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The Daily Record December 2002
Propelling to new dimensions
Michael Raphael has gone down under with his 3-D measurement software. Under a military ship, that is. As for actual travel, he skipped Australia and went to Israel instead.
By Mark R. Smith

The president of Owings Mills-based Direct Dimensions, an engineering sales and service company that specializes in 3-D digitizing and computer-generated models, Raphael has created a method of measuring damage done to industrial nautical propellers. Previously handled manually, Raphael’s process couples proprietary software with an off-the-shelf measuring device he helped develop while working for Martin Marietta in Middle River more than a decade ago.

First, some basic explanation. “Let’s say that you’re tooling around the Chesapeake in your motorboat and the propeller hits a piece of wood,” he explained. “You’d take it to a propeller shop, get it banged back into shape, replaced and go on your way.”

Now use the same train of thought, just expand the scale from Lionel to Amtrak. And throw pitch, thickness, angle and spacing into the equation.

“It’s not that easy for a military ship,” he continued. “They have propellers that are three to 10 feet in diameter and weigh thousands of pounds. It’s much harder to find out if they’ve been damaged. The damage isn’t readily visible to the human eye during reconditioning and maintenance when you’re measuring down to the 1/1000th of an inch.”

So when the Israeli Navy came to Direct Dimensions for help in solving such dilemmas, the company created its automated solution.

“We automated the conventional methods of measuring the propellers with a relatively high-tech system that enables the operator to evaluate the shape of the propeller and compare it to design specs. The software is user-friendly and directs the user on how to measure and collect the data, which it automatically analyzes.”

"They can now do in hours what took days to do manually for years." - Michael Raphael, President, Direct Dimensions

The financial results have been an immediate hit, with Direct Dimensions having signed a contract with the Israeli Navy for more than $100,000. “They can now do in hours what took days to do manually for years,” Raphael explained, adding his company is pursuing commercial opportunities domestically, in commercial as well as military markets with the U.S. Navy. “They have different techniques they’ve been using to measure, but this offers great time and cost savings. In the end, it’s all the same.”

A mechanical engineer with a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech and a master’s in engineering administration from George Washington University, Raphael had to create a system that would be easy to comprehend. “The users at the level this was created for are not engineers. They’re workers in a shipyard. So that was critical.

“Plus, you can’t automate something until the process is well defined. We had to get the Israeli Navy personnel to explain exactly what they did by hand and interpret that information for a computer. We also had to consider many different cases and the wide range of sizes and shapes propellers come in, not to mention how many blades each has. They’re all different.”

While the geographic undesirability of the client made the job “a little difficult, in that we were working halfway across the world,” he was quick to point out that “seeing another part of the world was one of the best parts, too. Fortunately, I was not witness to any of the political strife. I was just in the shipyard in Haifa.”