Nearing the end~

We’re only 10 days from the seniors being done and the good news is – WE MADE IT !!

All three CADD 3 vehicles have been driven and tested. That’s a major milestone for any CADD 3 class is to get the vehicles out the garage door under their own power and take a few laps around the parking lot.

It doesn’t mean they’re flawless – or even that they perform the way we had hoped (okay, so we’re not as fast as we were hoping for !) but, it does not diminish the fact that these students have taken a design from concept to fruition. These CADD 3 students have a great deal to be proud of and I am so very proud of them.

If you look at the pictures below you will see we have put the paint on the vehicles and are attempting to get them ready for a parade run on Memorial Day. In the mean time, we will continue to polish them up, fix a few nagging flaws, check and recheck hardware, and of course DRIVE THEM. Stay tuned for more pictures during our Spring Cook Out.

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T Minus 37 Days and ….

Another teacher was on Facebook tonight and she posted that there were only 37 more student days to this school year. I am not sure I wanted to know that.

As recently as a week ago, I was telling students how pleased I was with our time line and that I thought we were doing pretty well. I reiterated that if they stayed on task and things went fairly well – no large mistakes or mishaps – we should finish on time. They would be driving both buggies and the mini chopper before our end of the year cookout.

But man, thirty seven days?!

This is a class of all Seniors; I won’t even have them for all of those days. If you count graduation practice, exam day, the cookout itself, tennis, track, and golf meets, Science Olympiad, our Milwaukee Industry Tour, and any number of other reasons to miss the last two hours of the day – I am down to, what? – like three or four days?

Okay, maybe it’s not that bad. We probably have a solid 18-20 days; maybe as many as 25 days. But this is where the reality starts to set in. This week I will put a more detailed time line on the board and show the students that in the next 40-50 hours we will need to settle the rest of our steering, seating, suspension, throttle and brakes. That’s a lot. How does the old saying go – the devil is in the details?

In the week before spring break the mini chopper group was putting on final welds and getting ready to fabricate a chain idler roller and a suspended seat. They were fitting body panels on the side car and things were looking pretty sharp. They have their throttle pretty well set, but need to settle the braking.

The sand rail group already had their cart sitting on the ground, but had determined that the front suspension was too soft. They were starting to work on their steering and floor pattern; but had to put it on hold to settle some of those suspension issues. Today, upon our return from break, they think they have suspension on the run and have started well into steering.

The WartHog group, our larger beefier buggy, was just about ready to set down on the ground prior to break; however, their front suspension was soft too. This is just one of this hazards we have to feel our through as we all learn about this together. Fortunately, they have rebounded quickly by changing shocks and mounting positions. Today, they were nearly ready to load the front suspension again and give it a try. Their floor pattern was cut on the CNC plasma and it fits really well.

While I have small panic attacks here and there about the project time lines; they really are doing well. That said, I think this next stretch is hard in many ways. The projects LOOK like they should run and that equates with a level of impatience for high school seniors. Instead of, “Okay, what can I do next,” I hear, “When do we get to drive these?” It will take extra focus for them to stay dedicated in this late hour and the spring time sun is not helping us as it peeks in through the shop windows.

Later this week, I will be taking this group down to Milwaukee for the annual Industry Tour that my CADD 3 group does every year. This year we will be touring Bruno Independent Living Aids and P&H Mining. This is a great way to have them see all the things they have learned being applied in Industry and on a larger scale. I hope it really drives home the content of this class.

Despite losing a couple of days this week to our Industry Tour, we need to get some things done by Wednesday. I hope tomorrow is productive; I can hear a clock ticking somewhere….

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March!? Really?

Most of us have had experiences where we look back and say, “Oh, I wish I’d had my camera for that.”

That’s me. Right now.

I am looking at the projects these seniors are working on and while I have my camera out and going now, I am wishing I would have been snapping more pictures in our early stages. I feel like I missed a lot of things that would be so cool to look back on now. I can just hear them, looking at the blog and saying, “Whoa, I remember that. Remember that Mr. Routhier? Look where we are now.”

Yes, indeed. Look at where we are now. (At the bottom of this lengthy post, there is a link with some great pics. Hang in there!)

Mid-January is typically our start time for senior projects in CADD 3. This year is a large group for my senior level class; sixteen kids. And like all classes, they wanted to do something substantial, memorable, and way too large and expensive. This is not new for my program. In the past we have built several smaller go-cart type vehicles. Some with three wheels, some in a semi-motorcycle configuration, some you lay down and drive, and some years we actually build practical things. Last year, I told the students I thought I wanted to shift over to something more marketable. While go-carts were fun, I was tired of fixing old motors and begging them to start. I was tired of storing go-carts in my shop. So last year, we built two log splitters and sold them both. It is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, remember, and folks around here burn wood for heat.

