GCC Opens New Manufacturing Engineering Lab with State-of–the-Art 3D Printer

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Eric P. Flynn, GCC’s program coordinator of Electrical Engineering Technology, was given his dream task this past summer: to set up a cutting-edge manufacturing lab with a budget of close to $1 million. His quest took him across the United States, Germany and Italy, where he was able to research the equipment, processes, and technology at prestigious companies such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi, John Deere, the ABB Group, BASF and United Technologies, and at engineering conferences.

Thanks to the efforts of Flynn and his colleagues, and the support of the college and outside resources, such as the Connecticut College of Technology, Gateway is now home to an advanced manufacturing laboratory. The lab features some of the most sought-after machinery for both skilled and advanced workers to be trained on, including Computer Numerical Control (CNC) equipment and 3D Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) software capable of communicating and programming the machines remotely. The lab also features a Coordinate Metrology Machine (CMM) capable of measurements down to the micrometer, 3D laser scanners for reverse engineering and a 3D printer, capable of creating physical prototypes or production parts in mere hours.

In the new lab, GCC students will experience the manufacturing process from the inception of an idea through the design, creation and even the quality control. For example, students can create a new design for an automotive part in CAD class. Rather than print it on paper, GCC’s 3D printer prints the part out as a 3D plastic object.

“Often, when you have the design, you ask yourself, `Can I validate this?’ `Can I determine if it works?’ The 3D model helps the designer make that determination,” Flynn said.

From there, students can take the prototype, study it and access the 5-axis computer numerical control (CNC) vertical milling machine and, using a block of aluminum, turn it into an actual automotive part. A CNC Lathe machine spins the part and can perform any number of operations like cutting it, drilling it, sanding it. Then, students can access the coordinate-measuring machine (CMM) to test the finished part against the intent of its design.

In essence, Flynn said, the CMM asks if the design held up. Once it is a manufactured part, the machine goes back to the design and makes a determination about how it worked and if it did not, where exactly the design went off course.

“The lab will help Gateway students become the workforce of tomorrow,” Flynn said. “It’s a very exciting time for engineering at Gateway. There is a good deal of high-tech aerospace manufacturing happening in the area, and with this lab, GCC can provide the future advanced engineering technology students that the companies and universities continue to need.”

One of the first projects to utilize the lab is a NASA research project on unmanned aerial vehicles. Flynn received a NASA grant, funded through the Connecticut NASA Space Grant Consortium and administered through the University of Hartford, the only community college faculty member in the state to receive one. Flynn and GCC students will research how low-cost, unmanned aerial vehicles used in aerospace, defense and government are designed and how advanced manufacturing can rapidly bring prototypes to testing and at a much lower cost.

With the manufacturing lab and NASA grant, Flynn said Gateway is poised to become a collaborative manufacturing engineering hub.  

“This is design and manufacturing for the 21st century,” Flynn said.