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TryEngineering Today! is dedicated to providing the latest news and information for students, parents, teachers, and counselors interested in engineering, computing technology and related topics.

Figure 1. Laser cutting makes elegant and complex fashion designs easy and beautiful. Source: Solarbotics/CC BY 2.0
October 15, 2018 | Sponsored

By Jennifer D. Bosavage

With the ability to create intricate cutwork to enhance the décolletage of a gown, or scalloped lace edges that flatter the hemline of a sundress, laser cutters are rapidly becoming more popular in the realm of fashion design. They help designers bring their most creative work to life, thanks to their ability to effortlessly and precisely cut a pattern or engrave directly on to fabrics. Laser cutting is both extremely accurate and fast — important features for designers wanting to incorporate fine detail onto a variety of fabrics. Speed is also a plus in a fashion design classroom, where students may be simultaneously working on creating multiple projects.

Students will likely be interested in understanding how the laser process works, and why it doesn't pull or stretch fabric the way cutting blades can. There are several advantages to fabric laser cutting.

  • A very fine and powerful V-shaped beam of light is projected onto a tiny area in order to make the cut.
  • The intensified 0.004 in beam cuts without pressure — there is no mechanical contact — so fabric isn't distorted.
  • An intensified vacuum force is automatically applied to the area being cut to prevent the material from shifting.
  • Cuts are made quickly and accurately, so edges are sharp and clean.
  • The laser heat seals, or cauterizes, the edges of the cuts; this protects them from fraying or raveling. (One caveat: the laser’s sealing action can be a disadvantage for cutting multiple pieces or plies at once, as it may fuse edges together.)

Many types of natural and synthetic materials can be cut or engraved with lasers, which affords more creative choice for designers. Possibilities include cotton, denim, felt, fleece, leather, linen, polyester and silk; specialty materials such as stretch fabrics and Gore-Tex are also well-suited for laser use.

Designers such as Alexander McQueen and Zac Posen, as well as brands like Marchesa, have used laser technology to create dramatic effects. Studying their work can serve as foundation for a fashion design curriculum that is highly inspiring.

Given all these factors, it’s easy to see how the laser’s presence in a fashion design classroom can greatly enhance a student’s ability to turn his or her inspired ideas into reality. 

This content was provided by Epilog Laser. In business since 1988, Epilog Laser has worked hard to become the leader in the laser engraving, cutting and marking industry. We are innovators. We are problem solvers. We are committed to designing and manufacturing the highest-quality laser systems, right here in our Golden, CO headquarters. Read More

Figure 1: The Epilog Zing Starter Series offers excellent entry-level laser cutters.  Source: Epilog Laser
October 4, 2018 | Sponsored

By Jennifer D. Bosavage

The start of the school year is the perfect time for anyone considering a laser cutter to learn the foundations of this exciting technology.

Just as they are in makerspaces and fab labs, laser cutters are one of the most versatile tools one can have in a  classroom. They can cut patterns or pieces for final assembly; they can cut through a range of materials with high precision; and they are easy to use. All of those qualities rolled into one piece of technology make the laser cutter a very powerful piece of equipment -- and a great investment for schools, businesses and entrepreneurs alike. When first starting out, here are a few tips to bear in mind:

