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Mid-November, the Steel Hawks Robotics team was granted a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine, whose microcomputer software is very new to technology. Unlike 3D printers, a CNC machine does not simply create parts by printing filament—it does the complete opposite.
The CNC machine enables 3D printers to cut through stronger, more durable materials such as metals and wood. In doing so, the CNC instructs the printers to bring designs to life, presenting itself as a useful tool to engineers worldwide. Due to its heavy pricing, however, this technology is not easy to obtain. The Steel Hawks were introduced to the CNC system during the Maker Faire last fall, where companies displayed hundreds of different products to the public. There, the Steel Hawks found a new addition to their family of machines: the ShopBot CNC machine.
Physics teacher and Robotics coach Joel Heitman explained, “Before the CNC, we used 3D printing to prototype parts for the robot and then we asked for assistance in producing those parts from our corporate sponsors that had limited time to produce parts for the team.”
With the addition of the new machine, the team will be exposed to new facets of engineering. They plan to use it to create specific parts during build season, a six week period in which FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics teams must design and build their competition robot.
Senior Robotics Captain Marcus Barbu stated, “The CNC will allow us to speed up our prototyping and production times, letting us build a more robust robot more quickly.” The team would be capable of creating or recreating high quality parts at a cheaper expense and provide more exciting experiences in just hours. Currently, they are training robotics team members in the software necessary to run the machine.
Mr. Heitman added, “[The CNC] will also increase the number of students who will have the opportunity to learn computer aided design (CAD) both in class and through the team, as CAD is an integral part of the manufacturing process.”
Not only is the CNC machine going to facilitate the production of the final robot during this year’s competition season, but Steel Hawks members will get an opportunity to experience what it feels like to be part of the next generation of innovators.