DuPont Canada Inc.

My 8 year career at DuPont Canada Inc. resulted in two engineering awards of excellence for development work undertaken on laboratory and information systems, instrumentation and development of new analytical methods. Of course the most important factor was the ROI for the company.

In terms of systems I would like to mention two key projects:

  • Implementation of PE Nelson Access*Chrom – VAX based Gas Chromatography Management System involving integration of new software and hardware, migration of chromatographic methods under a new system which led to cost savings and paradigm shift in chromatography method creation and maintenance.
  • Design and implementation of Fisons Laboratory Information Management System for Maitland site works. Designed a sample / data Oracle based management system using barcode technologies, automatic scheduling and configuration of Laboratory instrumentation on sample arrival into Central Laboratory, intelligent reporting of test results to remote, process control computers in chemical works.Project resulted in increased sample-to-result cycle speed, productivity, decrease in human errors and incredible cost savings to the company.

Every day at DuPont meant many thousands of dollars in revenues. If downtime occurred or quality was reduced for any reason whatsoever, it meant a major loss in revenues. Any increase in efficiency or productivity meant quite the opposite.

Telematics

WaveCell Telematics program included development of two generations of market-leading GPS-based telematics hardware and intelligent, agent based software with focus on security of precious cargo in transit.

Other system components included communication server middleware, GIS enabled software and support software for mobile unit configuration and testing.

WaveCell M45 Advanced Mobile System

The objective of the second generation, "M45 project" was to incorporate the customer requirements and lessons learned from the first generation products.
The electronics were completely redesigned, we added more memory, additional serial port that came with a new processor, interfacing new generation of GPS and the latest of communication modems of the day.

While the hardware was solid in terms of features and performance, the enclosure was spectacular example of an excellent industrial design.
I have seen one of the great looking M45 boxes come out of a major car crash in Mexico with just a few scratches and perfectly functioning electronics. Well, you couldn't say the same about the car in question...

WaveCell M15 Mobile Unit

M15 is a smaller, cost reduced unit that runs the same software as its larger cousin, the M45. It came with a less I/O, but the same great features, including support for external modems:

 

Neptune WEX-10 CDPD Modem

Our clients had a requirement for a robust, cost effective mobile security system based on CDPD communication standard. After extensive market research we came to a conclusion that there is no modem that would fit the performance and cost requirements for such a system.

What customer wants, customer gets...
This was a mad rush project that went from concept to production in 6 weeks!

After burning a lot of midnight oil designing, protoyping, testing and production challenges, the Neptune turned out to be a great, reliable product.

Software

Yeah, we have developed a lot of software to serve our customers. The communication server library was pretty sophisticated, supporting a lot of different communication standards and fast, flexible integration into various customer GIS applications. We also built a sample code application that was also used for testing the mobile firmware.

Telematics from WaveCell was definitively the most versatile and powerful system that rivals the competition even today, many years later.

Neptune WEX-10 CDPD Modem

WaveCell clients had a requirement for a robust, cost effective mobile security system based on CDPD communication standard. After extensive market research we came to a conclusion that there is no modem that would fit the performance and cost requirements for such a system.

What customer wants, customer gets…

This was a mad rush project that went from concept to production in 6 weeks!

Neptune CDPD modem

After burning a lot of midnight oil designing, prototyping, testing and production challenges, the Neptune turned out to be a great, reliable product.

Energy from Waste

Energy from Waste

When approached, I could not ignore the revolutionary field of creating energy from waste. I was immediately sold and decided I had to make a difference. The driving force behind the goal was my displeasure with continuous disposal of waste, having a profound impact on the environment, most profoundly that of climate change. Secondly, the inherent energy value  found in typical household waste, with the right technology, the conversion of this otherwise lost energy can safely and cleanly be transformed into a wide array of alternative energy products.

Energy from Waste – What a clever concept.

Instead of burying or incinerating the waste, feed it into a process that converts its calorific value into electrical energy and other useful by-products without the environmental impact of the more traditional methods.

As Director of Technical Business Development at Elementa Group, I oversaw technology strategy development and implementation specializing in energy from waste technology.  I was actively involved with engineering in resolution of syngas cleanup, cogeneration, heat recovery and other technology issues. I developed a partnership for commercial implementation of EFW plants in Europe.

Today, this partnership is on track to develop a multi-million dollar commercial Energy from Waste plant in EU.

