It’s a pretty simple engineering principle.
“If all you know is a hammer, even if somebody gives you a screw, you put the screw in via the hammer,” says James Newman, head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
But engineering methods are changing rapidly, so a hammer manufactured with one method a few years ago probably is made with a different one today.
The new Engineering Barn/iAMAC—yes, “Barn” is part of its name—at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga takes that into account, keeping engineering students not only up-to-date on manufacturing methods but giving expertise on how to use them, Newman says.
“If conventional or older technology is what they’re learning, and that’s what they’re using, then that’s the way they’re going to think,” he said.
In the Engineering Barn/iAMAC, slated to break ground sometime early next year between East Eighth Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard in the parking lot next to the SimCenter, the technology will be cutting-edge. The tech will be “additive manufacturing,” a method that builds a component layer by layer—think a spray gun swiping back and forth creating a part of any shape—instead of pouring metal into a mold then welding that piece to another.
A component made through additive manufacturing is not limited in geometric complexity and can be produced with much less effort than previous manufacturing techniques. The process is becoming the standard in such industries such as aerospace, automobile and biomedical, to name just a few, Newman explained.
Equipment in the new Research Barn will use additive manufacturing techniques, preparing students not only for today’s mechanical engineering, but the future’s, Newman says.
While it’s official name is Innovation-Advanced Manufacturing Center—I-AMAC—it’s going to be referred to as the “Barn,” although no moos, baaas or neighs will be heard in it. (Well, probably not. You never can tell when it comes to the rapid-fire advances in manufacturing).
Plans are to build it in three phases. Phase One and Two each will be 5,000 square feet while Phase Three is planned to be 10,000, says Daniel Pack, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
The construction of Phase One is estimated to cost about $1.4 million, which also covers some equipment and furniture but not all that is needed, he said. To complete the amount of equipment required will cost an additional $1 million, Pack said.
Most of Phase One will house an open floor space with two purposes, Newman says. Half will have space for senior students to focus on projects they must complete to graduate and will contain workspaces and tools to complete the project.
The other half of the building will be filled with additive manufacturing equipment, a center for innovation and advanced manufacturing with hopes of attracting outside companies to collaborate with UTC, Pack said.
“A place where industry partners can come and work with our faculty and students in developing prototypes and solving some manufacturing challenges that they have,” he said.
“We have manufacturing partners who have shown quite a bit of interest in this space and working with us,” he said. “We want to make the space available for companies in this region so they can come in and work with our faculty and students.”
By working with local manufacturers, along with the skills they will learn by working on additive machinery, students will have a leg up when it comes to landing a job after graduation, Pack and Newman say.
“Absolutely. Absolutely,” Newman says. “As I’ve mentioned, a lot of the components are now being additively manufactured. And as time goes on, this is going to be more the norm than the exception, and students that have this skillset will be highly marketable.”