The school board for the Darlington Community School District approved the purchase of equipment to create a fabrication lab for the district at their regular meeting held on Wednesday, May 20.
The district will purchase a new 3D printer (to be added to the two already owned by the district), a 3D scanner, a laser cutter/engraver, a vinyl cutter and a computer numerical control (CNC) mill, which will be used to create bolts and screws. The total cost to the district will be $19,100 with $3,000 of that coming from the Carl Perkins grant and the remaining $16,100 coming from revenue generated from the Charles Barlow trust frund.
Fabrication labs are used in industry to construct working prototypes to test new products, and in schools labs are used by engineering students to build working prototypes, so the prototype may be tested and changes made to make the product better.
“Fab labs, as they are called, give engineering students a chance to work with the same type of equipment that they will encounter in industry,” said Roger Zee, technical education teacher at DHS.
Zee said he wants to use the lab with 7th and 8th grade engineering students along with high school engineering classes, giving students the real life experience of using industry equipment to test products and make prototypes.
Zee explained that during a recent project taken on by students in his high school introduction to engineering design class that included the design and building of a locker organizer, having access to a fabrication lab would have been beneficial.
“In going through the design process, they were required to build a working prototype and test it in one of our lockers at the high school,” said Zee. “Some of the parts they needed were too big to be printed out in the 3D printers we currently have, so a laser cutter would have allowed them to cut out larger parts. There are also times when students need to make parts with threads cut into them. The CNC mill will allow them to do this.”
Zee plans to designate existing classroom space he currently uses at the Darlington Elementary/Middle School for the lab, and that escorting high school students to the area would not be a problem, as that has been done in the past.
It is hoped that the lab will be completely set up over the summer, being operational by the fall for the upcoming school year.
Zee will also be teaching a capstone engineering course titled: Engineering Design and Development for students from schools all over southwestern Wisconsin in the upcoming school year. Within the course, students will research and build a working prototype for some type of new product. Zee said that the fab lab will be used extensively for this class.
Zee was selected to teach this class, as there are very few teachers qualified to do so, and Darlington has the same total number of students enrolled in engineering classes as several other area school combined.