Autonomous Robotic System

Here is an image of Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) for perimeter security negotiating a gate.

This autonomous UGV was affectionately called a "grunt". The nature of this robotic program was dealing with a lots of “unknowns” and “never been dones” before. Nor it has always been a glamorous work. For example, take a look at this inovative plywood prototyping technique:

There was no shortage of tedious work and testing, countless hours burned figuring out various details, sometimes going to square one when things didn’t pan out as expected. The focus and perseverance is an absolute must have in R&D. So is upfront planning.

The second generation system design and integration challenges included highly modified Argo Conquest ATV platform with custom motion control system, actuators, variety of sensors, ruggedized electronics and computing, communications, custom battery and charging system, power conditioning and distribution system, dust and thermal management, remote e-stop system for safety during testing, etc.

Have never seen that before, eh?

Most importantly, sophisticated ROC software made the heart and soul of the system. This software made the system tick with the staggering collection of various hardware, sensors, being able to navigate the perimeter using various behaviours and collaborating with other robots, real or virtual. It was fun to watch or being chased by a robot with flashing LED lights.

Then there were the demonstrations... Regardless of amount of preparation Mr. Murphy always seemed to come for a visit one way or other.

While pucker factor was high with a lot riding on each one, the various demos turned out great.

This was by far the most complex and interesting program to date. It couldn’t have succeeded without the focus, dedication and talent of the Frontline engineers, scientists and other staff that I had the pleasure working with.

TriDAR Project

TriDAR 3Di processing project was conducted with participation of Frontline Robotics, Neptec Design Group, Xyphos and Canadian Space Agency.

The project objective was to test TriDAR detecting and tracking an object of interest from a moving robotic platform and quantify the performance.

Some of the challenges in this project were design of custom bracket securing the valuable sensor on the robot, providing vibration isolation without interfering with the sensor performance, providing wireless communication for the sensor data capture and supply clean power to the sensor from the robot subsystems.

We have developed a custom software for capturing and analyzing data from both sensors.

Ultimately, the TriDAR sensor was installed on the robot and 6DoF data acquired from sensor was correlated against robot’s planar Laser Measurement System sensor.The test data proved exceptional performance of the TriDAR sensor even in the challenging conditions on a snowy, winter day.

Overall, this project that went unusually smooth given the complexities involved. This however was not a surprise due to professionalism of people involved on all sides. As projects go in terms of risk events, Mr. Murphy was likely vacationing at that time, which was a definite bonus.

Until recently, TriDAR was guiding the automated rendezvous and docking of International Space Station and space shuttle orbiter in space.

Greener Robots?

I’m very fond of robotics and automation projects, so I was excited to receive a call from my former colleagues to assist them with a robotics contract.

I ended up engaged in a subcontract to an international robotics consortium with a mission to deliver an autonomous robotic system for a perimeter security.

The deliverables consisted of several unmanned ground vehicle prototypes (UGVs) and C4i station that controls the mission parameters, displays mission status including whereabouts of the vehicles on a digital map.

I was tasked with the project coordination and collaborating on design and vehicle build. It was very refreshing to wear my engineering hat and get my hands dirty at the same time again.

I admit, I’m blessed having no shortage of interesting work in my life...

Loving things green, this project was especially interesting since it dealt with the concept of a plug in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) with an extended range. The range extension was provided by a small on-board gasoline generator supplying energy to the vehicle once the battery pack was getting depleted. This was a concept not unlike the one of Chevy Volt about to be released by GM.

If you fast forward in time, the gas genset can be replaced by my other favourite technology of the near future – Hydrogen fuel cells, but about this, some other time...

We have started the project with a review of an existing remote control vehicle equipped with an analogue control system. We ended up ripping the existing system out and redesigned the electrical system and propulsion to take it to the next level of performance and reliability.

The next stage in the project was the sourcing and integration of power components, navigation and obstacle detection sensors, cameras, communications, computers and other peripherals to turn the vehicle into a real robot. Naturally, we had to figure out a correct placement and provide proper support structures for all these components.

We have done plenty of measuring, modeling, laying out, cutting, drilling and welding to accomplish this.

Li-Ion (LiFePO4) battery packs were used for energy storage, requiring us to research and introduce entirely new concept to us – a Battery Management System (BMS).

While Lithium-Ion cells are incredible devices in terms of power density and performance, the battery packs of Li-Ion cells require extra care that is provided by the BMS.