  1. Select your materials carefully.
A laser cutter uses a laser beam that is fired to allow any shape or design to be cut out of a flat piece of material; possibilities include plastic, wood, fabric, leather and more. Lasers are able to penetrate hard and thick materials that traditional drag-knife devices, such as craft cutters and vinyl cutters, cannot. There are, however, some materials that are not recommended for use with a laser -- such as anything containing polyvinyl chloride (PVC). This material is not only very messy to engrave or cut on a laser, but can also release a corrosive gas that is harmful to both the inner workings of the laser system and the laser operator. If you’re ever unsure whether a material includes PVC as one of its components, you can request a material safety data sheet (MSDS) from the manufacturer.  Most other materials are laser compatible, but flare-ups can occasionally happen, especially when cutting acrylics. That’s why it’s of paramount importance never to leave the laser unattended.
  2. Take safety seriously. While even elementary schoolchildren can use laser cutters when properly supervised, it’s important to remember that these are tools, not toys. Filtration systems are needed, because the fumes and dust caused by etching can be toxic. Fire extinguishers are also recommended to combat flare-ups. Epilog recommends a Halotron fire extinguisher or a multi-purpose dry chemical fire extinguisher. Of these two options, the Halotron extinguisher is more expensive option, but offers advantages such as the discharge of a clean, easily removable substance that is not harmful to the mechanics or wiring of the laser system. The dry chemical extinguisher, by contrast, discharges a sticky, corrosive powder that can be very difficult to clean up.
  3. Create a plan to guide your equipment choices. Having a solid understanding of your needs and a business purpose outline will allow you not only to create a great budget proposal for buying or leasing a laser cutter -- it will also guide you in selecting the best model. System cost is determined by factors such as motor type (stepper or servo); engraving table size; and laser wattage, which ranges from 30 watts to 120 watts. An entry-level cutter might have an engraving bed measuring 16 in x 12 in, which could be ideal for a classroom or startup; a new, entry-level 30 watt system costs less than $8,000. An enterprise-size business, by contrast, may need machinery on the opposite side of the spectrum -- with features such as a 40 in x 28 in engraving bed, 120 watts of power and a price tag closer to $42,000.

There is no question that a laser cutter can be an invaluable tool for growing a business or expanding a school curriculum, opening new markets and providing insight into a potential career path. Laser systems can help companies and schools alike blaze new pathways to success.

Contact Epilog Laser for more information on their laser products.

This content was provided by Epilog Laser. In business since 1988, Epilog Laser has worked hard to become the leader in the laser engraving, cutting and marking industry. We are innovators. We are problem solvers. We are committed to designing and manufacturing the highest-quality laser systems, right here in our Golden, CO headquarters. Read More.

Figure 1: Laser-cut architectural model by Joris Heitkamp. Source: FabLab Den Haag/CC BY 2.0
September 6, 2018 | Sponsored

By Jennifer Bosavage

 

Laser cutters offer architecture students a unique opportunity to see their ideas quickly and precisely move from paper to miniature versions of reality. Whether a student’s creation is a home, downtown development, bridge, railway or architectural flourish, laser cutters offer tremendous advantages for three-dimensional fabrication.

Once a plan is in place — an idea has made the transfer from brain to paper — it can move from two dimensions to three through computer-aided design (CAD). Using CAD enables architects to view different aspects and perspectives of a building within the context of a single platform. Architecture students often design and develop with traditional drawing media in the early stages, followed by further refinement in an application such as AutoCAD and then full, virtual realization in a 3D modeling program such as SketchUp.

By converting CAD files into file types a laser cutter can read, students are able to build a physical model of their creations which allows them to further examine their stability and practicality. The laser cuts with precision and detail, providing an exact — albeit much smaller — version of each piece of a project. After cutting, those pieces can be assembled without the need for further post-processing. The laser cuts every component of the model — roof planes, exterior walls, ground planes, columns and beams — into compact puzzle-like pieces that can be glued together to make the final model.

In addition to bringing students’ ideas into the physical world, lasers significantly reduce production time for cutting components thanks to their speed and power. As a result more students can use the machinery. Oftentimes, the device becomes one of a school’s most popular and versatile pieces of equipment. 

Because laser cutters are so fast and powerful they can reliably cut through a wide range of materials. Any material that is typically used for cutting and engraving architectural models can be used in a laser cutter, including textiles, synthetic materials, wood, veneer, medium-density fiberboard (MDF), cardboard, paper, foam, polystyrene,  acrylics (PMMA), and plastics. That kind of flexibility offers budding architects the potential to create realistic models that cannot be achieved with other technologies.

