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General Card #564
Prototyping Your Future: An Introduction to CAD Term Project
Updated: 10/14/2022 11:58 AM by Michael Johnson
Reviewed: 10/14/2022 2:13 PM by Becky Benishek
Students use a Makerspace to physically realize CAD models conveying their personal connections to their engineering discipline.

This card details a project implemented into my Introduction to CAD (computer aided design) course that allows students to take their ideas from the computer and realize them in physical space. Students bring their own cultures and backgrounds into the project while thinking more deeply about their futures as engineers. Through this project they gain familiarity with several makerspace tools and processes.

This project is incorporated in to Introduction to CAD course in which students learn modeling fundamentals through the use of SolidWorks software, lecture periods, and activity sessions. This project is the culmination of their Introduction to CAD experience.  The project is staged throughout the course to add scaffolding as the course is designed for first year students. The syllabus for the course is included in the documents below. The staging of the project is shown threaded through the term in that document.

In this project, students will model and then prototype an animated story box that describes one of the following:
1) What impact do they want to make on the world through engineering.
2) The way(s) they see themselves fitting into engineering as a career.
3) Something from their past that made them want to become engineers.

By thinking about this broad ideas, students will have the opportunity to reflect on their interests in engineering. This is designed to help students make connections between their interests and the field of engineering. It also helps them make connections between different majors and/or other student interests as this project is completed by teams who develop a common theme between their individual interests.

In the story boxes students will use the laser cutter and 3D printers to make components that animate a physical scene that they first create in CAD software. The project has the following stages:

1- Storyboarding
2- Lo-Fi Prototyping
3- Development of "making" plan
4-Final project submission - both digital submission and physical prototype

A short video showing all of these submissions for four different teams can be viewed here:  Video of Example Student Work

One of the first concepts that students learn is how to make basic and intermediate level parts in CAD. As this is near the beginning of the course, students will have the skills to start working on modeling components of their story boxes from about midway through the course. While they wont yet have the skills to make assemblies that show the part motion within a system, they can model individual elements that will go in the box.

Additional scaffolding is added to help students think about the entire prototype. Mid project check-ins with lo-fi prototypes  give students the chance to think about the functions of their box (the animation) before they may have the CAD still to show assembly motion. This initial prototyping will help them start thinking about the CAD and what motions will be possible.

To better facilitate the Making, I give students some premade gears, cams, and shafts. This is useful in two ways.
1) it gives some boundaries to the project
2) if gives students the chance to take measurements and learn about tolerancing in manufacturing, a skill that has been difficult to convey in the past. 

The final fabricated story boxes are showcased in an open forum to give the students the chance to show off their work and practice public presentations. 


UPDATE: Over the past year, I modified the project to incorporate some "required elements". In the fully free-form design structure, students often had a difficult time identifying elements that were of an appropriate level of difficulty to display their CAD skills. They often choose parts that were either too organic in shape to achieve well within the particular software package used (Solidworks) or parts that were too simple. In this update, each student selects one of the provided sub-assemblies to incorporate into the final assembly. This required element is used to evaluate their CAD modeling skills and the other components can be more free form and of a simpler nature.

  • Demonstrate constant curiosity about our changing world
Creating Value
  • Persist through and learn from failure
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