 68 sites & promises to add more. With more and more sites using AJAX-embedded registration pages, this function can often be done while registering on the site itself without making use of this site.

An irritant was that looking up username means looking up all the sites it supports. Though not much time is taken, it would have been better if they could let the user selectively look up a site.

Nevertheless it could be helpful in deciding which site to sign up with, if there more than 1 site with similar features and service – you simply sign up with the site that has your desired username available ;).

Thanks Cool Chatbot


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Flexible Manufacturing Systems [F.M.S] : Whitepaper - Abstract

Update: This post has now been shifted completely into the Blog

One of the most revolutionary concepts of Machining Processes to emerge in the last two decades has been the concept of Flexible Manufacturing System (F.M.S.). It is a concept of machining where a set of machine tools can be used to perform a wide range of machining operations to produce a variety of products. This dynamic nature of the machine tools can be achieved by developing a beautiful amalgamation of Hardware and Software components.

The paper attempts to put forth the concept of Flexible Manufacturing System. It tries to explain as to why such a system of machining is the need of the hour. It enlightens us about the various Hardware and Software components of this system and how each of them works in co-ordination with each other. The paper also explains how a F.M.S. can be designed to suit the requirements of a particular company’s job profile. Once the F.M.S. has been designed the paper also tells us how to go about implementing this system right from procuring the required components to starting production on the system. With the help of Case Studies the paper explains how companies have set-up F.M.S. and have gained from it. The paper also tells about the various improvements in results that companies have achieved by implementing this system. The paper also tells how implementing F.M.S. in Indian companies can help them face global challenges.

Read the subsequent parts:

Part 01

Part 02

Part 03

Flexible Manufacturing Systems [F.M.S] : Whitepaper 03

Read the previous parts: Abstract, Part 1, Part 2

Case Studies


The Hattersley Newman Hender (H.N.H.) F.M.S.: -

This company is located at Ormskirk, U.K. and manufactures high and low pressure bodies and caps for water, gas and oil valves. These components require a total of 2750 parts for their manufacture. That is why they decided to go for the system of F.M.S. to fulfil their machining requirements in a single system. Their F.M.S. consists of primary and secondary facilities. The primary facilities include 5 universal machining centres and 2 special machining centres. The secondary facilities consist of tool setting and manual workstations.

System layout and facilities (Figure 6): -

Primary facilities: -

1.) Machining centres: - The F.M.S. contains two 5-axis horizontal ‘out-facing’ machines and five 4-axis machining centres under the host control. All the machines have a rotating pallet changer each with two pallet buffer stations. These stations transfer pallets to and from the transport system (8 Automated Guided Vehicles). The 5 universal machining centres have 2 magazines with capacity of 40 tools in each magazine. The special purpose out-facing machines (O.F.M.) each have one magazine having a capacity of 40 tools. The tool magazines can be loaded by sending instructions to the tool setting room either from the host computer or the machine’s numerical controller.

Flexible Manufacturing Systems [F.M.S]

Figure 6: - Layout of the Hattersley Newman Hender (H.N.S.) F.M.S.,

Courtesy Flexible Manufacturing, Parrish.

2.) Processing centres: - The system contains two processing centres – a wash machine and two manual workstations.

Wash machines: - it contains two conveyor belts (one for input and one for output of pallets), each with a capacity of three pallets to transfer the pallets. The wash booth has a capacity of three pallets. The pallets are washed in the booth and turned upside-down to drain out the water and then it is dried with blown air.

Manual workstations (ring fitting area): - The operator fits metal sealing rings into the valve bodies at the manual workstations. The operator receives work instructions from a computer interface with the host.

Secondary facilities: -

1.) Auxiliary stations: -

Load/unload stations: - The F.M.S. has four piece part load/unload stations. Loading and unloading is performed at these stations with the instructions received on a computer interfaced with the host.

Fixture-setting station: - At this stations the fixtures are readjusted to accommodate different piece parts.

Administration of tools: - Tools are assembled manually. The tool-setting machine checks the dimensional offsets of the tools and generates a bar code for further identification of the tool that has been set.

2.) Auxiliary facilities: -

Transport system: - The transport system consists of a controller and 8 Automated Guided Vehicles (A.G.V.). The system also contains an A.G.V. battery charging area.

Buffer stores: - The F.M.S. has 20 buffer stores in order to store the empty and loaded pallets while they are waiting they waiting to be taken to another transfer station (i.e. a load/unload station or a machine tool etc.).

Maintenance Area: - This facility cater for pallets that may be damaged or need servicing or for scrapped piece-parts.

Raw Material Stores: - These stores are located in front of the load / unload stations and are used to store the raw materials (like forged valve bodies etc). The store is served by two fork-lift-stacker cranes and motor roller conveyors. It has a capacity of 80 containers.

Fixture store: - The fixtures that are not used live in F.M.S. are stored here. It has a capacity of storing 120 fixtures. The store is served by a stacker crane and motor roller conveyors.



The Vought workshop F.M.S.

The Vought Aerospace plant located at Dallas makes two elements for the B-1 Bomber fuselage which is made up of some 2000 machined parts, 600 of which are suitable for reduction in an F.M.S. This programme is somewhat shorter than the majority of American aerospace production runs which often require 1000s of parts. This presented a problem to the company since it is not profitable to introduce specialised equipment for such short runs. So the company decided to develop an F.M.S. for this particular project.

