UC Davis is regarded as one of the top public universities in the nation, and their College of Engineering is a primary reason why. Students are demanding more and more technology and UC Davis is keeping up with that demand.
At the heart of it all is the Engineering Student Design Center (ESDC) headed up by a staff of four and a student staff of 18. It is a 10,500 sq.ft. resource of learning prowess and manufacturing awesomeness. Just some of the equipment in the ESDC are: FARO Arm Scanner, a DMG MORI DMC 1035V ecoline mill, a DMG MORI DMU 50 5-axis mill, DMG MORI ecoTurn 450 lathe, a Sodick AP350 wire EDM, CO2 laser, an Omax 55100 water jet, 10 Bridgeport mills with ACU-RITE G2 controllers, and 10 Harrison-Clausing lathes with ACU-RITE controls, welding, saws and all support equipment needed for the many disciplines at the College of Engineering. The ESDC is better equipped than many of the local area shops. “All the machine tools are part of the student’s mental tool box when it comes to designing elements and producing them,” explains 25-year shop manager Mike Akahori. “We are very well equipped as a shop when it comes to machines and staff. The student that comes here to do graduate work is pleasantly surprised when they see the machine tools available to them. I am sure they didn’t have the same level of shop at their previous school. Our students are a bit spoiled and think it is this good everywhere, but honestly, UC Davis offers a pretty well balanced program.” Some schools like UC Berkley are more analytically based, while the Maritime Academy is even more hands on and directed primarily at ships. UC Davis College of Engineering falls about in the middle and offers plenty of both. “The College of Engineering invests a lot of money to have a facility like this, and to be able to staff it properly,” continues Mike. “We are very fortunate to have a leadership team that supports us and the program. Student and parent expectations get higher and higher every year so we constantly are raising the bar. It is great for the students. Chevron is one of our program sponsors and they are looking for graduates who are work ready. They can’t afford to babysit new hires for a few years and love how prepared our graduates are.”
Every year approximately 8000 students make their way into the ESDC for one project or another. Five hundred new students get introduced to the shop year after year, the majority of them coming from the mechanical engineering program. “Here at the ESDC we have courses scheduled throughout the week, both lecture and lab,” tells R & D engineer David Kehlet. “Students spend about 30 hours a quarter in the lab. They use that time learning the culture of the shop as well as the basics on cleanup, shop management, machine use and so forth. After they progress past the basic EME50 class they are welcome to come back any time during our open lab periods. Anyone qualified to use the machines is welcome to do so during open lab time. It might be for a specific course or for senior projects like Formula SAE or the steel bridge competition.” Machine time is first come first serve for the most part, but if a student requires staff assistance they need to make an appointment. Students are encouraged to figure things out themselves, but occasionally they need assistance on the water jet or building a fixture for the DMG MORI machines. Students spend on average 2.5 years in the shop as they complete their studies. “We get better student retention as engineering majors by getting them involved in the ESDC sooner rather than later,” tells Mike. “Analytically and theoretically are not nearly as much fun as hands on experience building and exploring. Other schools even utilize our projects as part of their curriculum because it is a proven learning tool. The EME50 gyroscope project has been going on since the mid 70’s, and is a right of passage for students. It’s not uncommon for graduates to interview for a job and see a gyroscope on the shelf behind the person conducting the interview. They try and play it cool, but every one of them knows exactly what their time was and how they placed in the contest.”
All shop projects begin with a manual process and transitions into doing a similar process via CNC. From the Mechanical’s gyroscope and totem projects to the Bio Med’s digital microscope, the teaching and learning practices are the same; manual ops then CNC ops. “The mechanical engineering students make a gyroscope in their ten week class,” explains R & D engineer Shawn Malone. “I’ve been here at UC Davis for more than 20 years and the gyroscope is a staple of our program. Many engineering schools have students make a hammer or a screwdriver. We have them build a gyroscope. To pass the class it has to stand on its point for more than two minutes. We just got done with 88 students running the competition yesterday. The top time was just over seven minutes. We introduce to them manual machining processes first. So drill press for the holes, manual lathe for the spindle and so forth. They see the numbers go by and see the table move, take a radius curve and back. That starts imprinting the process in their mind. So, when they begin to use the ACU-RITE controller it isn’t just punching a button, it is punching the button and knowing that the button makes the machine do a specific task that they already have done manually. Good or bad the computer does what you tell it to do, so for them to visually confirm what they are telling the machine to do via the ACU-RITE controllers is a huge part of their learning process.” “You have to remember that we have a very diverse set of students that represents our diverse community,” adds Sherry Batin, R & D engineer. “Besides kids coming from different walks of life and different countries, we have a huge skills gap between those well versed in using a tools to those who have never seen an electric drill before. Building confidence is a huge part of their success in the engineering programs.”
