NIC machining students challenge drafting students in engine design competition

Sometimes, when building a machine, machinists will recognize a critical flaw in the design that could lead to the dysfunction of part or all of the mechanism.
Conversely, designers often see ways to make a machine run more efficiently while still in the blueprint phase of construction.

Both the designers and machinists in this scenario have the same goal: make the machine run to its optimum potential. But when both groups think they could do it, friendly competition is born.

|photo1|This challenge initiated a competition between the North Idaho College Machine Technology and the Mechanical Drafting and Design Technology programs last fall to design and build an engine and to see which program's machine had the greatest endurance and could run at the fastest rate.

“Both groups of students think they can build the best machine, which created a competition,” said NIC Drafting and Design Technology Instructor Curt Booth. “But the competition is really just a way of stimulating critical thinking and motivating the students to really look at this project from all angles.”

The students from both professional-technical programs used computer-aided drafting programs to design Stirling engines, engines that run off of an outside heat source that causes air compression and expansion to move the cylinders.

The drafting students collaborated to build one engine based on one design. Each student in the Machine Technology program chose a design and was required to build their machine. The machining class chose one of the designs to compete against the drafters in the competition after building each machine, including the one designed by the drafting students.

The mechanical drafting students researched designs of engines and chose a high-speed design. The second-year drafting students involved in the competition had experience evaluating and creating designs, but had not yet worked with machinists who would create the parts for machines.
“It helped us gain perspective on the machining side of the industry,” said NIC Drafting and Design Technology student Duane Werner of Sagle. “In the drafting field, you need to know how to talk to machinists and express to them what you need, so this was good experience.”

“This project was just like the real world,” said Daniel Harris, a NIC Machine Technology student from Coeur d'Alene.
The drafting students used a rapid prototyping machine to make plastic models of the parts to their design. The prototyping machine allows the students, who have designed an object using computer applications, to create a plastic model of the design to check for design accuracy and efficiency on a prototype they can actually hold in their hands.

“The rapid prototyping machine makes the experience practical and really allows for this sort of collaboration between programs,” said NIC Machine Technology Instructor Vic Gilica. “NIC was the first program in the region to have one of these machines and was really a pioneer thanks to an NIC Foundation grant that funded the purchase of the equipment. With this machine, a student can literally hold their idea in the palm of their hand.”

The designs underwent a series of revisions to create the fastest and longest-lasting models.

“There were times when the designers didn't quite understand why parts of their design weren't working, when we could see it easily,” said machining student Derick Katus of Rathdrum. “We worked together and it benefited us all by learning from each others' point of view.”

Booth said the competition was just an avenue to promote collaboration between the programs and provide real-world experience to students. Although the students didn't forget that it was designed as a competition.
The agreement was that the winner of the competition would buy lunch for the students and instructors of the winning program.

“It added a little pressure, which made it more fun,” Werner said.

The drafting students' engine ran at about 200 revolutions per minute whereas the machining students' winning design operated at 1,500 revolutions per minute.

The competitive element of the project helped motivate the students and forced them to look at the complete process within both the drafting and machining fields, according to Booth.

“It's good for students to see and experience what happens once their design leaves their hands,” Booth said, adding that both programs intend the project to become an annual event and a part of their curriculum. “The machinists work with designs every day, so it's good for them to experience the design process and it's good for our students to learn about the actual building phase. This project was just a perfect way to provide the students with real-world experience in both fields where collaboration is key.”

For More Information
NIC Machine Technology Instructor Vic Gilica, (208) 666-8005, or NIC Drafting and Design Technology Instructor Curt Booth, (208) 769-4391

Posted: Tuesday, April 26, 2005

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