Not for the weak minded.


January 22nd, 2010 Smerfj

This past weekend I went to my first pistol competition. Jim (who teaches the NRA classes with me) has been itching to go to some kind of competition for a while now, found this one and we decided that we would just go and check it out. The match took place at the EMRL range.  We brought out gear, but had only planned to watch.

Of course we got there and everyone told us to break out the gear and shoot! So we took part in our first competition. I don’t think we did that bad either for our first try. Overall we placed 11th and 12th out of about 30 people. There are different divisions based on what pistol you carry. I am in the CDP (custom defense pistol) category with my .45 cal 7+1 Ithica Colt 1911. There were only 7 people in that category, but I placed 2nd! Jim ended up in the SSP (standard service pistol) category along with about 20 other people, so with nearly the same score, he placed 8th in his division.

We are both also classified as UN … unclassified (imagine that), but in February there will be 2 classification matches. I will be practicing quite a bit more at home between now and then since my downfall was my slow magazine changes.

The highlight of the trip had to be the 7 year old kid. He was very meticulous, but an impressive shot for his age. Give him 10 years and he’ll be unbeatable. He’ll also finally be able to drive!

Here are some videos:

Check out all my videos here:

Another Trip to the Range

August 16th, 2009 Josh

Yesterday was a range day for the Sharpshooters. We had a huge turnout- 7 people! In the morning we ran everyone through a modern action shooting style match that we have named the “Modified Practical” match. In the afternoon we tried a newly-created tactical match. I would explain the whole thing, but I think a video of me running the match will be easier to get…


July 1st, 2009 Josh


This past weekend I attended training in Tallahassee to get my NRA Instructor Training. It was 17 hours over two days, and covered BIT (Basic Instructor Training) and Basic Pistol Instructor training. I am now a NRA Certified Instructor and I can teach 2 pistol courses: NRA Basic Pistol Shooting Course and NRA FIRST Steps Pistol Orientation. I can also teach concealed carry courses!

I attended the training with a friend of mine, Jim, and in the fall we will be teaching the NRA Basic Pistol Shooting Course as a life group for Shoreline Church. Check out our life group’s site: Shoreline Sharpshooters for more information as we approach the fall life group semester.

If you are interested in getting your CCW, let me know. I will be available starting August to give both private and group lessons for CCW permitting.

Down to Business

June 18th, 2009 Josh
This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series MMA of Engineering

So what exactly do I do? I design mechanisms to work according to the specifications given by my customer.  As an example, I’ll do a simplified design of a kick stand for a motorcycle.

The requirements are that it support a 500 lb motorcycle with the center of mass 2′ from the ground when the bike is standing vertical.  The kick stand must support the bike tilted at an 80 degree angle and have a safety factor of 2 for the ultimate strength of the material. It must be made of Aluminum (specifically 7075-T6 alloy), and be optimized for weight.

Given those requirements the first thing to determine is the load on the kick stand. The 500 lb bike leans at an 80° angle, so the kick stand must support the moment (force times distance) about the point where the tires contact the ground. To find the moment, we need to find the perpendicular distance from the tire contact patch to the line of force that gravity is exerting on the center of mass. That distance is 2′ * cos(80°). To get the moment, we multiply the distance by the force, which is 500 lbf: 2′ * cos(80°) * 500 lbf = 174 ft-lbs. This means that the kick stand must be able to supply 174 ft-lbs of torque to the chassis to keep the bike upright.

To keep things simple, let’s just say that the kick stand contacts the ground 12″ away from the tire. That makes the math easy to find the force on the foot of the kick stand. 174 ft-lbs/1 ft = 174 lbs. I will also have an interface to fasten the kick stand to, and with this, I can start with a general shape for the kick stand. I’ll draw this in my 3D modeling program:





Ok, now I have a general kick stand shape that fits the interface on the bike and contacts the ground. From this point, there are two routes to go to analyze the strength. First, I can analyze it with classic hand methods. Second, I can export it to a software package that analyzes it for me. Usually I must do both to verify that the software is giving me reasonable results. Since I am doing this as an example, I’m going to skip the hand calcs which take quite a bit of time and jump straight to the more interesting computer analysis.

When you were in science class as a kid, did you ever use play-dough and sticks or tinker-toys to make molecules? The reason I bring that up is that the analysis software takes my model and turns it into a shape made of tiny nodes and beams (nodes are like the play-dough, and beams are the sticks). blog-job7You can see in the picture how the software recreates the model with these “tinker-toys”. The reason it does this is that for every beam or “stick” the software runs a complex set of equations to determine how that stick reacts to the forces applied to it. If I want to run a quick analysis, I need less sticks, but that also means that it doesn’t look as much like my model as it should. If I have a critical area, I tell it to put more sticks there so I can see exactly what is happening. This makes the time required to solve all the equations much longer. This is where the trade off exists between solving something fast, and getting accurate results.

This model is pretty simple, so I told the program to just size the sticks around .1″ long. That is good enough. I then told the software to hold the kickstand at the bolt hole and press on the bottom with 174 lbs of force.


The program did not take long to run. I had the program display the stress in the material because that cannot exceed the ultimate strength of the material with the factor of safety. Since the factor of safety is 2, the stress cannot go above half of the ultimate strength. For 7075-T6, this is about 76,000 psi. So the maximum stress must be less than 38,000 psi.


