Recently, I had a class of 7th graders designing in Sketchup. One of the projects is to accurately design a block of 2″ x 2″ x 1.25″. These designs were then converted to G code with Millwizard by an 11th grader who then milled them in the high school across the street on a Taig Micromill. This was a fun project that helped illustrate the concepts and processes of separating the design from the manufacture of objects.

The way it worked out was that the middle schoolers would make some designs, and share them with the high schooler. If the files were designed correctly, proper size, no overhangs, then they would be converted to code and milled. He was able to process 4 files in one class period by cutting in 2 inch insulating foam. Then, the next time I met with the 7th graders, I gave them the blocks they designed.

Parts from this project could be fabbed on a variety of tools including Shopbot, Makerbot and mill. So you don’t have access to any CNC tools in your program? The designing part of the project could work fine if paired with a manufacturing system like Big Blue Saw, Shapeways, 100kGarages, Thingiverse, and Ponoko.

This is a new project that worked well in several ways: Students got to do design work on the computer. The designs had authentic criteria, when the designs were done, another student had the responsibility to manufacture them, the manufacturing process had some deadlines, and the parts were delivered to the original designing students. All involved got a taste of various parts of the distance manufacturing services. Everybody seemed to have a good time, kids got to learn about design and manufacturing and have a custom part of their design delivered to them.

The block you see above, and these others, is unfinished. Next steps for the part would include finishing. The foam can be sanded with a fine grit paper, then painted with a mixture of white glue and water, and after drying can be sanded again and painted with a variety of paints.

How are you using the manufacturing and design process with your students? How do students get their designs out of the computer? Not every school has access to a mill or other fabrication tools, so what are some ways that students can get their hands on the parts they’ve designed?