Saturday, May 2, 2015

product realization

As I mentioned earlier, I have been co-teaching a course in Engineering called Product Realization. In this senior level course, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering students work in groups on real world problems that are sponsored by local companies. The teams also include Art and Design students that are at various levels of schooling. 

I was asked about my interest in co-teaching this course several years ago when Mike Lovell was still at UWM and was Dean of the School of Engineering. Mike had developed this course and was getting ready to turn the reins over to Dr. Illya Avdeev from Engineering and Dr. Nathaniel Stern from Art and Design. I observed the course, at that time and the Art students honestly served the roll of creating powerpoint presentations, posters and websites; since the skill set of most of the Art students at that time did not include product development or the necessary industrial processes knowledge. The course developed over the years though, and I am proud to say that Bryan Cera was instrumental in some of the culture change from the "art side" of things. I also assisted many of the groups during the development years, with prototype development and generation of production ideas. This semester, Nathaniel was on sabbatical so I was asked to fill in for him. Illya would be away due to a buy out, and I would be teaching with Joseph Pfannes from the UWM Research Foundation. I was hopeful that the Art and Design students would contribute more this semester as a few of the enrolled Art students had taken some of my Digital Fabrication courses recently.

At the start of the semester Joseph and I discussed the schedule and I mentioned that I would like to hold "lab hours" one day a week at the DCRL. I was hoping that this might spur more low resolution prototyping and create a situation where the Engineers and Art and Design students could come together to create physical prototypes earlier in the development stages of their products. The Product Realization course lays out and gives students a methodical approach to developing solutions to the problems and requirements set forth by their sponsored project. The students receive lectures each week on the various levels of product development, the students give presentations every two weeks on their group progress, and they meet with their project sponsors frequently. 

I invited the class to the DCRL in the second week of the course. This "lab safety section" was purely optional and I only had a handful of students that took advantage of this first introductory event. Since that first class though, I have had several students come to the lab on Thursday night lab to work. During this time I have had the opportunity to get to know several of the students better and to have impromptu discussions about their project. I can honestly say that these lab sessions have allowed me to bridge the gap between Art and Design and Engineering. Two of those students are Zach and Steve (pictured above). They are members of the Lorence Manufacturing group that have been working on an Electric Slip Ring Connector. I believe that Zach and Steve have come to the DCRL on almost every Thursday night and I have been able to see their skills and confidence grow as they work on this project.

I have been able to show Zach and Steve how to create code for the Tormach as well as powder coating, vacuum forming, and anodizing. I can now trust them to machine their own components as the Tormach has made it easy for them to gain confidence with CNC machining quickly. I know that this knowledge has made a large impact on their learning and I do hope that this will benefit them in their future careers. I know that they have helped me to see the benefit of teaching students process and materials and how creating physical objects can push ideas farther than if you only modeled and 3D printed things. I believe both Zach and Steve would agree that their product idea developed through "the making". There is something to say about having the capabilities of making almost anything, in almost any material that you want, at your fingertips. Both Steve and Zach took full advantage of this. Not to mention, both of these gentlemen are outstanding for their desire to learn, pro active attitude to their own learning, for their politeness and respectful attitude. I can't wait to see their completed prototype!

In this last week of classes, I have had several of the groups come to the DCRL to complete their prototype. Many of the Engineering students mentioned that the DCRL was one of the coolest places on campus and that they wish they would have learned about it earlier in their Engineering career here at UWM. Many also mentioned that they thought that their Engineering education would involve more things like they have witnessed in the DCRL. It's too bad many of these students are graduating as I would love for them to take the series of courses that I am offering.

Regardless, I have fully enjoyed this experience of co teaching with Joseph and I look forward to sharing the prototypes with my blog reader later this week. It should be good.

1 comment:

Brian Ware said...

Hi, I found your posts due to the Milwaukee Makerspace anodizing workshop you did way back in 2013 (via search, not actually being there). I belong to a makerspace in NJ ( and we are looking to get an anodizing line set up for the type II chromatic most likely. I also found another post where you mention using Caswell supplies. Could you provide any details on what we should get in terms of materials that might be different or in addition to the base Caswell starter kits? The colors on the member parts looked really awesome with an even finish. Any help would be appreciated! (We are also looking to get a small Tormach for the space, but that is a whole other topic we are researching)