LTU student designs and transports digital fabricating tool to Albania

In keeping with the old proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” Lawrence Technological University architecture student Brendon Veldboom has provided a proverbial fishing pole – in this case, a three-by-five-foot, three-axis CNC milling tool that he designed, built, packaged and then reassembled for a workshop in Albania.

It is one of a number of interesting projects to emerge from the makeLab, which opened five years ago in LTU’s College of Architecture and Design when Associate Professor James Stevens and his students began assembling machines to construct physical products, including furniture, graphic displays, and models of architectural projects.

Architecture modeling and design in general is now practiced almost exclusively on computers with sophisticated software, but Stevens seeks to reconnect design to the act and art of making objects. The process starts with computer-aided design (CAD) and the resulting designs are translated into wood and other forms through computer numerical control (CNC) programs. The makeLab now has a laser cutter, a 3-D printer, and two large three-axis CNC machines.

For the past few years Stevens had led workshops at Polis Universiti in Albania. At the conclusion of those workshops, the LTU group packed up their portable CNC milling tools to bring back to the United States. This year Veldboom decided to build a large CNC milling tool that remains in Albania for future students to use.

His project began with hand sketches that were turned into a digital 3-D model using Rhino software. During the prototyping process that involved many tests and revisions, Veldboom used the makeLab’s own three-axis large CNC milling tool to cut components out of high-density plastic. The main design challenge was to build a CNC tool that would meet all government guidelines for international flight and also be robust enough to work at a high-performance level without breaking down.

The machine was designed, built, broken down, packed, and flown to Albania for a 12-day digital fabrication workshop in July. Fifteen students from both Lawrence Tech and Polis Universiti learned how to operate the machine and ran it for more than 30 hours without any problems.

“Facing the challenges of designing, prototyping, and building the machine gave me great respect for the tools we have at Lawrence Tech,” Veldboom said. “Watching the Lawrence Tech and Polis Universiti students be introduced to digital fabrication and the amazing projects that came out of the workshop was exciting to see. … More importantly, it has helped educate others and will continue to do so.”

The milling tool can be used for building objects out of wood, plastic, synthetic plastics, foam, and some construction materials. During the workshop, the Albanian students designed and created pieces for a masonry wall.

As an added benefit, Veldboom also developed a manual and parts list for operating and maintaining the CNC milling tool. The tool was also designed to be easily upgraded as the Polis Universiti program expands.

This project was made possible by an LTU Presidential Undergraduate Research Award of $1,000.