Youth, from all over central Wisconsin, were given their first taste of engineering and advanced manufacturing at a STEM Day Camp this week. Hastreiter Industries joined the STEM Scouts event to share 3D printing, CNC Machining, 3D modeling (CAD) and other technologies with 3rd – 6th graders.
Each student received a partially completed mini treasure box. The boxes were machined on a 5 axis CNC mill, while the lids were 3D printed. Nearly every student knew of 3D printing; about a third had seen a printer in person. Two even had their own printers! We had a 3D printer present, demonstrating it by printing lids live. We were able to bring practicality to some math lessons from school by correlating the graphs they draw at school to the x, y, z axes on the printer.
The youth all knew about additive manufacturing, 3D printers, but only two kids knew of subtractive manufacturing, machining. It was very enjoyable to see what kinds of parts excited the kids. “Mr. Beethoven” inspired some, while others awed at how their box was made on the same machine that made space rocket parts. Holding up a box, I explained how 3 axis milling worked (thanks to the previous lesson). But I asked them, how could I engrave the sides of the box? Flip it or tip it, they would answer! In which case, I explained how a 4th and 5th axis worked, that the machine could automatically do the tipping and flipping for us.
What surprised me is how excited the students were with automation. The machines are programmed from a computer (the gamers loved our programming rig, a 16 core, 32 thread computer), allowing you to run the part with a press of a button and walk away during the run time. They got even more excited when I explained how a robot could load and unload the CNCs, letting you go do something else for hours. Generation Z has grown up in a highly automated world from food preparation (microwave) to information gathering (Google is automation versus books) and thus they seemed to naturally gravitate towards automation.
The students were shown a 3D printed model of the CNC machine, in which they marveled at how a 19,000 pound machine made their box to an accuracy of within thousandths of an inch. We had stuck a camera in the machine and showed a video of their boxes being made. After learning how the boxes were made, they now got to assemble their treasure box!
The box had four holes in it for hinge attachment to either side. However, the students discovered that the screws could not fit in the holes because there were no “spirally things” (there were no threads)! They were shown how to finish their box with something called a “tap”. Next, they partnered up. One student held the box with a tapping block (to guide the tap straight) while the other turned the tool to add the threads. The only downside was that the tap oil was a bit stinky! Next time canola oil will be on the menu. Upon victoriously adding the threads, they could now attach the lids with screws!
Lastly, the edges of the lettering was purposely left rough from the machining. While waiting for their turn to tap their box the students used Scotch-Brite™ to polish the lettering. Some naturally broke into competitions for who could get their box the smoothest. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the smile of one girl who was particularly pleased to have discovered Scotch-Brite™ and get to take some home. I made sure to give her a fresh square to stash in her new treasure chest.
Joining the Scout’s STEM Day was a huge success as kids learned about an entirely new field, logically applied lessons from school and returned home with a keepsake. A person cannot be interested in something if they don’t know it exists. Getting exposure to new experiences is critical for youth to develop individually and to eventually decide what field(s) they are ultimately interested in. I’m thankful that we were able to be part of educating our youth and I look forward to deepening our involvement within our community.