Teaching Integrated Manufacturing: PCNC 770 + 5 Axis Robot

Manufacturing Education is one of our passions here. Smart, well-rounded manufacturing professionals are needed around the world to solve the problems of tomorrow. Exposing students to hands-on manufacturing with real tools is essential, but too often neglected in the structure of formal engineering education. Improving this is what's at the core of our PCNC 770/Robotic work cell project.

We're working with GROK Lab at the University of Iowa to develop a curriculum for undergraduate manufacturing engineering. They are developing a series of hands-on labs, designed for 2-3 students working together with a single Tormach mill and an optional Robotic Arm (more on this in a minute). The activities will be designed and written so that the students can get all the necessary information from the provided materials and, with a teaching assistant available to ensure that the proper safety procedures are in place and to provide assistance as needed, the students will be able to complete the work independently. This will provide hands-on activities that augment the course lecture. The "Hands on" component is key - too often, students training for a career in manufacturing engineering aren't getting enough exposure to the tools of the trade. The GROK Lab is the research laboratory of Professor Geb Thomas in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the University of Iowa. The lab specializes in how people use technology to make professional decisions. Past and present projects include studying how geologists use mobile robots to explore other planets, how search and rescue workers can use a robot to explore urban areas, and how doctors can use training simulators to improve their medical skills. So, about this robot... We've chosen the R17 from ST Robotics. Its an affordable 5-axis arm with pneumatic end affector that's used in a variety of light industrial applications. It uses a simple programming language called ROBOFORTH. We couldn't resist playing around with it in the shop before sending it along. Here's Dan, one of our engineers, talking briefly about the project and typing in simple commands to the programming interface. However, If you want to see what this thing is really capable of, check this out:  Brian at Groklab is the lead on the project is going to be blogging as he goes. Here's his blog. I'm adding a link to the blog over on the right side so the readers here can follow along as well on the progress of the project. Eventually, we'll be looking for feedback on the project - if you're involved in manufacturing education, send a quick note. We'll file them away for now, but I want to start a list of interested parties for future peer review.