Closing the Design for Manufacturing Gap at the University of Iowa

It’s been said time and again that adding hands-on experiences in the classroom make it easier to learn and understand, especially in the worlds of manufacturing and engineering.

Matias Perret is an instructor in the College of Engineering at the University of Iowa, and he has used both a PCNC 770 and a PCNC 440 to give his students manufacturing experience. “Part of what we try to do down here is give students some hands-on experience on the different machines that we have and with different manufacturing methods,” he explains. “And then teach them how to utilize these methods to design components for that specific manufacturing process.”

Design for manufacturability is key to connecting the digital world of CAD to real-life parts and products. “Students could very easily 3D-print their designs and then assemble them, but that won’t undergo the rigors of testing if they want to validate what they’re manufacturing. That’s the value of having something that can actually cut metal in the shop.”

Eric Mensen is a student at the University, and he explains a bit further, “A lot of the students probably have never even heard of what G-code is. They have no idea what G54 and G90 are. So, the university teaches them that if we have a part in the 3D model world, that part has to come out of a physical part in the real world, like a piece of raw stock.”

The University of Iowa program focuses on helping students understand the manufacturing process as they design their parts. “There’s a lot of students that, by the time they’re through the program, they can run with it,” Mensen explains. “They can have their own part modeled, set their own sequences up, and they can come over to the Tormach and make their parts. Design engineers, as a whole, understand that you can design just about anything you want with 3D modeling. But, that doesn’t mean you can actually make it in the real world.”

This is the gap that the PCNC 440 in the University of Iowa lab is starting to close.

“If the design engineer can design a product from the get-go that has manufacturing in mind, then that means that the people running the machines are going to have a much easier time making the part,” Mensen continues. “At the end of the day, if it’s easier to manufacturing, that’s going to reduce the costs.”

Giving students access to an approachable, yet capable machine tool has helped the program realize its full potential. “As far as the PCNC 440 is concerned, it’s good because the prototypes that our students are developing are going to be a step above,” Perret explains. “Now with this machine in the lab, we give students some basic instruction on it and then it’s off to the races. They get to manufacture whatever they think up.”

Perret emphasizes the ability to give students real manufacturing experience is the best way to teach. Witnessing first-hand what happens when a design fails or fails to be manufactured correctly is valuable to teaching students proper design techniques. “You can’t beat the hands-on experience to learn about these processes,” Perret says. “Bottom line is that it’s fun! Students enjoy being able to make stuff and it helps them learn the material and it gives us the opportunity to emphasize the theory behind design for manufacturing.”

Chris Fox

Chris comes from a publishing background with years of experience in science, technology, and engineering publications. Previously an editor with Product Design and Development and Gizmag, he has a keen eye on the maker community and the changing landscape of the world of prototyping, product development, and small-scale manufacturing. Chris has been working with clients to create Tormach's customer success stories since 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheChris_Fox

Chris Fox