New Machine Shop Turns Mechanical Engineering Designs Into Reality
July 25, 2013
Judges watch as Andrew Bruff (center) adjusts his UTDesign project, built for a local aircraft company. The team designed parts that will allow a camera attached to a helicopter to stay focused on a target as the helicopter travels.
The opening of the mechanical engineering machine shop marks an education milestone in one of the University’s fastest-growing departments.
The facility gives students the experience of building custom mechanical components or systems for class assignments, research and industry sponsors.
“The new machine shop will support the research and education mission of the Jonsson School,” said Dr. Mario Rotea, holder of the Erik Jonsson Chair and head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
The shop houses 10 computer stations, where students can design their concepts or solutions for turning raw material into components or systems using state-of-the-art machines located in the shop.
“Students sometimes believe that you can draw a mechanical component and that a machine will make it,” said Mark Powell, the shop’s manager, who spent 30 years as a machinist at Texas Instruments. “It doesn’t work that way. Someone has to map out details such as the tool size you’re going to use and the type of material and speed at which the machine will run.
This senior design team fabricated parts for a low-cost robotic arm. The arm, which is operated by a video game joystick, can be used for research and possibly industry applications.
“A person has to physically program what they want the machine to do and what they want the part to look like. This gives students a little more appreciation and respect for the process.”
Some of the state-of the art machines in the shop include several computer numeric control milling machines, welding machines, different types of saws, a plasma cutter and air compressor. Computer numerically controlled machines can be operated in either manual or automatic mode.
“Our students will be trained to inherit traditional machining skills while mastering the sophisticated techniques that advanced machining equipment enable,” said Dr. Hongbing Lu, holder of the Louis Beecherl Jr. Chair and associate head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Before the opening, students had to take the parts they designed to another facility to be fabricated. They had to rely on an outside facility for even minor modifications, which often resulted in longer waits for the next phases of the designs.
While the machine shop is primarily for mechanical engineering design students and extracurricular activities of the student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, other students who have been properly trained are able to use the shop as well.