Flexible Manufacturing Systems [F.M.S]

Figure 7: - Installation plan of the Vought workshop F.M.S

Courtesy: - Flexible Manufacturing Systems in Practice, Bonetto

Elements of the Vought F.M.S.: -

  1. Eight 4-axes Milacron 20 HC horizontal machining centre with Allen Bradley numerical control and a 90 capacity tool magazine.

  2. A washing station.

  3. 4 wire-guided vehicles.

  4. Two Carousals, each with 10 spaces.

  5. Two D.E.A. vertical measuring machines, with transverse movement and heads with two axes of rotation.

  6. A rectification centre.

  7. Swarf treating system.

The implementation of F.M.S. brought the following benefits to the company: -

  • The manufacturing process of the parts on traditional machines took about 200,000 hours. It same set of machining operations could be accomplished on the F.M.S. in about 70,000 hours. Thus it reduced the manufacturing time by 65%.

  • The total cost of installation of the F.M.S. was about 15 million dollar. The operation of the F.M.S. in a period of three years resulted in an estimated saving of 25 million dollars. This represents a return of 40% on the initial investment.

  • The whole workshop occupies an area of 2,800 square metres, which is relatively small as compared to that of the traditional workshops of the same capacity.


Factory of the future

Flexible Manufacturing Systems [F.M.S]

We have achieved complete automation in the Machining operation part of the F.M.S. and to a lesser degree in the assembly system. Automation of the various aspects of the industry has been achieved in isolation. Efforts are now being made towards integrating these isolated systems into a single entity.

This will eventually result in the formation of a completely automated super system, in which all the operations, from designing a product to packaging is fully integrated into the system. This factory would be able to function without any human interference. This will require an immense level of co-ordination between the various departments at the hardware and software levels.

The hardware used should be of a very high quality and compatibility and the software must posses an extremely high level of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). The roles of humans in this system are that of supervision and ensuring that the system follows the direction the humans envisage. F.M.S.


Indian Context

Some companies in India have adopted F.M.S. technology for its operations. However this technology is still not widely implemented in India. For the Indian industries to sustain itself and compete in the global market it is necessary that they adopt some new generation manufacturing process like F.M.S. For this to happen the Government should also take an active part in encouraging the development of F.M.S. in India.



F.M.S.s are now being widely employed to improve productivity and quality of the product. It also improves the quality of life for the operator. The new techniques will have a major impact on economic factors. Research must be carried out in the development of the technical aspects of software and hardware to develop a better F.M.S to suit various requirements. Research must also be conducted in developing a standardisation process in certain areas, to enable its easier implementation, as present Research being done is not sufficient.

Thus F.M.S. technology has been able to fulfil the needs of the industry quite successfully. Therefore, implementation of F.M.S. will benefit both the Manufacturer and the Consumer.


Flexible Manufacturing Systems [F.M.S] : Whitepaper 02

Read the previous parts: Abstract, Part 1

Working Of an F.M.S.

F.M.S. is system where a high degree of flexibility in the machining process is achieved by an integration of the hardware and software components. The flexibility in F.M.S. is achieved with the help of software controlling the hardware. The first step in the production of any component is scheduling the production. The flexibility in F.M.S. is achieved by proper scheduling of the production process. This is achieved with the help of the production scheduling software. A variety of computer-based scheduling methods can be used in production. In order to prepare an ideal scheduling process, certain inputs are required by the software. These data include Part Data, Pallet Data, Program Data and Machine Data.

It selects the optimal method based on the production objectives, available resources and the economic considerations to select the batch size. It determines the allocation of part to machines depending upon the operation to be performed, the availability of the machines and priority.

Once the scheduling operation is complete, the process planning software takes over. It determines the type of manufacturing processes that the work-piece has to undergo to be converted into a finished product. It does so by retrieving specific information from the central database, and considering machine tool capabilities and tooling.

After the type of machining operation to be performed on a work-piece is decided, the tool management software selects the appropriate tool to be supplied to the machining centres. It does so by taking into consideration the tooling status and inventory records and a tool replacement strategy. Proper interfacing should be provided between these three software.

Once the scheduling and process planning stages are completed, the manufacturing of the work-piece actually starts. The raw work-piece is first fixed on the pallet and placed in the pallet store. The Robotic arm then picks up the required pallet and loads it on the guided vehicles (G.V.). The G.V. transports the pallet to the appropriate machining centres according to the scheduling program. If the machining centres is busy, the pallet is kept in centre’s buffer station. The buffer stations are provided so that work is always available for the machining centre.

The tool management software selects the tool from the tool room and supplies it to the machining centres through the tool transport system. The machine performs the metal cutting operation according to the part program it receives from the D.N.C. The acts as the single-point supplier of part programs as required by the various machining centres.

After the machining is completed on one machine a G.V. takes it to the next machining centre, if required, for the further processing of the work-piece. In this way the G.V.S transport the work-piece from machine to machine till it is transformed in to the finished product. At regular interval intervals of time, the machining operation stops, allowing probes to come out and measure the dimensions of the work-piece being operated on. This product is taken to the washing centre for cleaning and then to the inspection station for checking the product. At the end of the work process, the work-piece is unloaded with the help of a Robotic arm.

One of the characteristics of an F.M.S. is that a machine tool can work in various modes depending upon the requirements of the user. These are:

  • Automatic mode: - this is the normal mode of operation of the machine tool when part of the system.

  • D.N.C. mode: - In this mode any operation can be initiated at N.C.’s panel without being watched by the host.