The second undertaking for students in EME50 is known as the totem project. They begin with a 2” tall by 1.5” diameter aluminum cylinder, which they have to cut from aluminum bar stock on the saw and then face it to length. While they are learning those processes they are making a drawing. It is their job to design the north end with a milling op, a turning op, drilling op and so forth. Once they meet those constraints they are free to design any north end pattern or shape they want. They hand that drawing to someone else who then has to design the south end to mate to the north end drawing. “We utilize a precision fit feature that they must meet,” details David. “All 22 pieces must stack together in the end for them to pass. The fun part is once the drawings are finalized and everything is called out correctly, we make them exchange drawings with other students. The drawing they think they are going to make gets handed off to someone else. Some students do complex designs with harder features, while others just do the bare minimum. The whole time they have thought it all through on how they are going to manufacture their drawing. Well surprise, they are working from a drawing they have never seen before, just like in industry.” Students now have to figure out how to produce the part of the drawing and hope that all the information is easily conveyed. If not they have to go back to the designer and work with them to get the specs they need to produce the part correctly. That is just the north end. The south end is done on the CNC utilizing Fusion 360. “They learn to use the CAM software and see all the simulations,” continues Sherry “They specify the tooling, speeds and feeds and all that goes along with it. Outputting the G Code to the correct machine, setting it up and running it. South is all CNC and north is all manual. It allows them to compare the two similar experiences. How long did it take you to make the north end? 2 hours, ok. How long to do the south end? Three hours to program it and 2 minutes cutting chips. Now they start to see the threshold of when is it worth their time to invest in the CAM software versus just cranking it out manually with a sketch drawing.”
Mechanical engineering majors make up a large portion of the students enrolled at the UC Davis College of Engineering, but the Bio Med students have their own interesting shop project. The BIM 110L project is a digital microscope assembly. The assembly is a cell phone stand embedded with an inexpensive magnifying lens to which the cell phone’s camera is aligned producing a magnified image of a specimen. Bio Med students are not as much into manufacturing, but they still need to learn how to program on the machines. “Our manual applications translate to the CNC on the Bridgeports,” explains Shawn. “They really learn fast based off what we give them. They learn thread milling for example, and let me say left and right hand threads are a completely foreign concept to most of them. Always a manual op first, then again utilizing the 3 axis ACU-RITE controllers on our Bridgeports. The Bio Med students don’t go through the CAM training, but instead they learn conversational right on the machine. Everything they program they do directly on the ACU-RITE controllers and it is easy. They pick it up really quickly. The controls are easy to learn, easy to use, and user intuitive. It is extremely powerful once you get to use to it.”
The UC Davis College of Engineering ESDC began utilizing ACU-RITE controllers back in the early 2000’s and just recently invested in an upgraded version. Last school year they added four new Bridgeport mills to the shop and equipped them with the ACU-RITE G2 controller. They took that opportunity to upgrade all the controllers on all the mills. When it came time to invest in new controllers they looked no further than Dave McCarthy at Heidenhain Corp. “We love Dave,” touts Mike. “His support of our program is amazing and product support is even better. We upgraded all the Bridgeport controls to the ACU-RITE G2 and couldn’t be happier with them. We had other controls in the past, but the ease of use and durability we get with ACU-RITE is fantastic. As you can imagine with the number of students we get in this program they see a lot of use and inadvertently a lot of abuse. We don’t worry too much because Dave makes sure we get great service and pricing on any replacement parts. The G2 controllers are a big bump in technology for us. The previous ACU-RITE version we were using still had floppy disk drives. Now we have USB. Our codes are not super complex, but even still we would run across a student not understanding why they couldn’t save their program. You start doing 3D modeling in Fusion 360 and there is never enough space on the floppy. Dave is one of the good guys in the business. He drops by whenever he is in the area and takes a real interest in the students and our program.”
The staff and shop techs all praised the ACU-RITE controlled machines as a great way to go from manual to CNC and back to manual as needed. All the teaching programs revolve around doing a manual element followed by a CNC element. Different projects for different majors, but the core concept of learning is the same. Here is the manual way, turn the crank and watch it move. Now program it to turn the crank for you. “You think about all the years they spent getting to this point in their education,” concludes Mike. “They struggled though the pressures of school and taking only upper division classes to get into a good college, but they never took a shop class. The ESDC adds an element they’ve never known before. They take those senses you feel manually machining a part and transfer it into CNC experience. It isn’t just a video game; they pick up a road feel that you only get by actually driving the machine. That experience translates directly to the next step in their journey.”