I recently paid a visit to my old stomping grounds, Smithfield High School in Rhode Island. It was my intention to catch up with my original CAD teacher, as I wanted to learn how his students are using SOLIDWORKS. What I expected to be a two hour visit, ended up being an entire day. I met with three STEM classes and even taught one! It was great to work with these up-and-coming SOLIDWORKS designers and learn about how they are using 3D CAD for their class projects. Below are some of my experiences with these different classes.
Class 1: Introduction to CAD
I began my day spending time with students in a beginner’s CAD class. Their project was to design and 3D print a hobbyist drone body and to make it fly using internal electronics. It was great to walk around and see students pulling apart purchased drones to see how they functioned and reverse engineer the primary components that they’ll design on their own. What amazed me most was, these students were designing their drone housing’s around PCB’s. They were even using in-context assembly modeling to add covers with mounting holes aligned with the drone housing! Little do these budding engineers know that these design tasks mirror many of the practical applications I see from the SOLIDWORKS clients that I visit. With this experience, they’ll be SOLIDWORKS experts and using SOLIDWORKS PCB, SOLIDWORKS Electrical and Routing in no time!
Class 2: Power & Energy
The second class I visited was a Power & Energy class. Their project was to design a water wheel that would generate energy from a stream behind the high school. The class was broken into groups and each were given a recycled bike wheel, that they removed the tire from. This was to be used as the basis of their design. Aside from the bike wheel, the students were responsible for designing and fabricating all components for their water wheel assembly. Most of the groups I observed, were in the process of designing the blades/buckets that would produce the rotation of their wheels. It was great to see that each group had their own unique approach to the design task. I had an opportunity to help two of the groups with their SOLIDWORKS models:
Group One: Took the approach of using buckets that would be attached to the wheel.
I saw the students cutting reliefs into paper and folding it to brainstorm the shape of their buckets. They told me they would be fabricating these buckets using sheet metal and a laser cutter in their lab. Knowing this, I explained to the students that they could just as easily brainstorm using the sheet metal features in SOLIDWORKS. In a matter of minutes, I was able to teach the group how to create a simple base flange and add additional edge flanges. Using the SOLIDWORKS sheet metal features, it took a total of 10 minutes for the group to design their bucket, create the flat pattern and save it to a DXF for the laser cutter.
Group Two: Took the approach of using curved blades that would replace the spokes and rim of the bicycle wheel. These blades will also be made out of sheet metal and cut on the laser cutter. The group had concept sketches of the profile of the blade, but hadn’t modeled it in SOLIDWORKS yet. I helped the group get started with their design in SOLIDWORKS by guiding them through the creation of the initial “flattened” shape of the blade. Then, I showed this group how to create a DXF of this sheet metal flat pattern to export to the laser cutter. However, we didn’t stop there. The group explained that the final blade design would be twisted after being cut, to give them the curvature necessary to catch the passing water and drive the water wheel. Again, within 10 minutes, I showed the group how to use the Flex feature to add a twist to the blade. In addition, I showed them how to insert and locate the blade in their wheel assembly and create a Circular Component Pattern to conceptualize the number of blades they’ll need for the final design. They’ve got more work to do but I’d say they’re off to a good start.
Class 3: Architectural Design
The last class I had the pleasure of visiting was an architectural design class. I presented to the students for the entire class and showed them how to easily model their architectural floor plans in 3D, using SOLIDWORKS. I took this same class when I was in high school and was excited to show them the tips and tricks I’ve learned, that would easily take their designs to the next level.
I began the presentation with a walk-through of adding a sketch picture of the floor plan to a base sketch for them to trace the interior and exterior walls. We reviewed how to insert the image and how to scale the image to the proper size. Then, I showed them the simple process of sketching over the image using only lines, resulting in an open contour sketch. Everyone in the room was impressed when I easily extruded this sketch as a thin feature by selected the desired contours and setting the thickness of the walls. Once we had the walls extruded, I wrapped up the presentation with showing the process of creating a drawing from the part, creating a section view and automatically importing the model items they used when dimensioning the lengths of the walls.
The final project for the class is to develop a physical prototype of their house design. When I took the class, we used card stock paper and hot glue. However, with the power of SOLIDWORKS and 3D printing, these students can simply click a button once they’ve completed their 3D design!
Wrapping Up the Day
At the end of the day, I was grateful to have the opportunity to work with the young minds that are the future of the engineering, product design and manufacturing industries. Today kids are getting an earlier introduction to the industry than ever before through learning CAD tools, like SOLIDWORKS, and growing up in the age of fab labs and maker spaces. This visit proved to me that resources like these, provided by high schools across the country, will ensure our next generation pushes the envelope of future technology and unleash their creativity in a way that was never possible before. Thank you again to Smithfield High School for letting me visit and reminding me that you never stop being a student.
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