By John G. Falcioni, Editor-in-Chief
In a landscape fertile in technology lies a place where the future has become outdated.
The location is nestled within a make-believe world, in a magical kingdom where a mouse rules and real engineers roam. It’s a place where imagination has no boundaries for those who visit or for those who work there.
The place is called Tomorrowland and it shares space with other worlds bearing monikers such as Frontierland and Fantasyland within the Magic Kingdom, a territory inspired by a man named Walt Disney and built by his designers and engineers.
Tomorrowland still houses the Astro Orbiter and the Transit Authority, now rich symbols of nostalgia that loom as reminders of a future that has already passed—not as a showcase of expectations. Tomorrowland is also a stark symbol—within a Disney environment otherwise rich in state-of-the-art—of tomorrowlands throughout the world where the rapid pace of development has left other segments behind. There are tried-and-true engineering techniques, for instance, that served well for generations but have given way to 21st-century innovations.
There’s no Disney fantasy in what the chief engineer at Boeing’s Phantom Works describes in this month’s cover story, “Digital Product Development,” which begins on page 34. But to the uninitiated, Boeing’s 3-D parametric modeling tools, which are shared remotely among engineers throughout the world to design the aircraft of tomorrow, might as well be magic.
The days of designing by hand on a draft table are long gone at Boeing. “Developers of design systems have exploited … sophisticated mathematics, and today’s systems are capable of producing very complex designs in much higher definition than ever before,” said Mark A. Burgess, chief engineer of the Phantom Works, the central R&D unit of the Boeing Co., who is the author of our article. Now, millions of disparate parts can be reviewed digitally as complete integrated products.
In much the same way as Boeing has evolved, hand illustrations at the Walt Disney Co., long the mainstay of the company’s animated films business, have been augmented, if not often completely replaced, by computer-generated imagery.
A recent example is Wall•E, the company’s highly acclaimed film created by Disney’s subsidiary, Pixar Animation Studios. Not only does Wall•E display advanced filmmaking techniques to create spectacular images, but its theme speaks of a world of tomorrow, when Earth, as we know it, becomes overdeveloped and is no longer sustainable. It’s a poignant movie in which poor choices in the use of technology and innovation have driven humanity from our planet.
As for the Disney World of today, the company remains a technology leader. Just a few weeks ago, during ASME’s Annual Meeting, Mario J. Scarabino, an ASME member and technical director at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, led 20 engineers on a private tour of two highly advanced rides at the Animal Kingdom park.
The looks of amazement on the faces of the engineers on the tour, as we peeked deep inside the technology that helps create the magic of some of the rides, said it all. It was as if I was strolling the park with my son, who even as a teenager still believes in the impossible.
Technology never really becomes outdated, it just evolves. Moving to parametric modeling wouldn’t have happened at Boeing without the drafting table first. But the message is clear: Today’s technology has to make sense for tomorrow. Otherwise, Wall•E may yet prove to be a preview of our future.