Ohio State Teaches Engineers with a Room Full of PCNC 770s

Ohio State University has filled their training lab with Tormach equipment to meet the challenges of educating future engineers.

As an effort to bridge the gap between engineers and machine operators, Ohio State provides students with multiple opportunities to get their hands on machine tools. Sophomore students have the opportunity to use a lab with of Bridgeport mills and manual lathes, to make air-cylinder engines. Then, each set of students (2-3) makes a single cylinder and engraves it with a PCNC 1100 mill. At the end of the semester, they assemble the engines and create different methods to operate the machines.

Engineering students at Ohio State leave this class with an appreciation of the challenge of making parts. For those who have never done any metalworking or fabrication, making round internal corners may not seem like a big deal, but if you ask an experienced machinist, they roll their eyes at student designs that have sharp corners.

Upperclass and graduate engineering students have the opportunity to take a more in-depth class, where they get firsthand experience designing in CAD, programming a CAM program, and then finally creating their designs with a PCNC 770 mill.

“After completing the class, students not only know how to design things, they know how to make them. And, design things so that they can be made,” explains Dr. Sandra Metzler, P.E. “For people who haven’t had a lot of hands-on experience; for people who haven’t ever worked in an industrial environment, [actually making components] is a really different concept. We have students come in just learning to understand how the machine works – by the end of the semester, they’re doing their own design and picking their own tools, processes, and operations.”

Ohio State is bridging the gap that is often left in engineering curriculum, where students are taught to design but rarely see parts or components getting made. “Design intention is a big thing with this course. You start out with just Solidworks and following tutorials, and later on you start to make parts yourself,” explains Fred Lab, a mechanical engineering student. “There are many different ways to make parts, and learn why you would make it one way or another. Students get to see, try, and fail at designing parts.”

Beyond Class

After taking a concept from idea to part, the students get access to the Ohio State Student Shop, where they can utilize manual machines, a Tormach PCNC 1100, PSG 612 Grinder, and a 15L Slant-PRO Lathe.

The student shop is staffed by students and can be used for both university-related assignments or personal projects.

Dr. Metzler continues, “That’s what is really great, they can take the class to learn how to use the Tormach machines, and then they can go into the student shop while they’re here for the rest of their undergraduate career or as a graduate student and use the machines for any project they want.”

Tormach in the College Lab

Students appreciate the approachable interface, which is why Tormach machines find themselves at home in classroom environments. “I think that’s what Tormach is doing really well – they’re making it approachable and easy with an interface doesn’t look cryptic. It doesn’t look like something that you need a background in to understand – it looks like any other desktop app you might be using,” explains Mitch Eichler, a mechanical engineering student at Ohio State University.

Caitlin Boone, a graduate student in mechanical engineering explains, “To do a tool change, it’s not buried in a machine somewhere. You can just look at it and know how to load a tool. Nothing’s super challenging to learn how to do initially.”

Tormach machines have often been applauded for their approachability and lowered barrier to access, but a true test is in the classroom. Ohio State University has several machines and they are only looking to get more as the engineering program grows because of the opportunities a room full of CNCs offers students.

Their education format is to enable students to make things themselves, and as Dr. Metzler explains, “We’ve got [Tormachs] pretty much everywhere. They start with them as sophomores, then they really get proficient in the senior technical elective, and then they can use them whenever they want. Students are really excited to be able to work on a real CNC machine, but one that’s not intimidating either.”

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Chris Fox

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