Best foot forward

5th May 2000 at 01:00
Bernard Adams meets students who usedcomputers to design booths for fitting shoes.

CAD is computer-aided design and CAM is computer-aided manufacture. CADCAM is an important element of the key stage 4 programme of study, but the CAM part can be expensive, and therefore problematic for schools. When St Dunstan's, an 11-16 comprehensive in Glastonbury, Somerset, needed to plug into both CAD and CAM for a Year 10 graphic products project, it was helped by the Design and Technology Association and its CADCAM in Schools Initiative, which has been in action for nearly a year.

To take advantage of the initiative, a technology teacher at St Dunstan's, Keith Richardson, attended a course at Exeter University, and the school was licensed to use the ProDesktop software, which is supplied free by the Parametric Technology Corporation, although under fairly stringent conditions. Mr Richardson's year 10 students now had the means to deliver at least the CAD half of the curriculum.

But what kind of project should his students attempt? "I got the answer when I went to a teacher placement day at Clark International in Street," Keith Richardson explains. Clark's is a big, local shoe manufacturer, and during the day he saw a remarkable software program called Shoemaster in action. It is made by an offshoot company of Clark's called CSM3D, which now has 100 employees worldwide, and is a world leader in the application of CADCAM in the shoe industry. Keri Davis, training manager at CSM3D, is a former pupil of St Dunstan's, as are his daughters, and he is keen to help the school. He offered to provide the Shoemaster software, worth at least pound;40,000. Keith Richardson's plans for the project were beginning to take shape. He arranged three visits for his group of six pupils - the first to CSM3D, where they saw how the Shoemaster program could scan a pair of feet and then design digitally a pair of shoes to fit them. They saw how the software could rotate the designs and view them from any angle. They learned how, once the design decisions had been made, Shoemaster could deliver to a CAM machine the appropriate dimensions and shapes for the required pieces of leather. They then saw how a CAM machine created the last through a milling process, and cut out all the 2D patterns. Keith Richardson also arranged for the students to visit Clark's - concentrating on design and marketing, and trying to find out why no pupils in the groups wore Clark's shoes (Answer: Clark's does not target the Year 10 age group). Finally, they visited Maple Engineering, also in Street, where they saw CAM machines in action, making moulds for shoe soles. With their visits written up as homework, and a chance of a second look at the Shoemaster program on the school computers, the students had all the stimulus they needed to start the task that Mr Richardson now set them. He wanted them to design a point-of-sale both for a scanner which would establish a client's foot-size and then allow him or her to design a pair of bespoke shoes.

They began with rough drawings and sketches, and much discussion of how detailed the 3D foot-scan had to be, and whether it could be used by doctors for orthopaedic purposes. Questions were raised about whether the point-of-sale had to be in shoe shops: could it not be in an airport or a railway station, or perhaps even be mobile? After the analysis came sketches, then orthographic drawings and finally a full CAD version. When I visited the school one design had already been completed, by 15-year-old Scott Middleton. He had found it difficult at first, but after two days of hard work he was delighted with the results: "As I went along I was finding out new stuff all the time," he says. His experience with the ProDesktop program is now trickling down to the rest of the groups, who are putting their designs on screen as well.

The project involved two lessons a week for four months. "I had no idea how much work would be involved," says Rosie Portman, 14. Lucy Leeworthy, also 14, is pleased at how the group has learned to develop ideas and use orthographic drawings. They explain how they carefully considered the ergonomics and the dimensions of the booth. "It mustn't be too big for the shop," says Tom Huxtable, 15. Ollie Miller, also 15, points out that the buttons on the console should be easy to use. Ruth Vennie, 14, feels that what they have learned on the project will be very useful for their course work. And they are all delighted with the way the program has helped them to understand how CAM can work. The creators of Shoemaster are looking forward to a presentation by the pupils of their designs. "This is the first school we've provided with Shoemaster," says Tom Jacobs, a director of CSM3D, "although we do license it to colleges. We like to do anything we can to make young people more computer literate."

Keri Davis has willingly given up some of his time to help the St Dunstan's project. "We are very anxious to help the local community: we hope eventually to be able to take a pupil from St Dunstan's for work experience. We want young people to be able to use the kind of technology that allows shoe designs to be e-mailed across continents and design decisions made in a matter of minutes."

Keith Richardson says the project has worked out very well for the students, as well as delivering hefty sections of the KS4 curriculum. "They have worked hard to make sure that their foot-scannershoe-design device is right for the intended users. And the project has broadened their studies to include product analysis and the application of systems and control in industry."

DATA (The Design and Technology Association) 16 Wellesbourne Road, Wellesbourne, Warks, CV35 9JBTel: 01789 470007E-mail: Website:

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