  • Maintenance mode: - This mode is used when maintenance is planned for a machine. The machine is also put in this mode when it is expected to be out of operation for a long period.

  • Stand-alone mode: - This mode can be used to test the part program of a new piece part before introducing it in the system. The machine is unsynchronized by the host in this mode.

All the processes carried out by the hardware are being monitored in real-time by the various intrinsic software(s) loaded on to the Host Computer. Thus the Host Computer controls the whole system.

Production Control software selects the suitable work-piece to be machined and monitors its progress through the machining centres and inspection stations according to the production schedule.

Production monitoring and reporting software collects the various data related to product management like number of completed parts, inspections results, tool change data etc and provides standard and custom reports for managing the F.M.S. resources. It also monitors the utilization of the different units and the current status of machining operation. If any problems arise they are promptly reported to avoid delay in taking corrective measures and maximizing machine utilization.

The Machine/Process control is the lowest level in the communication hierarchy. It operates at the machine level and provides both control and monitoring functions. It monitors tool status and provides tool replacement strategies. It can also adapt to variation in process variables in real-time.

Machine Diagnostic software detects and can predict malfunctions, the probable reasons for the malfunctions and offers solutions for the same. In case of a failure, it can switch control of the failed unit to a back-up system.

For the optimum performance of the system, it is necessary to carry out maintenance operations on a regular basis. In case of a failure, corrective measures have to adopted by the maintenance personnel. A Maintenance Planning software performs the auxiliary functions required for the actual maintenance of the F.M.S. This includes activities like scheduling maintenance activities, issuing maintenance reports, supporting real-time supervision of machine components etc. It should also be able to track the status of maintenance and determine crew assignments.

Simulation is an important tool to test the part program of a new work-piece that is to be introduced or to check any alterations made in the part program of an existing work-piece and identify any bottlenecks. It is also used to compare alternative design and performing work scheduling and job sequencing. Examples of some simulation software are SIMAN, SLAM II etc.

CAD software is used to design the product and represent it in a solid model. While a CAM software is used to convert this solid model into part programs incorporating all the information about the machining operations to be performed on the work-piece.

The information based on which the whole system performs its functions is accessed from the central database system.

The software is supplied Artificial Intelligence capability to be able to take decisions based on the actions of the system performed till now. The program development should be menu-driven and have a user-friendly software. The concept of Blueprint Programming is widely used in the system, which involves the use of data for cutting parameters.

Thus the various components of the F.M.S. work in co-ordination with each other to create a super machine of a versatile character.


Developing an F.M.S.

As F.M.S. is such an elaborate technology, its standardisation has been difficult. Thus each F.M.S. has to be customized to suit the requirements of a particular company. Thus each time a company wants to install an F.M.S., it has to go through the entire process of designing the system according to its own needs. A company that wants to build a successful F.M.S. has to go through 5 major stages of development.

They phases can be classified as follows: -

  • Awareness phase

  • Planning phase

  • Procurement phase

  • Installation phase

  • Operation phase

Flexible Manufacturing Systems [F.M.S]

Figure 5: - Phases of the development of F.M.S.

Awareness Phase: -

The Company first has to gather all the information it needs to understand the concept of F.M.S. and the potential it holds for the company. It should see weather the F.M.S. fits the company’s job profile and weather it can derive any significant benefits from it.

Planning Phase: -

Once the company decides to go forward with the implementation of F.M.S., it must start planning an F.M.S., which suits its requirements. The first step in this direction would be the setting up of a project team with a project leader to oversee the entire project. The team should then carry out a financial evaluation of the company before taking any further steps towards the development of the F.M.S. Based on the evaluation report the team should formulate a long-term strategy for the effective utilization of the F.M.S.

The team should then decide as to which machining processes it must include in its F.M.S. to fulfil the job requirement. The F.M.S. that the company develops should be modular in nature, as it would enable the company to add new modules like machines and/ or pallet stackets. As F.M.S. is a relatively new technology, the team should chalk out an orientation program for the company’s employees. It will make the employees more responsive towards this technology. Along with this the team should make the necessary changes in the company’s production environment and organization. This will help in the smooth integration of the F.M.S. in the company’s scheme of things.

The team should now proceed towards determining the type of F.M.S. most suited to the company’s needs considering the level of flexibility it requires. F.M.S.s can be broadly classified into three categories: -

  • Sequential Flow F.M.S.: In this system all the work pieces follow the same path. It is suitable for machining work pieces belonging to a well-defined family of parts.

  • Single-Station F.M.S.: In this system a single machine is supplied with all the tools necessary for complete machining operation of the work piece. Thus all the work on a work piece is done on a single machine. This system can achieve a high productivity by increasing the number of machines and providing the same tooling. But this leads to higher expenditure due the replication of the same set of tools on each and every machining station.

  • Random Flow F.M.S.: In this system the work pieces move from machine to machine in any sequence. The flow sequence depends upon the operations required for the work piece and the availability of the machines carrying out those operations. Thus a wide range of dissimilar products can be manufactured simultaneously within the system. This system allows the designers to make changes in design without making any changes in the hardware set-up.

Once the type and layout of the F.M.S. is decided upon we can test its feasibility by simulating its operation on a suitable simulation package. A suitable model must be created consisting of design features that need to be studied. The model mimics the system behavior under various operating conditions. By operating the F.M.S. model in a virtual environment, it is possible to detect any flaws in the F.M.S. design and help us in taking the required corrective actions. Thus a simulation package saves the company the money it would have lost in experimentation.

