CU Boulder uses SLA cars to drive education
Every year, University of Colorado at Boulder Mechanical Engineering offers MCEN 1025 to approximately 200 first year engineering students. The class is “Computer Aided Design and Fabrication,” where students learn about modern concurrent engineering design processes, drawings, and solid modeling. A large part of the course is learning 3D CAD using SolidWorks, where teams of students collaborate on an innovation to an existing plastic component in the marketplace.
Before the assignment, however, students are treated to a guest lecture by Tim Nakari, Director of Marketing for Spectrum Plastics Group. Mr. Nakari has been in the rapid prototyping industry since 2000, when he joined Protogenic, and brings with him a host of experiences, advice, and stories that entertain as well as inform the audience, always focusing on the Additive Manufacturing industry, and what it means to be an up and coming Mechanical Engineer. For Nakari it's a fun way to give back to his Alma Matter and talk about one of the things he loves best, and the students enjoy the break from the routine and the anecdotal presentation of the new subject matter.
After lecture, their assignment is to design a new body for a ZipZap® racer, a radio controlled car available at most electronics supply stores. Students take an existing car, remove the body, take measurements, evaluate how the bodies fit, then brainstorm new ideas for their very own car body.
Using SolidWorks, the students turn those ideas into a 3D CAD file, which include not only the mechanics required to secure the body to the existing chassis, but all the custom bumpers, graphics, propellers, roll cages, bells, and whistles you’d expect to see on a car body designed by engineering students.
The only design constraints are a 2” x 3” x 2” build envelope, and the body must be able to work with the existing car chassis. The only other limitation is the imagination of the students, but from the level of detail displayed on various tanks, 4x4’s, ocean waves, golf carts, and wiener-mobiles that we’ve seen on the car bodies in the past, lack of imagination does not seem to be a problem, and once the design has been modeled in 3D, a solid model is just a click away.
And this is where Spectrum Plastics Group comes in… for every year since 2004 the Protogenic division has been happy to sponsor this engineering class, by taking all of the car bodies designed by the students and turning them into real-life 3D models, using its Stereolithography equipment. Protogenic then donates all of the car models to the University, and for the first time the students are able to hold in their hands something they’ve created in CAD space, an experience that is as rewarding as it is educational.
The students then sand and paint the models, and present them to the rest of the class as part of their final presentation. They learn about solid modeling, how to work within a set of constraints, and they get to experience first hand some of the true benefits of rapid prototyping. Protogenic enjoys the exposure it gets at the University, and knows that many of these students end up becoming tomorrow's successful mechanical engineers.
To view the web site for the class, and to download pictures from all of the years' student projects, click here: