Laser Cutter for Engineering Laboratory and Design Courses

Project Title: Laser Cutter for Engineering Laboratory and Design Courses

Project Lead's Name: Douglas W Coffin

Project Lead's Email:

Project Lead's Phone: 513-529-0771

Project Lead's Division: CEC

Primary Department: Chemical, Paper and Biomedical Engineering (CPB)

Other Team Members and their emails:

  • Andrew Jones (CPB 102 primary)
  • Amy Yousefi (CPB 472 primary)
  • Justin Saul (CPB 417 primary)

List Departments Benefiting or Affected by this proposal: CPB (Cutter would be available for limited use to all of campus)

Estimated Number of Under-Graduate students affected per year (should be number who will actually use solution, not just who is it available to): 210

Estimated Number of Graduate students affected per year (should be number who will actually use solution, not just who is it available to): 2

Describe the problem you are attempting to solve and your approach for solving that problem: The proposed acquisition of a desktop 40-Watt laser cutter helps our department address two distinct activities that would greatly enhance our student's educational experiences and career preparedness.

Firstly, a laser cutter provides an engineering tool that can easily be utilized in the design process to allow students to explore, develop prototype models, and fabricate finished parts using a variety of sheet materials, and address the current shortcomings observed in both first-year courses and capstone senior design. Secondly, students in our materials testing course are limited in sample preparation and the laser cutter would allow for students to have more freedom in experimental design and hypothesis testing, while improving the precision and uniformity of their results. The enhanced design and fabrication capability would impact the majority of students in all our majors, while the ability to produce precise and unique testing samples would have a deep impact on the chemical engineering students in our materials testing course.

Industry utilizes advanced fabrication techniques and all engineering students need to gain experience using these tools to prepare them for their future careers. Whereas mechanical and manufacturing engineering students have major components of their education program devoted to this aspect, it is a secondary but essential element of Chemical and Bioengineering Education. The ability to combine computer-aided design, with a precise and accurate fabrication method would greatly enhance our student's ability to practice engineering design, challenge them to elevate the sophistication of their designs, and allow them to produce a professional finished product. Compared to a three-D printer, which requires melt or solvent state materials to form parts, a laser cutter utilizes existing solid materials and thus can easily be used with a wide variety of polymer sheets, wood, paper, textiles, and leather. A laser cutter would complement the department's 3-0 printer allowing more flexibility and a greatly enriched design experience for students.

In order to ensure that the laser cutter would be utilized by students in their design activities, a CPB 102 project would be introduced which provided students with a hands-on engineering design experience where they would Implement the engineering design cycler utilize computer-aided design, and fabricate a product. This would then provide them with a more effective first-year experience and prepare them to utilize the equipment for future design projects.

The second function of the laser cutter would be to provide a needed specimen fabrication tool to our CPB 202 course. The course mainly focuses on the testing of paper-based materials, but students often choose to test other materials such as foils, plastics, nonwovens, and textiles. Students often encounter an inability to prepare samples that can used in our testing equipment because our existing sharp­ edge cutting tools will not cut the samples without excessive damage. In addition, these materials cannot easily be cut into dog­ bone shaped specimens. Students often produce samples that lack parallelism, have rough or crushed edges, and may even have crease marks. The laser-cutter would eliminate these issues and allow students more freedom in designing their test protocols, and vastly improve the ability to explore the influence of sample size and shape on measured properties. The improvement in sample uniformity would allow students to better evaluate variability caused by material heterogeneity. It would also allow for the use of advanced sandwich construction materials in the course, by eliminating the crushing that a knife produced during cutting, or the safety risk of using a saw.

How would you describe the innovation and/or the significance of your project: A 40-Watt CO2 laser cutter such as used in the Dremel Digilab LC40 provides a sufficiently powerful laser such as one would find in many industrial laser cutters, yet its compact size, built-in safety features, and ease-of-use functions make it ideal for an educational setting.

The Dremel LC-40 is much more likely to be utilized by students than an industrial version. By introducing the tool to all CPB 102 students and again to most of our Chemical Engineering students In CPB 202, students will be much more inclined to utilize this tool in their capstone senior design projects (CPB 472) and the flow chamber design project in (CPB 417). This wm provide a natural pathway for students to Incorporate computer-aided design and modern tools into their design projects. Utilization of this tool will yield a more professional and polished capstone result, while significantly enhancing our student's education, critical reasoning, and engineering preparedness.

The utilization of a laser cutter in CPB 202, would greatly enrich the student's ability to explore mechanical, physical, transport, and optical properties of a wide range of materials that they are likely to encounter in their chosen professions. Providing students with the ability to design and create their own test specimens In a precise and repeatable manner allows for a much deeper understanding of material properties and the importance of standardization in testing protocols.

How will you assess the success of the project:

  1. Student and instructor evaluation of CPB 102 module that utilizes the laser cutter. Measured by improved rating on first-year experiences.
  2. Student/instructor evaluation of use of laser cutter to enhance educational experience in CPB 202. Measured by increase in quality of design options, and reduction in variability of results.
  3. Instructor evaluation of the use of laser cutter to improve the critical thinking, engineering evaluation, and interpretation of results in CPB 102.
  4. The number of senior design teams in CPB 472 that utilize the laser cutter to produce proto-types or final components of their projects.
  5. Faculty assessment of the improvement in student preparedness for computer-aided design and modern tool usage because of the use of the laser cutter by students. Measured by improved quality of final design products.
  6. Faculty assessment of the enhanced ability of students to design and produce flow channels for CPB 417. Measured by improved novelty of design and improved function.

Financial Information

Total Amount Requested: $9,500

Budget Details:

  • $9,000: Dremel LC40 laser cutter with fume extractor
  • $500: Initial supply of wood and plastic samples for student use

Is this a multi-year request: No

Please address how, if at all, this project aligns with University, Divisional, Departmental or Center strategic goals: Aligns with following:

The use of the laser cutter will support the University's mission to meet the aspirations of students and prepare them for lifelong learning using the newest technologies available. Specifically, it meets

  1. Miami Innovate Goal 4: Position Miami as a teaching & learning national resource
  2. Miami Innovate Goal 8: Improve infrastructure to support research & scholarship

The use of this laser cutter directly supports CEC commitment to "'creating an environment for teaching, learning, and scholarship that is intellectually stimulating, interactive, and innovative in which students, faculty, and staff realize their full potential."

Within our department use of the laser cutter will improve our ability to meet the following student outcomes.

  1. Develop and conduct appropriate experimentation, analyze and interpret data, and use engineering judgement to draw conclusions;
  2. Acquire and apply new knowledge as needed, using appropriate learning strategies