At the end of the planning phase the team comes out with a concrete set of specifications to be passed on to the procurement phase.

Procurement Phase: -

The procurement team is entrusted with the job of buying all the hardware and software components required for setting up the F.M.S. in the company. For this it selects suitable suppliers based on certain criteria like long-term financial stability of the supplier, support and level of training provided, reputation of the supplier etc.

Installation Phase: -

Once all the components are procured they need to be properly installed and integrated to form the F.M.S. For this it is imperative that the various suppliers and the F.M.S. user be present to sort out any problems that may arise during the integration process. The co-ordinated efforts from all the parties involved will ensure a relatively smooth installation of the F.M.S. The installation phase involves the following tasks:

  1. Construction of the F.M.S. site.

  2. Setting up of the hardware and software components of the system.

  3. Integration of components to form the F.M.S.

  4. Integration of the other departments to the F.M.S.

  5. Planning the test and acceptance methods suitable to all parties.

  6. Planning for the training and take-over activities.

Operation Phase: -

Once the F.M.S. is installed operation process commences. During the initial process errors are likely to crop up in the hardware and/or software. These errors have to be debugged for the smooth operation of the system. Over time the F.M.S. user learns to fine-tune the system to suit his requirements. This constant fine-tuning may bring him to a stage where he could run the system in a way previously unplanned.

Advantages of F.M.S.

Implementation of F.M.S. has resulted in advantages in wide ranging fields and has enabled industries to produce high quality goods efficiently and with a great degree of flexibility. The advantages obtained by implementing F.M.S. can be tabulated as follows: -

    • Reduction in personnel

Virtually unmanned

    • Reduction in designing cost


    • Reduction in overall lead time

Equal to manufacturing time

    • Reduction in work in progress


    • Gain in overall production


    • Gain in capital equipment operating time


    • Product quality gain


    • Gain in engineering productivity


Courtesy: - Materials and processes and materials of manufacturing, Lindberg

Reliability: -

A high level of reliability is one of the major advantages of F.M.S. operation. In the event of a computer breakdown, the F.M.S. can still continue production for some time but at a lower efficiency level. The average breakdown rate in an F.M.S. can be as low as 10 – 14%. The F.M.S. is in operation for a longer duration of time, with the spindle being engaged in metal cutting operation for a period, which is 4-5 times longer than that in an isolated machine. Because of this they are subjected to much less variations and generally function better. This was evident from the perfect operational record of the first generation F.M.S. in the U.S. even 12-14 years after they were set up.

Safety: -

This system is inherently safe, as human presence in the machining area is minimized when the machining operation is in progress. As a result the factor of safety of the system is very high, after the incorporation of certain basic safety measures.

The modular nature of the system enables it to cater to any future requirements.


Disadvantages: -

Any system will have certain disadvantages. The possible disadvantages associated with the system are as follows: -

  1. Very high start-up cost.

  2. Problems may occur in the various components of the systems, which may require a long debugging process.

However, the magnitude of flexibility that the system offers and the volume of production completely justifies the high initial investment made to develop this system.

Any system of this magnitude and complexity it bound to develop some problems. However, the returns offered by this system completely justify the time spent on debugging it.


Read the Next part: Part 3

Flexible Manufacturing Systems [F.M.S] : Whitepaper 01

An old Whitepaper [my first] that I had co-authored eons ago while in the Second Year of Engineering. Being released as-is without any update

Read the previous parts: Abstract


Since the dawn of civilisation, man has been continuously trying to ease and improve his work by developing better tools. This process started with the development of stone tools and will culminate into development of a totally automated factory. This factory would be able to do all the things associated with a product, right from designing it to packaging. Since the human operator tends to be the weakest link in the production process, the need for automation has been felt throughout the industry.

A Flexible Manufacturing System (F.M.S.) is a part of this process and a step towards complete automation of the factory. This system automates the metal cutting part of the product manufacturing. A F.M.S. is a form of flexible automation in which several machine tools are linked together by a material-handling system, and all aspects of the system are controlled by a central computer1.

Why use F.M.S.?

The current market scenario is such that a customer has the requirement to demand a wide variety of good quality product at a very short notice. The traditional systems of product manufacture like Transfer Line system were unable to cope up with the market requirements. The Transfer Line system of manufacture had a very high production level but offered limited flexibility. On the other hand, Workshop system of product manufacture offered a very high degree of flexibility but had a very low production level. These systems were unable to satisfy the requirements of variety, quantity and speed at the same time. This lead to the work of development of a system, which combines the seemingly conflicting objectives of high flexibility and high productivity.

The emergence of F.M.S. technology has proved to be an ideal solution to this problem. With the help of F.M.S. we are able to produce a wide variety of products without making any changes in the hardware set-up. As a result of this the changeover time between two products can be reduced to the time required by the machine tools to receive the necessary instructions. It also reduces the lead-time drastically. This is of prime importance as lead-time is equated with the cost of the product. It is a market-sensitive technology as it can produce the required proportion of product variety quickly and efficiently.

Flexible Manufacturing System [F.M.S]

Figure 1: - Volume versus variety capabilities of various Manufacturing Systems,

Courtesy Material and Processes in Manufacture, Lindberg

What is F.M.S.?

It is a collection of production equipment logically organised under a host computer and physically connected by a central transport system.

It is group of manufacturing cells linked by an automatic material handling system and a central computer. It is able to manufacture a mix of piece-part types while being flexible enough to sequentially manufacture different piece-part type mixes without costly, time-consuming, changeover requirement. It is a medium size batch production system. The parts requiring the same machining operation is sent to the to the appropriate machine tools irrespective of the type of part.