So this year, we discussed several ideas back and forth. And just like in years past, I let their excitement and enthusiasm shift me from where I am comfortable. I can’t help it. Part of me, I guess, is still seventeen or eighteen years old and I can relate to their motivation to build something impractical and fun. But I think I held my ground pretty well; no silly little go-cart for us!

Instead we are building THREE projects. (How did this happen again?)

The projects for this year are: a sandrail, a mini-chopper and sidecar, and a warthog (you’ll see what that is eventually). I was being honest; these aren’t sill little go carts. These things are huge. The two carts are about 9 feet long each and the mini chopper is kind of mini, but not really. To say the shop is full right now, is an understatement. And space to work is only one of our concerns.

I warned them that our biggest concern here is finishing in time. I haven’t managed this many projects or projects this large before. It’s been a huge undertaking and just another example of how, every year, my seniors talk me into to “biting off more than I can chew.” But I love it. Oh sure, I panic at times. I get frantic about shipping dates, saw blades, coolant fluid, or a piece of hardware that is impossible to find. But the reality is that I learn alot doing this stuff too. I remind myself going into this that very often learning is about digging into something new – something you don’t know about.

The projects are looking great. I have attached a short slideshow of pictures so you can see how they are progressing. Each project started with a little research, a lot (I mean A LOT) of full scale sketching in the hallway on large rolls of paper, and some dreamy ideas from high school seniors. They took those sketches and dimensions in to the classroom and created SolidWorks models of the designs. Excitement was high when they got to see their creations in the 3D models. Still, the best has been watching them create the many parts in the shop – off of their OWN DRAFTING PRINTS! They are learning to work together (most of the time) and to be resourceful. I am so proud.

Are we going to finish? Will these things be on the ground and running before graduation? I hope so. But it is March… and the days are going by pretty fast. Guess we better get going. Grab your safety glasses and let’s get to work!

Check out this link below!

CADD 3 Feb – March 2011

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Its beginning to look a lot like…

CHRISTMAS!! Well, at least in OUR shop, it is.

Last week we took delivery of our new 4′ x 8′ Tracker CNC plasma cutter (with an 80A Thermal Dynamics plasma). It came in on Thursday at the end of a two hour class and by half way through Friday’s class we were cutting parts! It was amazingly easy! Way to go Tracker CNC!

Let’s just say the kids are beyond ecstatic. This is quite a piece of equipment for a small rural school to have in their shop and we are thrilled to think what we can do with it. We are already talking about projects that we have completed in the past and how those same projects would change, now that we have this machine. This changes everything!

For the last month I challenged students to walk through a design process, primarily on their own (in small teams of 2-4 people) and complete a relatively simple project. We did a few hand-truck carts (one converts to cart with casters and rear wheels and one is just a large hand truck), a kayak cart prototype for a teacher, a trailer dollery (with a hitch ball to move trailers) and a small production run of bike racks for the school.

It has been interesting watching these studenst work through their various challenges. It is the first time they have been “on their own” and trying to work through all the challenges that design and manufacturing has to offer. It led to a lot of problem-solving, some communication lessons, and general group dynamics work. It showed them just how difficult, even a simple project can be.

But now, we are in the design phase of three cranes. One will mount to the wall of the shop and will help us transfer sheets of steel from delivery trucks to a rack and then eventually, to the CNC plasma table. The second crane isa regular shop gantry crane. We really could use one for the times we need to move something that doesn’t run or moving heavy equipment from place to place in the shop. And finally, we are trying out the idea of a receiver hitch crane for the back of truck that would assist in removing a truck’s topper (among other things). For each of these, we are excited to explore how our new CNC plasma cutter from Tracker will help us out. So glad Santa came early to our shop this year!

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We’re done!!!

Was great to see the big trailer all painted and decked.  It really has moved along pretty well, but I think many of the students were ready to be done with it just the same.  We are spending some time in SolidWorks over the next couple of weeks – refreshing ourselves on some advanced features -and learning some new stuff we have not tried before.  We will be back out in the shop too; trying to create a few small projects.  All of this will help us fill in the choppy section between now and Christmas break.  And of course, there is always the constant chatter about what our Spring Senior Projects should be – and they are almost always a bit beyond our doing.  (A robot that transforms into a talking truck with tracks?  Really?)   Keep stopping in and checking on us.  You never know what you might find us building!

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Our First Tow…

Last Thursday, before the Varsity Football team played their last home game of 2010, I was in my shop after school. That’s not so odd; I was staying for the game and was just finishing up a few last minute items. What was strange was that I had 3 students there with me – WORKING – until 6:30 that night.

My original plan was stay and get some grading done, but they were working on the lights and finishing up some last minute welds. It went from, “We could pull that wire next probably,” to, “Do you think we should solder these,” and on to, “You know, Mr. Routhier, we could be testing lights in like twenty minutes.”

I never did get any grading done.

But when we left that night – to stand outside and freeze watching the boys play football – we had lights. It was a great example of the diligence these students can have when they have their goal in sight.

