Staffulty Perspectives: Brad Niven on T3 Engineering

This trimester marks the start of three Engineering Design 2 classes; one is focused on mechanisms, while the other two are focused on design, but all three have sights set on conquering a unique and daunting challenge.

The two design-focused classes have begun the process of creating different types of flat-folding furniture. One class’ challenge is to make a table that can fold flat using no more than four parts of a single sheet of 36- by 48-inch plywood; the second class has begun designing and building small lamps (smaller than a 12-inch cube) that can also – you guessed it! – fold flat.

Why the emphasis on objects that fold up? Such design projects increase students’ spatial conceptualization skills and introduce them to more real-world manufacturing constraints. In other words, limiting the size, number and material of components students can use forces them to explore the range of possibilities within a much more limited palette and extract every bit of value from each piece of lumber.

The mechanical focus class set out to design a small, hand-powered device that will accurately and repeatedly fold a single strand of wire into a paper clip. This challenge will not only develop students’ spatial conceptualization skills, but also help them glean insight into the incredible level of engineering that goes into creating simple objects.

Devising a mechanism that will execute multiple steps is no easy task, so the students are learning how to break down a complex set of movements into individual components – much like frames in a film – in order to solve the problem. Once they have conceptually solved the problem, they will begin building the solution into a working device, demonstrable to everyone. This will require a high level of precision and attention to detail, but they won’t have to go it alone. Solidworks, an industry standard in 3D design software, will introduce students to computer-aided design and allow them to virtually prototype their ideas before setting cutting tools to metal.

Needless to say, all three classes have their work cut out for them. Over the next four weeks, they will continue to systematically develop new, creative solutions using Design Thinking methodology. They are more than up to the task!

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