According to the software, the maximum stress is 23,300 psi, well under the requirement. In the picture you can see exactly where the stress is. Notice the blue low stress area in the center? This tells me that I can remove all that material with little or no effect on the part. This is how a part is optimized for weight. Also, if you look carefully, you can see that the model is actually bent compared to the first picture. This is a visual aid (magnified to make it more obvious) of how it is bending. There are many other things this program will do… but we’ll stick to the simple stress analysis.

The next step is to go back to the model and change it to remove as much material and adjust the shapes to minimize the sharp corners where stress likes to build up. At the moment it weighs .336 lb.

Here is the revised kick stand:


As you can see, I have cut away most of the blue area, as well as thinning down the foot. This new kick stand weighs .237lb. That’s close to a 30% reduction in weight. Now lets see how it does in the analysis.


Much better! The stresses are higher, but still well under the 38ksi limit. You can see how the areas of low stress have been significantly reduced indicating a successful weight reduction. The red area has spread out due to the radius that I put there. The reason that it has increased is because I took away material behind it in the pocketed region.

For a motorcycle, this is probably good enough. With aircraft, however, weight is the most important factor since each pound saved saves significant fuel costs over the life of the aircraft. In this case, this process would be repeated several times, until the maximum stress within the part is close to 38,000 psi, and as much of the low stress areas have been removed as possible.

This part would then be prototyped and tested in real life before going on to production. There are many other aspects that I must consider in my job, and seldom are parts as easy to analyze as this. There are also many other aspects that I must consider daily. To name a few: corrosion, friction, thermal expansion, errors in manufacturing, as well as considering if someone could accidentally break it, even if it is designed to do it’s job.

In my current project I have designed about 50 unique parts, ranging from simple shafts to complex bodies that have to be designed for multiple loads, vibration, and harsh temperature changes. The stress analysis is just a small slice of my job. I also have to make sure that all of my mechanisms properly move, interface, and are capable of being built.

So that’s a little look into part of what I do. Hopefully you learned a little in the process. Just think, every man-made object you touch has gone through this same process to some extent. Try to count how many different things you touch in a day! That’s why I consider the Mechanical Engineer the ultimate Mixed Martial Arts fighter of the engineering world.

The Importance of Knowing Everything

May 27th, 2009 Josh
This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series MMA of Engineering

IMG_0457.JPG When I started at UF, I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew I would learn “engineering” stuff in the “mechanical” category, but really I had no idea what I would learn.

Prior to college, I never had a “normal”  job. Instead of stocking shelves at the local supermarket, or the water park, or bussing tables, I worked for my grandpa. He’s my hero in case you didn’t already know. It started when I was old enough to pull weeds (3 or 4 maybe? it was a long time ago…); he would give me $.50 to fill a bucket with weeds from the shop yard. As I got older and learned to do more demanding tasks, he paid me more. By the time I was a senior in high school I think he was paying me $8/hr, which was pretty good at that time.

It was also fun. I learned to drive a Case 580 front-end loader when I was 8. By the time I was 12 I could safely operate every basic tool in the shop (and there are a LOT). At 14 I could stick weld pretty well, and at 16 I could braze with an oxy-acetlyne rig. At 18 I was cranking precision parts out of a lathe and milling machine and helping with aluminum casting. At this point, I had more practical experience than any of my soon-to-be mechanical engineering cohorts.

Monkey Wrench

Monkey Wrench

As an aside, a good friend of mine (in food science, not ME) took a design class and had to tell an engineer what a pair of dics (pronounced dikes) is; It was rare to find someone who knew a monkey wrench was an actual tool; and to this day, without a picture, no one believes me that I once had a drill that drills square holes.

Needless to say, when I got to college, the engineering theory that was taught in my classes only reinforced the observations of my previous 10+ years of shop apprenticeship. It was actually the testing, and a pesky, well hidden learning disability that almost got me kicked out… but that’s for another post. During the <ahem> 5-1/2 years that I was there, I learned why mechanical engineering was considered one of the hardest disciplines: We were taught just about everything.

OK, not everything, but everything having to do with the physical world, and more. We learned advanced mathematics as the basis for defining and solving problems (I think I was only one class away from a math minor, and 4 or 5 away from a math major…). We learned advanced physics to understand complex moving systems. We learned chemistry to understand material behavior; thermodynamics and fluid dynamics to understand heat, mass, and fluid energy transfer; electrical engineering classes to understand electromechanical devices; control theory to make our devices function. We learned about fixed, moving, and deforming structures; Computer systems to design and analyze in the virtual world before bringing designs to the real world. We learned how to communicate with customers, integrate designs, and troubleshoot problems. We learned everything we need to design anything for anyone.

Now, you may be wondering what exactly mechanical engineers design. Well, if it involves heat, motion, lightweight structures, advanced materials, or phase changes, chances are a mechanical engineer had a hand in it. When I graduated, I really didn’t know that there were so many different career paths that a mechanical engineer could take. I spent a just less than 2 years designing HVAC and Plumbing systems, but then after a career switch I found my true calling in advanced aerospace mechanical systems. Next post I’ll show you exactly what I do… in a very abridged form.