Laser cutters can help bring a project from idea to fruition. Not all ideas can be reproduced exactly as they are initially conceived; building models helps determine the strengths, weaknesses and overall viability of an idea. The laser’s speed and precision allow students to refine their ideas quickly, helping them to identify and pursue realistic projects from the earliest stages of the design process. This can reduce students’ potential for frustration and conserve their valuable time and resources.

Seen in this light, it’s clear that laser cutters are a tool that architecture students can use to help them succeed in their chosen profession.

This content was provided by Epilog Laser. In business since 1988, Epilog Laser has worked hard to become the leader in the laser engraving, cutting and marking industry. We are innovators. We are problem solvers. We are committed to designing and manufacturing the highest-quality laser systems, right here in our Golden, CO headquarters. Read More.

Figure 1. Students assemble customized robots from laser cut components. Source: Fabrice Florin/CC BY-SA 2.0
August 21, 2018 | Sponsored

By Jennifer Bosavage

An increasing number of schools are providing makerspaces for their students — places kids can create projects with various pieces of machinery, including laser cutters. Some of that equipment carries a hefty price tag, however, so it is critical educators can show school boards that the devices they want to include in a makerspace can provide an attractive return on investment. Often, they need to prove why a laser cutter belongs in the classroom before the class ever gets to try it out.

Laser Cutters Teach Engineering
Horology — the study of time — is a unique and accessible subject that can expose students to structural, mechanical and other engineering disciplines, as well as art. Clock making is a popular project in design and technology classes found in many schools, although it often focuses on aesthetic design elements. However, the STEM content of a horology project can be highlighted through the use of laser-cutting machinery. Clock mechanisms, for instance, are inexpensive to design; the clock itself can be as intricate or simplistic as a student is inclined to make it. According to a 2013 Loughborough University study on applying laser-cutting techniques through horology, schools have seen success in gaining pupil interest in science and technology through this type of approach.

Lasers Invigorate Art and Design Curricula
Laser cutters can produce complex patterns for sewing class, for making stage costumes or for cutting out intricate mandalas. Felt and other flexible materials can be cut to create puppets and stuffed animals; tiles lined with felt can be used as coasters. Balsa wood can be fashioned into bird houses or clocks, or engraved with pictures or designs. When a cutting device is part of an art program, creative juices flow, alongside the refinement and further development of both mathematics and tactile skills.

Lasers Energize Robotics
Many schools start robotics activities in elementary school and continue them up into the final years of high school. As a result, young children get exposed to computer programming skills and learn the importance of following directions. As older learners, they can understand the depths of applied mathematics and take on advanced technology design. Robotics activities can include etching printed circuit boards (PCBs) from a piece of copper-clad board, coated with spray paint and blasted with a laser. A laser engraver can also cut wooden models and etch logos into robot bodies. All age groups are afforded opportunities to practice communication, judgment and decision making through this type of curriculum.

Summary
Laser cutters add a dimension of interactive learning to the classroom. They allow teachers to incorporate a hands-on approach, which studies have shown lead to better mastery of complex concepts. For many schools, laser cutters can help reimagine curricula, helping to nurture a connection between the digital mindset and the physical mindset. Students who can transfer their designs into physical reality gives them the experience of "making.” It’s a connection that can be parlayed into a pursuit of engineering, science, art, architecture and much more.
 

This content was provided by Epilog Laser. In business since 1988, Epilog Laser has worked hard to become the leader in the laser engraving, cutting and marking industry. We are innovators. We are problem solvers. We are committed to designing and manufacturing the highest-quality laser systems, right here in our Golden, CO headquarters. Read More.

July 24, 2018 | Sponsored

Jennifer Bosavage

Middle school teachers who are fortunate enough to have laser cutting machinery at their disposal are faced with figuring out how to incorporate the technology into meaningful lessons. Far beyond personalized engraved trinkets, laser systems can teach children skills that will benefit them in high school (and beyond), including organization and preparation. In addition, laser cutters let young adolescents use creativity while learning science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM).