Flexible Manufacturing System [F.M.S]

Figure 2: - Block Diagram of a Flexible Manufacturing Cell (F.M.C.),

Courtesy Flexible Manufacturing systems in Practice, Bonneto

It basically contains a number of machining cells called Flexible Manufacturing Cells (F.M.C.), Figure 2. These cells if installed as stand-alone entities can offer a certain amount of flexibility in machining. A typical F.M.C. consists of a C.N.C. machine with a transfer system to load and unload the work piece and a tool magazine. The work pieces move from machine to machine in a sequence independent of the physical arrangement of the machine tools.

When a number of F.M.C.s are integrated together with a common controller called Distributed / Direct Numerical Controller and a Material Handling System and Tool Handling system it evolves into and a Flexible Manufacturing System. Each unit has its own Controller (either D.N.C. or P.L.C.) whose activities are in turn co-ordinated and supervised by the central host computer. This interaction between the Hardware and Software modules results into an organisation capable of performing multiple machining operations.

Components of F.M.S.

Components of a F.M.S. can be broadly classified into two categories.

  • Hardware

  • Software

Flexible Manufacturing Systems [F.M.S]

Figure 3: - The generalised Block Diagram of an F.M.S., courtesy Flexible Manufacturing, Parrish


Hardware: -

The Hardware component (Figure 3) basically consists of Machine

Tools and Handling systems.

It incorporates the following equipments

  • Machine Tools e.g., Universal Machining Centres, Turning Centres, Drilling Machines etc

  • Host Computer.

  • Load/ Unload station

  • Guided Vehicles e.g., wire-guided trolley, shuttle, over-head conveyor etc

  • Robots

  • Washing station

  • Tool Room

  • Swarf Disposal System

  • Inspection Hardware (C.M.M. facilities)

  • Programmable Logic Controllers (P.L.C.)

Software: -

Software for F.M.S. can be divided into 2 broad categories – extrinsic functions and intrinsic functions (Figure 4).

Software for the extrinsic functions is used to plan and control the functions that take place outside the physical boundaries of the F.M.S.2

Software for the intrinsic functions is used to load and control the components within the physical boundaries of the F.M.S.2

Flexible Manufacturing System [F.M.S]

Figure 4: - Extrinsic and intrinsic functions of F.M.S., courtesy Handbook of Flexible Manufacturing Systems

Extrinsic Functions incorporate the following operations: -

  • Production Scheduling

  • Process Planning

  • Tool Management

  • Maintenance Planning

Intrinsic Functions incorporate the following operations: -

  • Production Control

  • Production Monitoring/ Reporting

  • Machine/ Process Control

  • Machine Diagnostic

Read the remaining parts: Part 2, Part 3


Saturday, October 25, 2008

USAF B-1B Lancer Wallpapers

Some pictures of the B-1B Lancer that I have been using as my desktop Wallpaper.

All images have an aspect ratio of 4:3.












Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why India MUST pursue the development its own, credible Space-based capabilities? 02

You may read the Part 01 here

India yesterday achieved, what ISRO termed as, a textbook perfect launch of the Chandraayan-1 mission payload. It has currently been placed in a transfer orbit around the Earth, where it would be rotated around to add enough momentum to it to then whip it across into the lunar orbit. It is expected to enter lunar orbit in 15 days time. Its progress would be followed with eager anticipation.

As was being stated in the earlier post, India has some pertinent reasons for developing its own, field-tested [] Space Technology.

Show me the moolah!

All the reasons stated thus far are being shown to bear favorable results no earlier than after 20-30 years. Yet the most important reason for the continuation of our research into Space Technology is a lot more near term and probably even more important – Money.

Only nine countries till now have successfully demonstrated its ability to launch a satellite into Space. Of these Iran’s claims has often been disputed due to lack of adequate evidence to support the claim. On the other hand, France and the UK have pooled in their resources and have become members of the seventeen nation European Space agency (ESA).

Not counting these nations, including the ESA members, there are about 29 other countries that have successfully built their indigenous satellites. This number is only expected to increase as more countries develop their own indigenously made satellites. Due to the absence of their own launch capability, these countries are making use of services offered by the countries that do posses the expertise.

India, with its tested and proven PSLV capabilities and highly skilled Scientist and Engineering manpower is in a unique position to offer its services and facilities to these countries at an extremely competitive price compared to its  counterparts.

The Antrix Corporation, a section of ISRO, has been set up to explore and make use of the commercial possibilities of ISRO’s launch capabilities and expertise. Within a span of 16 years, the Antrix Corporation has had a turnover of $66.66 million USD. This number, though impressive, represents a miniscule fraction of the global business transaction in Space Technology and services.

Tapping into the extremely lucrative launch of the commercial communication satellites would need India to develop launch capabilities for satellites weighing more than 2 tonne and placing them into Geosynchronous orbit [India’s INSAT series of communication satellites weigh excess of 2 tonnes].

Development and and validation of India’s GSLV technology would enable it to launch these communication satellites. Not only would India then no longer have to seek services of other agencies for its own launches of its heavier satellites, but it can extend these very services to other countries with similar requirements.

How profitable is the launch of commercial satellites? Consider this - in 2007 Arianespace had a turnover of $1.28 billion USD and is only expected to increase for the year 2008.