The next day, Friday, we hooked it up to the truck and I gave it a little tug around the parking lot. It was great. It pulls true and backs up really well. This week we will put on the deck boards and prep her for paint – I can hardly wait.

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Are we there yet…?

Our trailer has been flipped over and looking like a trailer for about a week now. In that week, many of the detail items are coming together. The top rail is on and welded in place. The tongue jack and tongue supports are set. Even the light boxes for the tail lights and side markers are welded in location and ready for wire. It really is a trailer – almost.

That’s why this stage of the project (or any project that is nearly complete) is hard for the students to work on. It’s looking done and so I think the thought becomes, “Why are still working on this? Is Mr. Routhier making things up just so we can keep working on it?” For me, its the, “Are we there yet? phase of the project.”

And sadly gang, we’re not quite there yet. It’s detail time; time to check things over, inspect, and hit all those last minute items that don’t really change the look – but are critical to the function.

Pretty much all design and manufacturing is this way and it’s important for these students to realize that the difference between a good project and great one – is the details. I am extremely proud of the work these kids have done and we are “this close” to finishing a great trailer! Hang in there!

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You can’t blame a guinea pig…

On  Friday of last week a lot of our purchased trailer components came in.  It was like Christmas!  There were axles and tires, bearings and spring kits – it was wonderful.  But, because it was late in the day, we left most of it just sitting in the office for the weekend.  That meant that today when we brought it down for class, excitement was high.  We unboxed our new presents and began assembly.  We placed items on the trailer for tacking and welding.  We sorted and checked quantities.

We did find one seal that was damaged in one of the drum brakes and hopefully we get that resolved soon; but other than that, there was a lot to keep us busy.  Only there was the problem.  Not everyone was busy.  Several times I had students following me from task to task or from area to area in the shop.  I think I heard, “Mr. Routhier… ” about a thousand times.  I have to admit it was frustrating; and yet, it showed me that the students lacked enough direction to stay on task by themselves.

You see, this is one of the central problems with an open-ended design class.  Answers are not always evident as being the answer.  I will be as honest with you, my reader, as I am with my students – there are times that I don’t have the answer either.  (GASP!  A teacher who teaches without answers??!) Yes; there I said it.  I don’t have the answers to some of the questions I have asked my students.  This is an experiential class where discovery is part of the process of learning.   As such, sometimes I feel a bit lost as well and our class period’s pace falters a little while we figure things out.

I always tell my students, “Don’t stand around with your hands in your pockets.  You can’t be productive with your hands in your pockets,” and, “See me if you need something to do. Follow me around if you have to.”  And they did – on both accounts.  Some of them had their hands in their pockets and followed me around, “Mr. Routhier, what should I do now?”

And while there were 100 things to do dancing around in my head, I had a hard time telling them what to do next.  You see, the other thing I always tell my students is, “You are my guinea pigs.”  And what I mean is – they are kind of my test subjects.  Nearly every year I try something new in this class – new designs with new equipment.  Every year, my students are my guinea pigs.  While this is exciting, it means that each experience is almost as new to me as it is to them.  And there are days when I love that – when I still feel the excitement aspect I love about learning.  And then, there are days when my lack of forethought – about a project I have never tried before – or about a problem with the design I did not foresee – leaves me stumped.  I don’t have the answer and I haven’t prepared my students – my dear guinea pigs – to solve it on their own yet.  And so, they follow me around – little whiskers twitching – waiting  for some direction.

And I can’t blame them.. they’re just learning.

Hopefully tomorrow (and the next day) finds me a little more prepared for our adventure and hopefully my students forgive me when I don’t get over there right away to help with this or with that.  Part of me hopes they understand that in their not-too-distant future, there are aspects of life that work just like this – at college, at work, at home.  Maybe they will learn some patience; maybe they will grow tired of waiting and dig in.  Maybe they will make a mistake and learn from it.  Either way, they can only stay guinea pigs so long.

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Engineering and Cookies?

I remember Wednesday morning engineering meetings where I used to work and let’s be honest about it – donuts were a primary concern each week. Of course we caught up on projects and discussed testing issues and delegated different things from one group to another, but none of that got done until we all had coffee and our frosted sugar bomb.

Today in CADD 3 we did something similar; we had our engineering meeting. We met to discuss the remaining items on the trailer, what we might work on next, how we grade/assess shop time, and what might do for a CNC plasma cutter. Sitting and discussing for a long period of time is hard for these motivated students. I am sure they were thinking, “Can’t we just crank the welders and stereo up and get going?” But they were patient and we worked through several things – including several packages of cookies!

We have some purchased items to wait for and those lead times are slowing us down a bit now. But in the mean time, we are catching some detail work: mounting lights and figuring out wiring paths, cutting the last few frame components, and deburring rough spots.

Keep your fingers crossed our stuff comes in tomorrow or early next week – we want to keep this project rolling. But, while we wait, can someone pass the milk and the ginger snaps?

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A few pictures of our trailer project….

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