The best way to kick off a unit study is with a fun, hands-on activity. Hands-on activities promote a love of learning and connect abstract concepts to the real world. The following are some lesson plan ideas for middle school teachers wanting to incorporate hands-on learning through laser cutting into their curricula.

Social Studies

Objective: Learn about different cultures through their folk art. Paper cutting is a popular art form for many cultures. For example, in China, paper cutting expresses moral principles, philosophies and aesthetic ideals. In Switzerland, the art of Scherenschnitt (which translates to "scissor cuts" in German) tells stories in silhouette; early designs featured landscapes of cows, goats and herdsmen moving the animals up to the mountain pastures and back. Polish papercutting, called Wycinanki, was traditionally done using sheep shears because they were often the only cutting instruments available.

Math
Objective: Understand and apply the Pythagorean theorem. (This lesson meets Common Core Standards for Geometry.) Students can have fun with geometry by reviewing some of the elaborate wooden marquetry work done on old floors. The laser can cut these geometric shapes in wood veneers, to be assembled and glued into a tile that has practical value as a trivet, and students use the Pythagorean theorem to measure, cut and fit together the triangular pieces.

English

Objective: Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events or character types from myths or traditional stories. (This lesson meets Common Core Standards for Literature.) Laser cutters can be used to create all types of costumes, allowing students to “dress the part” when reading plays or novels aloud in class. Acting out in this way helps the text come alive. For instance, Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” could be enhanced with the addition of a laser-cut bird costume.

Earth Science

Objective: Students learn a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments. (This lesson meets Common Core Standards for Science.) Laser cutters are ideal for making puzzles. Here, students engrave the seven steps of the scientific method on individual puzzle pieces that they’ve cut to fit together only when assembled properly.  

Engineering Science

Objective: Demonstrate simple engineering principles by building model bridges. Students can cut arches, trusses, brackets and other parts, and measure the load-bearing characteristics while learning about building prototypes. Models of various bridge types are cut by scanning diagrams and tracing them. A contest will determine which student or team model can bear the most weight before collapsing.

Using hands-on instruction, educators foster the 21st century skills that students need to be successful: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. Hands-on learning helps students retain information and allows them to feel the satisfaction of creation. Laser cutters help reinforce mathematical principles in every project created regardless of discipline. The happy byproduct is leaving students with a tangible sense of accomplishment.

Content sponsored by Epilog Laser: https://www.epiloglaser.com/gs-try-engineering/

This content was provided by Epilog Laser. In business since 1988, Epilog Laser has worked hard to become the leader in the laser engraving, cutting and marking industry. We are innovators. We are problem solvers. We are committed to designing and manufacturing the highest-quality laser systems, right here in our Golden, CO headquarters. Read More.

July 25, 2018 |

Grace Dille

Registration is open for the 2018-2019 Future City competition! This is a national competition for middle school students to imagine, research, design and build cities of the future.

Future City allows students to showcase their solution to a citywide sustainability issue. The theme for this year’s competition is Powering Our Future. “Teams will design a resilient power grid for their future city that can withstand and quickly recover from the impacts of a natural disaster,”  according to the Future City website.

Teams of three or more students, an educator, and a mentor will participate in five areas of competition. The areas include a virtual city design (using SimCity), a 1,500-word city essay, a scale model built from recycled materials, a project plan and a presentation to judges at regional competitions in January.

Teams that win their regional competition will receive a free trip to Washington D.C., where they will compete at the national competition. As the grand prize, national winners can win a trip to Space Camp and $7,500 for their school’s STEM programs. Cash prizes are also awarded to second, third, fourth and fifth place.

This competition is a great way to get middle schoolers involved in hands-on STEM activities and teach them how to think like an engineer. By applying math and science concepts to real-world issues, students learn more about how communities work and become better citizens.

Registration closes October 31, so don’t miss out on this awesome opportunity! Check out Future City’s website to learn more and register today.