In spite of ESA, member European nations have made use of Indian facilities for the launch of their satellites, most notably the Italian Agile which was also India’s first commercial launch, performed specifically to launch the 350+kg Italian satellite. Besides the fact these were lightweight experimental satellites, the principal reason for this has been the extreme value-for money offered by launching them from India.

With India gaining similar capabilities as that of Arianespace, it should be in a position to offer their services at a fraction of the cost (1/12th the cost, according to some estimates) and still make it an extremely profitable venture.

Projects like, the Chandrayaan mission also serve to act as a confidence-building exercise among the other potential customer countries who might then consider entrusting us with the launch of their satellites.

A self-sufficient ISRO, contributing to to the national coffers, would thus contribute to the  socio-economic developmental efforts of the country. This venture termed frivolous and waste of public funds would generate the fund in proportions not matched by any other sector.


Ignited minds

An argument, considered blasphemy, especially if you are a red-flag waving communist hoodlum - An active Space program and other allied high Technology R&D ventures are the fuel to inspire the countries Scientists and Engineers to stay back and work for the country’s cause.

As Engineers and Scientists, yearning for a challenge, that pushes the boundaries of intelligence and expand this boundary in an effort to find that one path-breaking solution that paves the way for grand ventures, is extremely high.

An environment that lets these individuals lets their minds run free, unconstrained by factors of economics and earthly issues [pun intended ;)] is encourages them to stay put in that environment. The outcome of such free-runs often result into a development that benefits the whole community in a manner not envisaged at the time of development.

It is now pretty much part of urban folklore how extremely lightweight but much stronger composite materials developed for making the nose cones of warheads of missile developed under IGMDP are now being used to make prosthetic limbs [pdf]  that are much easier to use.

It is estimated that more than 90% of projects sanctioned by DARPA never leave the laboratory. Their results, however are made use of to solve a wide variety of real-world problems.

India similarly had initiated ‘Project Devil’ to achieve similar ends of challenging and galvanizing its Scientists and Engineers for future programs. It was the precursor to the IGMDP which resulted in the successful development of 4 of the 5 missile proposed.

Even if we are to assume that the Moon missions by India have no Scientific value [a totally flawed assumption], it must be remembered that the Chandrayaan-1 mission cost India just $85.7 million USD in 2008. Compare that with the $440 million USD that Microsoft paid for acquiring Hotmail in 1997 and it should put things into perspective as to how cost-effective India’s space program is. Is it such a huge amount to help create an environment of challenge and encouragement for our Nation-builders?

The point being made is that Scientists and Engineers form the backbone of progress of a nation. A nation that nurtures and encourages its Engineers and Scientists is destined to be on a path of success and advancement. The offshoots of the pursuits of such program will find ways of benefiting each and every strata of society.


Employment opportunities and ancillary Industries

The number of Scientists and Engineers currently employed with ISRO would need to be increased as our Space program develops. This would provide for attractive employment opportunities to the large number of Engineers graduating from our Universities every year in India. The opportunity to work in advanced technology programs would also help bring more and more bright and talented individuals into the National fold. This increased pool of talented individuals working within the country should only help further the National cause.

A fledging space program in the country acts as the catalyst for setting up ancillary privately-owned industries in the country. It would also serve as an opportunity for individuals to become entrepreneurs serving this industry. These industries would act as feeders for supplying our program with the much needed sub-systems needed to accomplish their stated missions. Such industries would provide for additional employment for highly skilled Engineers and Scientists in order to keep up with the demands of the program.

A well-developed industrial base would help promote trade and export [within the framework of legality] to countries with countries having their Space Program in its initial stages. Through Antrix Corporation, India does offer technical assistance to such countries. The quantum of assistance and revenue generated from it would only increase further as our own expertise increases. Our Moon mission serves as an ideal platform to demonstrate our expertise in this field and furthering our avenues of revenue generation.

ISRO currently faces a severe problem of attrition and inadequate manpower to sustain the already approved programs. Programs like the Chandrayaan mission would only help attract and inspire more people to consider working with our National institutes of R&D.


But Why now?!

An argument that is often echoed – What is need to allocate resources now when the problems it would be expected to solve would not be upon us for the next 70-100 years from now?

The answer lies in the fact that that such Technologically challenging programs have extremely long gestation period. This problem becomes even more acerbating in a country like India where the private sector is still not developed enough to provide the assistance or infrastructure needed for such programs. So these Government organization often first have to build up such supporting infrastructure themselves before they can proceed with the actual program [case in point – Lockheed Martin sources its primary Engine for the F-35 JSF from Pratt & Whitney, a privately-owned company. India had to setup the government-funded GTRE for developing the Kaveri Engine for the LCA program]. Such need for infrastructure building further delays the process of the work on the actual program.

Having said this, developing sustainable, fool-proof Space capabilities is challenging even without the hindrances mentioned above. The already complicated process of leaving the Earth’s atmosphere is increased manifold when a human is expected to be on board the craft. Developing the life-support system for such mission, for example, is a challenge that vexes even the most advanced of Space Nations even now with their strong foundation of Science of Technology. Taking this view in to account, India whose Space program is just crossed the lines of infancy is progressing extremely well with its own Space Program [a not-so-accurate-but-good-for-argument comparison – USA sent its first mission to the moon 183 years after gaining independence. India sent its own mission 62 years after its independence].

The technology that needs to be mastered to sustain life in outer space would need repeated testing and validation for fool-proofing which can only be done over a period of time and building up of the necessary infrastructure to do so.

