By Ben Brown
Mechanical Engineering Undergraduate
Missouri University of Science and Technology
It has been two years since being awarded the SMEEF Family scholarship and I’m truly living my dream. Currently I have three semesters left at Missouri University of Science and Technology to finish my mechanical engineering undergraduate degree with an emphasis in manufacturing. My course work is getting to the point where my schedule is filling up with more and more mechanical engineering classes and fewer humanities, making school exponentially more enjoyable as I continue. As beneficial as my humanities classes are, I can only enjoy the dissection of British Literature so much.
One particular engineering class that I really enjoyed was machine dynamics. The class truly brought together material that I had learned in several other major classes and applied it to real world situations. Seeing that many of my upcoming classes are trending more towards application rather than theory is honestly exciting and has me looking forward to my final semesters. As the courses become more major specific, they also are becoming more difficult and therefore more time-intensive. Unfortunately, the side effect of pursuing an engineering degree, my once gratuitous amount of free time is quickly becoming filled with homework and studying for upcoming exams. Because of this, I’m very happy that I don’t have to balance working a job while attending school. Being awarded this scholarship has not only given me the financial freedom to focus on school, but it has made my next goal of graduate school a possibility. Having the ability to save for graduate school during the pursuit of my undergraduate degree instead of accumulating an obscene amount of debt is a luxury that, unfortunately, most students do not have.
Throughout my undergraduate studies, I have acquired some great industry experience during the summer breaks in internships, and this most recent summer was no exception. This summer, I interned at Honeywell FM&T in Kansas City in the capacity of a process engineer role supporting the plant’s machining manufacturing department. My position at Honeywell was definitely value-added, and I can happily say that I did not once have to go for coffee. I have had past experience with machine tools and their operations, but never experienced the total decision process involved in processing a part through a manufacturing facility. Making decisions like whether a part will be cut on a wire EDM or waterjet based on final application, or what lathe a part should be run on due to tolerances, time, or cost. All of these factors have to be accounted for, something that you don’t normally learn as a student, only from experience.
Honeywell was a great environment for learning and developing the skills that I needed improvement in. I have processed a wide range of parts, everything from a sheet metal part to a twenty-operation development part that yields over 100 piece-parts. The work that I am doing this summer is very interesting and rewarding and is a confirmation in my decision in choosing manufacturing as my profession after graduating. Being able to work first hand with machine processes was an amazing experience that, I believe, has allowed me to grow in my future career path. This summer I’ve been exposed to 3-5 axis machining, mill/turning, wire and RAM EDM, waterjet, sheet-metal operations, additive manufacturing, laser engraving, and CAD/CAM along with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).
On-top of all the machine interaction, my involvement with the ERP side of process engineering was very beneficial. I had to worry about not only what operations you need to do, but in what order and on what machine. This really made me have to think about each step in making a part from start to finish, giving me a complete view of the manufacturing process. I have also had my first experience with those strange boxed dimensions also known as geometric dimensioning and tolerance, a topic that is unfortunately not covered at school. As in depth as a modern engineering degree is, course work is no substitute for extensive hands on experience such as this.
Along with all the conventional subtractive processes, this summer I have been given the opportunity to work with the plant’s additive-manufacturing processes. The main platform I’ve been working on is a 3D-Systems SLA-5000 running DSM Somos resin. The DSM Somos field service technician has been working with me in troubleshooting machine/resin issues. This project has been a challenging one that has really given me a crash course in the theory and operation of this machine. I was familiar with the stereolithography technology, but before this summer never had the first hand experience with it. It amazes me that we’ve come so far in manufacturing that we can go straight from a 3-D model to a rapidly finished part. All of the fine-tuned parameters that go into a build presented a unique challenge that I enjoyed thoroughly. With all of the ways to alter a build and the sensitivity of each parameter, it seems to me that a certain degree of technical expertise is required to be proficient at processing stereolithography parts. Over the summer I produced several calibration builds to verify machine settings with varying degrees of success to try and hone in on our problems. Increased part accuracy and surface finish as well as reduced build time have resulted from these efforts over the summer.
This improvement is a big point of pride for me. Seeing this total process got me thinking about where this technology will be in the future and its applications. This internship experience has led me to look into pursuing a master’s degree in additive manufacturing, with an emphasis in the metals side of the industry. Presently, I’m set for a manufacturing emphasis in mechanical engineering, but I am now wanting to position myself into the additive manufacturing niche.
The pursuit of an advanced degree has always hinged on two things for me; being able to afford it and finding a field that I am passionate enough about to drive me to be successful in obtaining technical expertise. After being awarded the scholarship, my finances were freed up enough to begin saving for the future, thus satisfying the first criterion. After my experiences this summer, I believe the second criterion has been met in additive manufacturing. Although stereolithography is what my experience has been in this summer, my real interest is the metals side of additive manufacturing. It is exciting to see how far the metals additive manufacturing industry has come and where the technology is going and I want to be a part of it.
Having been awarded the scholarship, I have continued to try to pay forward the generosity that has been gifted to me, not financially at this time, but by the way of donation of time. The mentoring I’d received in those programs is what pushed me into engineering. Before getting involved in these programs, I had no aspirations into what I would do after high school, and I’m forever indebted to those who pushed me in the right direction. I had so many great mentors that helped me discover this field and showed me that engineering, more specifically manufacturing, is what I want to do. A company, such as Honeywell, that supports and encourages involvement in these programs and provides opportunities to volunteer is a great thing. Because those programs have made such a profound impact in my life, I feel that volunteering in them is the least I can do.
Being awarded the SMEEF Family Scholarship has really opened doors for me, giving me the opportunity to pursue what I want to do to the extent that I want to. I can’t fathom where I would be without the financial security that I have received as a result. Not having to worry about where the next tuition payment will come from is just one less burden. So, to the SME Education Foundation and all of its contributors, thank you! ME
This article was first published in the September 2011 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.