July 17, 2018 |

Grace Dille

The gender disparity in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields has caused researchers to question why most girls and young women do not consider a degree or career in these fields. New research from Microsoft provides some answers and solutions to help close the STEM gap.

In their study, Microsoft surveyed over 6,000 girls and young women from ages 10-30 to examine their attitudes towards STEM, school, and the workforce. They hope the results from their study will help policymakers, educators, parents, and employers to better understand and overcome the challenges girls and young women face when it comes to pursuing studies or careers in STEM.

The main research findings showed that girls and young women have a hard time picturing themselves in STEM roles. Research suggests they need more exposure to STEM jobs, female role models, and career awareness and planning in order to empower them to pursue a career in STEM.

The research also found that girls initially don’t see STEM careers to be creative or have a positive impact on the world. However, even a little exposure to real-world applications of STEM knowledge dramatically changes their outlook.

Another finding showed that girls who participate in STEM clubs and activities outside of school are more likely to say they will pursue STEM subjects later in their education.

According to their research, encouragement from teachers and parents makes an enormous impact in girls’ interest in STEM—especially when it comes from both teachers and parents.

Finally, they found that educators can foster a “growth mindset” among their female students by tapping into their willingness to work hard for results. The research suggests that rewarding the process and effort of learning, rather than exclusively rewarding results, is a powerful way to support girls.

Read the results here from their “Closing the STEM Gap” study, which dives into more detail with real numbers, quotes from girls and young women involved in the study, insightful graphics, and steps to turn this insight into action.

June 28, 2018 |

Grace Dille

Wondering if that chicken in the fridge is still good? Sensors in packaging could soon alert you of dangerous bacteria in various types of food products.

Chemical engineer, Carlos Filipe, at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, has developed sensors to detect the presence of the potentially dangerous bacteria, E. coli, in packaged foods.

To do so, Filipe and his team coated a flexible film in molecules that glow in the presence of E. coli. The sensors glow around molecules that E. coli cells produce, so the material doesn’t have to touch contaminated food to know that the bacteria is there.

These transparent patch sensors, which are about the size of postage stamps, lit up brightly when they were tested on meat and apple juice hosting E. coli. However, when they were touching uncontaminated food samples they did not light up at all.

Filipe and the McMaster team hope to develop films that glow near other dangerous bacteria in the future. Tohid Didar, a mechanical-biomedical engineer on the team, said one of those bacteria might be Salmonella, which is one of the most common causes of food poisoning.

Foodborne illnesses such as E. coli and Salmonella affect 1 in 10 people every year and 420,000 die as a result, according to the World Health Organization. These sensors could help reduce that number and alert people before they consume contaminated foods.

“A food manufacturer could easily incorporate this into its production process,” Didar said. The engineers said mass producing the sensors would be fairly cheap, but the invention would need a commercial partner and regulatory approvals before it reaches the market.

June 13, 2018 |

Grace Dille

Kids can lose up to two to three months of their reading and math skills over the summer, according to the National Summer Learning Association. These losses come at an even greater cost for kids in low-income families, who can fall two-and-a-half to three years behind their peers due to summer learning loss.

Both teachers and parents can do more to encourage kids to continue learning over the summer. Especially because young girls lose interest in STEM at around age 8, the summer is the perfect time to introduce STEM to girls in a fun and innovative way. By incorporating STEM-related topics into summer activities, teachers and parents can help to decrease summer learning loss and increase their kids’ interest in STEM.

How to incorporate STEM-learning into your summer fun:

  • Read. Reading is a great way for kids to keep their minds active over summer. Teachers can offer summer reading lists for age-appropriate suggestions or parents can bring their kids to their local library. Often, local libraries will offer summer reading programs for kids and will use prizes to keep kids engaged. Another option is to get your kid a magazine subscription, to give them new content to look forward to throughout the summer. Check out this great STEM-related magazine, Smore, targeted towards girls ages 7 and up. This magazine is a great option for young girls interested in STEM, providing them with encouragement, role models, and even a pull-out poster in each issue.