Such complex programs that involves interplay of various allied and complementary branches of Science and Technology are also expected to face stiff challenges, overcoming which would need would need time and resources. Allocating time and resources from now will have us prepared and ready when the time come in the future.

Doing so from now would also give us the expertise and credibility to guide and help other nations who would also venture into similar programs of their own. This helping and offering guidance is also an opportunity to generate large amount of revenue for the country that could then be utilized for social welfare programs.


Everything gifted by the Russians

Yet another accusation leveled against our space program – we have got everything on a platter from the Russians and are simply using old-defunct Russian technology.

It is true that we have learnt and mastered a lot of our Technology from the Russians and continue to take help from the Technology and facilities for our program. But this relation with the Russian should not be viewed any differently from how one may view the relation between a student and teacher. Russian with their long history of space program has a lot to teach us as we would to the other countries having a newer program than ours. The Norte Americanos, secretly dismantled in complete German space program facilities and smuggled them into the American mainland and gave amnesty to German scientists who were part of the Nazi War machinery as part of Operation Paperclip. In return these scientists were asked to further America’s own Space program which was yet to pick off. Why are no such allegations being leveled against them? Are they not a more appropriate candidate for these charges?

As for leveling charges that we are using of Russian technology for our space program and passing it off as ours, it stems from the fact that we use Russian-made Cryogenic Engines for the final stage of out satellite launch vehicles. Considering the [small] size of the fourth stage of the vehicle, developing an fully-functional indigenous engine that can be fitted in the space is challenging and developmental work is being carried out at the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC). The prototypes engine has also been test-fired successfully and would need more tests and validations before it can be incorporated into the launch vehicle [the engines were run for around 480 seconds whereas the final stage needs to burn for around 700 seconds].

For developing a Technologically strong country it is necessary that we do not shirk from investing in a high-technology Space program. It will reap benefits as time progresses and its benefits will percolate to each and every sector of our Society. Let us not be clouded by myopia, when commenting or passing judgement about the awesomeness emerging out of the Government laboratories. Our country needs an advanced Space program, which is being provided to us by our government labs. The Engineers and scientists working there deserve every bit of resources and respect entitled to them and lot more.


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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why India MUST pursue the development its own, credible Space-based capabilities? 01

In a couple of hours from now India would become only the sixth country in the world to have successfully propelled a man-made object towards our closest celestial neighbor – the Moon. The country is gripped with excitement and anticipation of this momentous occasion. If not for anything else, just seeing their tax money reaching a place farther than anything Indian has ever reached thus far is cause enough hook people in.

People whose earlier association with the Moon had only been restricted to quoting loony lunar poetry in an effort to get laid have been similarly gripped by this surge of pride and excitement.

In midst of all this Nationalism, voices from certain quarters have expressed their reservations about such pursuits. They have questioned the rationale behind the need of an admittedly developing country to make its presence felt on the Moon. The justification often hinges on the argument that  a country like India needs to first address and resolve issues like poverty and food supply before venturing to fulfilling such ambitions.

Though I am inclined to believe that their argument does hold some merit, the arguments supporting such projects would simply outweigh these oppositions by a long margin.

Trying to list down some of the most obvious and compelling reasons for India to develop such capabilities.

Mineral wealth:

One fact that is never disputed – mineral resources on our planet is finite and is being depleted at an alarming rate. In order to sustain life, it is imperative to discover new sources of mineral to feed our industries.

The Chandrayaan-1 mission has one principal objective – to locate and map the mineral reserves present on the Moon. Considering the Moon was once believe to be a part of the Earth (3 of the 4 answers of the origin of the moon has Earth playing a major role in the Moon’s formation), it is expected to have the much needed mineral deposits in around the same proportion as that on Earth. The Helium-3 isotope, a rarity on Earth & an ideal fuel for the generation of energy using Nuclear fusion is also expected to be present in significant quantities on the Moon. 4 of the 5 indigenously developed payloads that is being sent by ISRO [a total of 11 payloads will be carried] will be used to gather data that would address these issues.

The Hyper Spectral Imager (HySI) will map the lunar body for mineral resources. The data obtained from the Terrain Mapping Camera (TMC) and Lunar Laser Ranging Instrument (LLRI) would be used to prepare a detailed three-dimensional map of the lunar surface with accurate representation of its topography. This would than act as reference guides for future missions when landings on the Moon’s surface would be achieved. Similarly the Moon Impact Probe(MIP) is being used to test and validate the technology that would be needed when we actually land on the surface with some significant presence. The payloads of the other countries will perform similar tasks and their data too shall be available for our analysis and use.

Critics argue that the Moon has been explored completely in all respects by the preceding missions and the Indian mission would just be a duplication of efforts. These claims are, however, not being substantiated with satisfactory evidences. For the sake of argument let us assume that this claim is valid and the complete mineralogical mapping of the Moon’s surface has already been performed by the other countries. Would it, however, not be naive of us to expect the other countries to share the complete authentic data with us. These countries would be even more hesitant to release the necessary data into the public domain, knowing fully well that countries such as ours are developing the necessary technology to use such data for fulfilling our needs.

So in spite of the data already being generated by the other missions, we are left with no other option but to gather our own data for use in the future when we would have the required technology in place to put it to use.



China shoots down one of its own defunct satellites orbiting in space....USA renews its interest in developing a Space-based defense platform.

