Know-it-all designers

Know-it-all designers

The University of Cincinnati (UC) School of Design is going beyond traditional industrial design practices with its teachings. The professors there are requiring students to integrate their work into the manufacturing world. In the process, they're ensuri

Transportation design student Gary Ragle from the University of Cincinnati School of Design receives feedback from General Motors Educational Relations Consultant Stuart Shuster. This student model was milled on the School of Design's 5-axis Tarus mill.

From left: Gerry Michaud, University of Cincinnati; Andy Lucas, Bridgeport; Robert Sorrell, Tipton Machinery of Cincinnati; and John McTernan, Bridgeport, look over part models machined by design students.


The University of Cincinnati (UC) School of Design is going beyond traditional industrial design practices with its teachings. The professors there are requiring students to integrate their work into the manufacturing world. In the process, they're ensuring that these future industrial designers can take a concept from paper sketch to finished, machined model.

Students begin with an assignment like designing a toothbrush or new car. After they put concepts to paper, they use CAD software to understand how forms translate to the computer. Students then take different versions of their designs into SurfCAM, generate toolpaths, and then mill the model in foam to make final decisions about proportion. Once the basic design is finalized, students mill that model in tooling board for a critique. Once a design-review board okays the model, the student takes the design data back into CAD to design dies and molds. Here, they tweak thicknesses, flashings, and ribs before milling the final product model on the school's newest acquisition, a Bridgeport VMC 1000.

According to Gerry Michaud, UC associate professor and coordinator of the industrial-design program, the program teaches designers how to integrate their artistry with the reality of the manufacturing world.

"Students learn that they are an integral part of the manufacturing process," he says. "In the past, many designers had their noses in the air, saying, 'We don't do that; the guy next door does that.' Now, you'd be out of business if you thought that way."

During the 10-week program, students work with the Alias Wavefront CAD program, a common software for automotive design. They also get up close and personal with Nurbs interpolation. Using Nurbs keeps machines cutting without interruption, which helps 40 students make it through the time-limited program.

"When we bought the Bridgeport, we knew its GE Fanuc 18i controller could handle Nurbs curves. When we machine models — and all these are sculpted surfaces — we don't get ripples in parts caused by the machine speeding up and slowing down," explains Michaud.

In addition to getting real-world manufacturing experience regarding CAD to CAM interoperability, students are also taught to make their product models to tight tolerances. In addition, explains Jim Berns, manager of College Lab and the Rapid Prototyping Center, students learn to machine their models realistically — slicing the designs into components for machining and then making them to net shape without any finishing operations.

"Detroit sifts finely through designers. We typically have 20 students in the automotive section of industrial design. Two will work in the summer programs in Detroit, and those two will get interviews their senior year. That usually means one of them will get a job there."

The Rapid Lab is in part supported by GM Design Center and Tarus Corp.

A recent car-design project took students a step further. Instead of cutting the models in various sections and then piecing them together, the students milled their models in one setup from a solid block using a Tarus 5-axis machine.

"For us," says Michaud, "that was a big venture." UC students then presented their car models to representatives from General Motors and DaimlerChrysler.

Michaud believes exposing industrial designers to the manufacturing experience is essential, making students more useful in the industrial world and more valuable to hiring companies.

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