We have invested in some of the best tools that we could get our hands on to insure that students get professional level experience with tools that are used at some of the best universities and professional training programs in the country.
Main Classroom Area
Everything starts with computer resources that are loaded with the most recent version of Autodesk’s 3D parametric modeling program, Inventor. Thanks to the generous academic program, Design The Future, Autodesk has supplied this software to us for absolutely free.
Once the students have completed the required digital designs, they then begin the fabrication process. We have designated a separate space for different types of fabrication processes.
Advanced Fabrication (3D Printing) Room
This space houses our advanced 3D fabrication tools. For those of you new to 3D printing – it is defined as:
additive manufacturing (AM) refers to any of the various processes for printing a three-dimensional object. Primarily additive processes are used, in which successive layers of material are laid down under computer control. These objects can be of almost any shape or geometry, and are produced from a 3D model or other electronic data source.
These machines can be thought of as really high-tech, really precise glue guns that squirt out fast drying plastic filament into layers that stack up to create a 3D model. Students learn to create virtual 3D models using Autodesk’s CAD program called Inventor – a professional level engineering program for creating 3D parts and 3D assemblies. The students can then export a part created with this software as an STL file and send that file along to one of three 3D printers.
The printers that we currently use are a Stratasys uPrint that uses ABS plastic and a support material to create high precision parts.
The support material is then removed using a cleaning solution that dissolves the support structure. This device is currently capable of creating more accurate models, but it is considerably slower in creating the models than our other two 3D printers – Makerbot Replicator 2’s.
These printers are newer and use PLA, a less expensive modeling material. They do not require a support material, but for that reason tend not to be able to make models that are as accurate and precise.
Laser Cutting Room
This space is where we have our two laser cutters. These machines use a focused CO2 laser to cut 2D designs from thin plastic (not PVC!), thin wood, cardboard and paper. We have been very lucky to have been donated a brand new Full Spectrum ProLF series laser cutter!
This cutter uses a 90W laser and has a really nice cutting space for cutting bigger designs. We also have a smaller cutter that was also a donation from the school’s parent organization WeAreSR. This smaller cutter (also from Full Spectrum) is great for cutting paper. We primarily use it for cutting paper beams and chords for the bridge project.
Plasma Cutting/Welding Room
The back of the lab is dedicated to metal welding and cutting. We also house our CNC PlasmaCam machine that is primarily responsible for cutting thin sheet metal designs for robotics. The students must design and fabricate a metal chassis for their sumo-bots. Just like the laser cutters, this machine takes a 2D DXF file and then using the control software, we have it cut the design. This has been a great machine and we have been using it with little trouble since we purchased it at the inception of the program.
This room is dedicated to all things electronics and robotics. We keep all our small electronic parts in this space and also have a soldering station set up in this room for students to use for soldering and prototyping.
We also have two other rooms for wood and metal fabrication. These rooms have manually controlled machinery that might be typical of a traditional “shop class”. Students are trained to use drill presses, band saws, table saws, chop saws, and a lathe. We also have a vertical axis mill that was donated to the program. Although we think that our advanced fabrication tools are really amazing, we stress the importance of knowing how to safely use the traditional fabrication tools as they tend to be crucial in every project.
If you are associated with a school and are thinking about getting a program ready for teaching Engineering and would like more information regarding the tools we use and why we chose the ones we did, please feel free to call us – just be prepared to have your ear talked off!