We have acquired the BMS / Li-Ion battery storage expertise through study of scarce resources of the subject matter as well as trial and error. Luckily, we managed to keep the smoke inside the batteries and associated circuitry.

No fire extinguishers were needed and the system performed as expected.

The obvious and most important glue-ware in robotic projects is the software that makes the entire system tick and do something useful for the client.

While robots have the definite coolness factor, they have to perform value adding tasks to us humans otherwise they become useless from the business perspective and soon find themselves on their way to a museum or a junkyard.

On this project, I have not been involved in the software development, but have to pause here and give my friends at Provectus A+ grade for their outstanding work.

They have been able to develop the software from scratch in record time. It both served the functional requirements and proved rock solid during the trials and demonstrations.

Working with the professionals at Provectus has been a real treat for me. Thanks to everyone’s hard work, dedication and professionalism the project was a total success, concluded by a series of demonstrations to clients overseas.

Robotic Arm Integration

In the cold months of 2011 I was engaged in a project to integrate a robotic arm onto Polaris Ranger MVRS for a local law enforcement organization.

The combination of the robotic arm on a remotely operated Ranger MVRS was intended to make the vehicle more functional and effective in helping to keep humans out of harm’s way.

It was another great project. While wearing the project management hat, I got my hands dirty again and enjoyed collaborating with my colleagues at Provectus Robotics Solutions Inc. (PRS).

I was introduced to another exceptional company: WM Robots LLC. (WMR), who designs and produces Knight robots, considered by many the Cadillac of EOD industry. 

WMR experts have done an incredible job at “re-packaging” the arm, power, control components and the arm structural supports for the Ranger. It just shows the beauty of virtual prototyping using CAD. The entire system was modeled without having all of the components on hand during the design, yet we were assembling all pieces on the first try with only a minor tweaks.

Some of the challenges included using existing power and communication infrastructure on the already highly customized vehicle.

PRS expertly solved the issues of arm control latency with several competing video streams over existing wireless communications. All planned ahead, the task has been accomplished by having a couple alternate types of hardware available and plenty of configuration tests and tweaks.

The project was 3 months in planning, design and fabrication and took a little over a week in execution to have all pieces working as required. Then we were contacted by the client who needed the Ranger vehicle back ASAP. We deployed even more elbow and brain grease...

The project was delivered 13 days ahead of project schedule with a fully functional system and another satisfied customer.

Electric 8×8 Unmanned Ground Vehicle

The scope of this project was design and build of a new eight wheeled multi-mission Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) with an electric motor propulsion and LiFePO4 battery pack. The base of this vehicle started as a Centaur chassis delivered to specifications by Ontario Drive and Gear.

As a subcontractor to an overseas client, I was tasked to manage the project, design electrical systems, create BOM, conduct some key component procurement, lead the build, configure and test the system. The planning, design and procurement took a couple of months. In collaboration with client’s engineers and late hours we completed the support structures, cabling & wiring, mounted many components and had the two AC motors spinning 2 weeks after my arrival on location. The installation of traditionally outstanding software developed by Provectus Robotics Solutions went smoothly, as expected. After the motion control and electrical systems tested out, I departed for Canada and the client continued with the balace of work to turn the chassis filled with goodies into a driving, swimming UGV. They ended up developing several payload variants based on the same platform, two of which are featured here:

The UGV carries GPS, Sick LMS with 270 Degrees FOV for obstacle detection, driving and PTZ cameras, dedicated, low latency wireless communication radio, rugged industrial computer and plenty of I/O for controlling various payloads and other gadgets under the hood.

The various computers and software that are part of this system provide three modes of operation:

  1. Tele-operation from RCS computer: operator control using touch-screen computer from a remote location.
  2. Autonomous: full autonomous operation initiated through RCS. Navigation, path planning, obstacle detection and avoidance.
  3. Close range control: close operation via direct wire or wireless link via Toughbook computer.

The final product is an amphibious multi role UGV with an incredible payload capacity and power, fully capable of playing in the forest, desert or water.

The biggest challenge was the coordination and procurement of various materials around the globe, custom part fabrication, including sourcing of tools and parts locally.

There was nothing easy about this project, but as with my previous robotics adventures, I had a great time working on this cool system.

What can I say, I always welcome a good challenge...

Large Lithium-ion Battery Pack

While I started my education with chemistry, I have discovered a passion for electric energy and propulsion. I can't help it, there is something about energy creation, storage and use that fascinates me.