Such News appearing in the public media are a precursor of the things to come. Satellites form the very backbone of a Technology-aware nation. Almost every aspect of the life of an individual in such a country is influenced or touched upon by the orbiting satellites above. The country’s communication network, the guidance system of its missiles, the search for potential oil fields [liquid gold] or mineral deposits....everything that is needed to sustain life as we know it is dependant on the smooth functioning these satellites. Any harm done to these satellites would have serious ramifications on life  back on Earth.

In such a scenario, it should be deemed necessary that India develops a credible deterrent to thwart back any such attempts on our assets in space. Developing a Space-based defense platform, is the need of the hour for India considering the increasingly hostile posturing by Chine with its repeated incursions into our sovereign territory. This very neighbor had exhibited its ability to take down targets in the outer space.

Though taking down a satellite requires the development of Defense technology, protecting a satellite would require the development of an additional Space-based technology.

Only when Power respects Power, will you have lasting peace between the two Powers.


Colonization or Space-based living arrangement:

Our population is increasingly rapidly, the Earth is becoming polluted at an alarming rate - living conditions on Earth is deteriorating and showing no signs of improvement. It is therefore becoming necessary to make plans for the future for developing alternate living arrangements.

Given the knowledge and resources we have, the ability to colonize a favorable planet or build a suitable living arrangement in Space must be developed and ready for implementation if and when the time comes. Such a need arising some 100 years from now should not be very hard to fathom.

I foresee such a venture to be  collaborative effort between partner countries, pooling in their resources and knowledge towards the common cause. India with its second largest population [probably largest by then] would have a lot to lose if denied access to such an arrangement. In order to be part of such a project, we would be expected to contribute towards the technology of this project.

Developing competency in Space Technology would pave way for the continuation of our existence in the future.

(Anybody trying to brush off this argument as ludicrous need only to look at the ISS – the process of developing, testing and validating the Technology has already begun.)........

You may read Part 02 here

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Use Paste and go feature add-on in Firefox

Paste and go add-on for Firefox The Paste and Go add-on is now compatible with all versions of Firefox. This useful add-on had stopped functioning earlier once users upgraded to Firefox 3.x. The developers have now addressed this issue and it is working fine with the latest versions of the browser.

The Paste and Go add-on for Firefox replicates the very useful built-in feature of Opera by the same name. It lets you paste any word or URL and run it in one smooth action, thus eliminating the need to do so using multiple mouse clicks or keyboard actions.

So if you had uninstalled the add-on earlier, go right back and reinstall it.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Track down plagiarism with Copyright Spot

CopyrightSpot Alpha 

Watch out plagiarizers! There is a new sheriff in town and he means business. Copyright Spot is web-based service that lets you find out other sites that are leeching content off your website for its own gains. This service is quite similar to Copyscape. However Copyright Spot does offer some distinct advantages over Copyscape, at least its free version.

* Number of queries per site – Unlike the free version of Copyscape that is restricting the number of queries per month for a site, Copyright Spot currently allows unlimited queries.

* Number of Search results – Copyscape restricts the number of number results in the free version. Copyright Spot is currently giving away all the results without any restrictions.

* Quality of results – This one was a big surprise. Copyright Spot gave much more relevant results than Copyscape. I selected a random post from my blog and ran it through both of them.

The result obtained from Copyscape (L) and Copyright Spot (R).

Copyscape and Copyright Spot

As evident, save the second entry, all the results thrown up by Copyscape are sites where I am registered and some snippets of my blog are meant to appear there. So this result was hardly helpful. Copyright Spot on the other hand listed out those additional sites [marked in red] that incidentally have almost all the posts from my blog with all its content posted there. Would this change if it was tested using the premium version of Copyscape? I don’t know. It does appear that Copyscape is making use of Google’s cache for the lookups while Copyright Spot is using Yahoo!’s. Did not find this page listed in Google’s search either while found it in Yahoo’s. Just a hypothesis.

* Convenience of use – Copyright Spot allows you to simply enter the URL of your site’s feed and it will list out all the posts made on the site. To check weather a particular post is being plagiarized, you simply have to click on its URL. Copyscape on the other hand, makes you enter the URL of each post you want to check for plagiarism – a tedious task IMO. Copyright Spot scored big time over Copyscape on this front.

The service is currently still in Alpha stage and have announced that they would be introducing some premium features soon. Weather they would continue giving away these existing features for free in the future is unknown, but as of today if you need some free lookup service, then Copyright Spot it should be.


Share your Engineering videos on Mechanical Engineering TV

Mechanical Engineering TV

YouTube for Engineers would not be an inappropriate description of this site. Mechanical Engineering TV is a niche site that caters to the exclusive viewing pleasures of Engineers ;).

Everything YouTube has, so does this site. Only difference – videos uploaded here are all relevant to Engineers and Engineering. Sign up and start uploading your Engineering videos for people to watch, rate or comment upon. If you simply want to watch these videos, then you may do so without registering.

This site is quite new and not surprisingly hosts a modest number of videos and registered users at present [at the time of writing 280 videos and 110 registered members].

Exercising strict quality control to ensure all videos uploaded relate to either Science or Engineering would help make Mechanical Engineering TV a popular destination.

One downside though was the relatively long time it took to stream and buffer the videos compared to a same length video streamed from YouTube or Google Videos. Hope it is addressed at the earliest. Also the domain name has been registered for 2 years only and expires in 2009. Might raise a few doubts. Otherwise a novel service this site is.

Some recommended viewing

Solar surgery

Popular Mechanics The New Technologies of War


CERN:Theory of the black hole

flexcell duo 08 ROBOT