Testing military-grade steel for battleships, analyzing composite materials for sealants used in nuclear power plants and constructing 500-mile-per-gallon vehicles are just a few of the many exciting projects carried out in the College of Engineering Machine Shop.
Located in room 249 of the UCSB Arts Building, this highly sophisticated facility houses some of the very latest state-of-the-art equipment, used by both researchers and students.
Two seasoned professionals, Shop Superintendent Andy Weinberg and Student Shop Superintendent Nelson Bednersh, oversee the facility. Open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays, the shop has served students and faculty members for 20 years and continues to do so with its doors open and its machinery humming.
The Greasy Life
The shop has highly complex machinery, ranging anywhere from Electrical Discharge Machines, which remove metal from workpieces using electric sparks to wear away material, to Computer Numerical Control Mills – machines used to drill and shape prototype parts. While open to the needs and rigorous demands of research teams and engineering students, the equipment in the Machine Shop requires high skill and knowledge to operate, Weinberg said.
“Our shop has two purposes,” he said. “One is to support the engineering projects for professors and graduate students, which is the research part of the shop. The other is to teach students how to machine parts. The students first learn about the machinery and how to use it. Once they know how to use the machinery, they can make parts for their engineering projects.”
Additionally, Weinberg said research groups from all fields come to the Machine Shop with their highly specific requirements for parts or pieces crucial to experiments but unavailable on the market.
“[Researchers] buy equipment for their labs and then they have other equipment that they want to use, yet they are not sure how to make the things work together, so then it’s up to us to either design or help them design the equipment,” Weinberg said. “We then turn around and make the equipment and then they install it in their labs. We are pretty specialized. We’ve made things that have gone to the bottom of the ocean and we’ve made things that have gone on top of the space shuttle and up in satellites.”
One researcher who makes use of the shop is mechanical engineering professor George Robert Odette, Weinberg said.
“Professor Odette is the one who tests all the stuff for nuclear power plants, all the seals,” he said. “He has us making certain specimens that they stretch and find out what materials are the very best materials to use for sealing a nuclear power plant.”
The shop is also conducting research on different steel mixtures best suited for marine armor, namely that of battleships and military ships, Weinberg said.
A Well-endowed Facility
Weinberg said the Machine Shop is “very well equipped” with lathes and mills.
“A lathe is mostly used for cutting round parts like shafts and flywheels,” he said. “Mills are used for a lot of things – for making anything square or round or any shape in between. You can make 3-D shapes, parabolic mirrors, lots of wild stuff on these machines. It’s the only machine which can make itself. They use these machines to make these machines.”
In addition, Weinberg said the shop has Electrical Discharge Machines.
“[EDMs] can cut up to eight inch thick steel using 0.010 inch diameter brass wire that never actually touches the steel,” Weinberg said. “These machines are state-of-the-art and used almost every day. The shop also has welding equipment, grinders, a hydraulic press and a power shear that can cut sheet metal up to four feet wide just by stepping on a pedal that controls the shear.”
The new Mitsubishi EDM, which is available in the shop, enables users to program both the top and bottom halves of the machine to move independently of each other. Weinberg said it is considered a technological feat because of its increased precision and flexibility over its competitors.
Learning the Ropes
However, Weinberg said that students interested in taking advantage of the Shop’s tools must first learn how to properly use the equipment.
“If you’re an engineer, it is very important that you take a machining course so that you can understand how things are made when you design them and that you understand the best way to design them so that they are makeable [sic] and cost efficient,” Weinberg said.
Additionally, he said that students often use the shop to make pieces for their class projects.
“Most mechanical engineering students will use our shop at some time or another during their undergraduate studies,” Weinberg said.
Beginning engineer students may take an ME 12S class, Weinberg said, where they make a one-cylinder air powered motor, and juniors can take the ME 153 class, which teaches students how to improve the design of existing products.
Climbing to the Top
In addition, Weinberg said the shop offers a senior project class, ME 189, where teams can build anything, including cars. Bednersh said past students have built some dirt-digging, rock-climbing projects they entered into racing competitions.
“In the past years we’ve had many Baja cars built, which are small versions of the Baja type rally cars,” Bednersh, said. “Baja cars could do just about everything from hill climbs to rock climbs to mud bogs to full on racing in the dirt, jumps and steep stuff. [The competition was] very much off road and real hard off road. The students would then drive them. They build them and they drive them.”
Although students have built more rugged projects, upcoming competitions will revolve around a more environmentally friendly theme, Weinberg said, such as the Shell Eco-marathon Americas competition, designed to help create and facilitate more fuel-efficient, “greener” vehicles.
“There is a senior project in which teams built a machine which made bio-diesel out of seeds for underdeveloped countries where they can go and make their own bio-diesel for their vehicles,” he said. “[The team] ran a diesel motor with the oil they created from soy bean oil. That was actually kind of cool.”
Whether seniors engage in rough racing or go green, students invest an enormous amount of time and effort to work and collaborate on their projects, Weinberg said. Students are given many options for flexible working times, including access to a conference room-like area.
“The students have access to a [designated] area all the time,” Weinberg said. “They have keys and they can come out here 24 hours a day and work in these areas. They can only come in the main shop when we’re here. I usually stay late one night a week and help students with their work.”
A more recent senior project is the Super Mileage Vehicle, which competed in the Shell Eco-marathon Americas competition – in which teams from around the nation build fuel-efficient cars – for the first time earlier this year, Weinberg said.
“UCSB’s Super Mileage Vehicle averaged 500 miles per gallon and had a top speed of 45 miles per hour,” he said. “The vehicle placed 11th out of 32 teams in their first year, which is very good considering their car was quite a bit faster than the other cars. Shell put on the event and they were very impressed with the car.”
Students built the suspension, the body, the mainframe, and the steering component of the Super Mileage car all in the shop, Weinberg said.
“[For the Super Mileage Vehicle, the seniors] bought a little scooter brand new, ripped it to shreds day one, took the pieces they needed, and left the scooter,” he said. “They had to switch the motor backwards so they had to completely change the transmission configuration to make the car run with the motor in backwards.”
Weinberg said his students really enjoy the process of dissecting old vehicles and using the parts to build new, more efficient ones.
“It’s just fun to watch them do it,” he said. “They have a blast.”