 

  • Play. When thinking about buying toys for your kid this summer, try to select STEM-related ones that will keep your kid’s brain stimulated for hours. One awesome toy to check out is the award-winning littleBits Droid Inventor Kit -- perfect for Star Wars fans. Kids can create their own Droid and bring it to life through easy block-based coding. By using the Droid inventor app, kids can control their droid, give it new abilities, and take it on over 22 missions. Kids can continue to invent with this toy all summer long.

 

  • Attend a camp. Summer camps are the perfect way to get your kid excited about STEM and immerse them into a fun learning environment. TryEngineering offers two-week engineering camps for 8th to 12th graders at colleges and universities across the United States throughout July. This is a perfect way for students to learn more about engineering, get hands-on experience, meet new friends with similar interests, and become inspired by professional engineers.

Check out these ideas and share your own STEM-related summer fun ideas with us on Twitter or Facebook.

Figure 1. Assembled 3D model of Abraham Lincoln, made from laser-cut taskboard. Source: Epilog Laser
May 30, 2018 | Sponsored

Jennifer Bosavage

Schools across the country are faced with integrating STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) into their curriculum. That can be a daunting task. For teachers committed to hands-on, experiential learning, introducing a laser cutter into the classroom can make STEM lessons fun and much more accessible than learning from textbooks alone. Laser cutters and engravers bring lessons alive; educators know that when students make connections between the concepts in the classroom and concepts in the real world, more parts of their brains are activated and the knowledge gained through hands-on activity more easily transfers to long-term memory.

Laser cutters are investments for schools. To take full advantage of the machinery it is practical to keep costs down per project so more projects can be accommodated. The following are three budget-savvy projects that can easily be adapted to fit into a middle school curriculum.

Biology

Using felt cut-outs of organs, students learn about human anatomy. Felt squares are inexpensive and come in a variety of colors. Students create the pattern of each organ and cut them using the laser cutting machine. Each organ is cut from a different color of felt so they can be identified more readily, but students may also want to label them. The organs can then be placed on a felt board on which students have drawn the outline of a body. The felt pieces adhere easily to the felt board; however, they could be attached more securely by simply adding hook-and-loop fasteners to the body and organs.

Physics

Students make their own airplanes using balsa wood and learn about flight. Balsa wood is extremely versatile as well as affordable. It’s the go-to material for building model airplanes, so creating flyable planes that are twice as large as those found in a toy store is an exciting project for students. The material list includes balsa wood that is 0.09375 by 4.0 by 36.0 in. for the wings, a 0.5 by 0.5 by 36.0 in. piece of wood for the body as well as a weight (such as a binder clip) for the nose. Students can download patterns from the internet, or try to create their own after taking a tutorial on the necessary qualities to make an airplane that is flight-ready.

3D Model Design

Using corrugated cardboard and third-party 3D-modeling software students can take their two-dimensional images or designs and transform them into 3D models. Modeling software, such as Fusion 360™ from Autodesk®, allows students to turn images into numbered “slices,” which are then cut by the laser. Users simply slide the slices over a center dowel rod support and the image on the screen is now a 3D piece.

For classes on even tighter budgets, nearly any type of clean cardboard packaging can be used – cereal boxes, discarded shipping boxes, even pizza boxes!

Laser cutters and engravers can play an important role in encouraging interest in STEM by providing an easy way to integrate hands-on learning within the classroom. Teachers can easily incorporate projects that “come to life” — and can demonstrate that learning can be engaging without breaking the budget.

Content sponsored by Epilog Laser: https://www.epiloglaser.com/gs-try-engineering/

This content was provided by Epilog Laser. In business since 1988, Epilog Laser has worked hard to become the leader in the laser engraving, cutting and marking industry. We are innovators. We are problem solvers. We are committed to designing and manufacturing the highest-quality laser systems, right here in our Golden, CO headquarters. Read More.

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