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A student at Sierra College received help from a local high school student to make a motor mount prototype to place on a competitive "combat robot."
Photo: Sierra College
It isn’t often that a college student reaches to a high school for help. When Ray Billings, a student at Sierra College in California, needed to make a prototype for a class project, Rocklin High School had the necessary lab, equipment, willing teacher and engaged student.
It was a great opportunity for 17-year-old Jeff Clark to apply his design, programming and machining skills, according to Dan Frank, an engineering support technology teacher at Rocklin. Clark turned Billings’ robot motor mount design into a prototype using automated manufacturing equipment.
“Our lab was upgraded with a grant provided through the Sierra STEM Community Collaborative,” Frank said. “Connecting these students was an extension of that partnership. Converting a design into a part using industrial-quality equipment is the kind of experience that encourages students to consider technical careers. These students developed technical skills through troubleshooting and teamwork—exactly what businesses want in employees.”
The goal of the grant is to develop a pipeline of students pursing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and careers. It encourages college and high school faculty to collaborate, host workshops and visit each other’s labs, said Carol Pepper-Kittredge, director of the college’s Center for Applied Competitive Technologies.
“The two students connected as a result of Sierra College faculty member Ed Mojica bringing his architecture students to tour the Rocklin High School lab. You never know what connection may change a student’s plans for the future.”
Building a better robot
In addition to attending Sierra College, Billings works in engineering services at Intel, is a top-ranked “combat robot” competitor and mentors the Sierra College Mechatronics Robotics Club. He wanted to build a better motor mounting for his robot, but the motor he had in mind was designed for wheelchairs and not meant to propel a 220-pound combat robot.
“The mounting plates for these motors are made from cast aluminum, and they crack under impact during robot battles,” Billings explained.
His project was to design a solution using computer-aided design (CAD) to develop a prototype. It was the capstone project for his drafting and engineering support class.
Billings gave his CAD drawings to Clark, who agreed to convert the mounting-plate design using MasterCAM design software. The computer numerical-controlled machining equipment that produces the prototype can read the milling instructions from the MasterCAM file.
It is not as easy as it sounds, according to Clark.
“We ran into a lot of difficulties,” he said. “The file was too large, the zero-point set up was opposite of what I expected and the tools got stuck.”
The troubleshooting experience gave the students a sample of industrial realities.
“There is always some kind of problem, like when the machine can’t read the G code,” Clark said. “Businesses that are successful depend on employees who know how to troubleshoot.”
Although the part was only partially cut out, the partnership resulted in a rich experience for both students. Clark plans to study aerospace engineering at the University of Kansas this fall.
“I’d always been interested in airplanes. Taking classes where I could work on the computer and then see the part being made attracted me to engineering,” he said.
For Billings, the experience refined his ideas for building a stronger robot.
“I’m already working on some new designs based on what we learned,” he said.
Copyright ©2012 American Association of Community Colleges