Bringing designs to life

27th June 2003 at 01:00
Pen Project Key stage 3 and 4 Techsoft UK pound;55 plus VAT Tel: 01824 780 318 Email:

A computer numerically controlled (CNC) milling machine allowing for computer aided manufacture (CAM) is one of those resources that rapidly elevates the quality of finished products from students of all abilities.

One major problem associated with buying a new CNC mill is finding the time to get to grips with the equipment without the time-consuming learning process.

What is needed is a ready-made scheme that allows for the immediate introduction of a tested scheme of work and perhaps even allows a novice to learn to use the machine at the same time. Techsoft's recently introduced Pen Project fits the job description, but it's also a useful resource for anyone already familiar with CNC.

Students are given the role of designers required to produce a promotional pen. Lesson notes conveniently suggest a series of topics for discussion, such as "pitching for business", "anthropometrics" and "corporate design".

While these would be familiar to a designer, it took my Year 8 students considerably longer to discuss than the suggested 15 minutes. But the topic material is there and, with some personalisation of delivery, a convenient, simple and interesting project can be delivered.

Older groups will find the terminology of the Cad Cam worksheets straightforward but younger key stage 3 students who may, more realistically, be the ones that such a simple product has been aimed at, could find some terminology beyond them. However, these are minor quibbles as most teachers would expect to adapt elements of the material.

Worksheets for 2D Design, which was the main instrument through which the material was created (although ProDesktop has equally detailed, step-by-step instructions), were beyond my Year 8 group but the simplicity of 2D itself gave everyone very good results irrespective of the worksheets.

A CD included in the pack provides copies of all the documents that appear in the booklet which comes with the package and these can then be printed out or copied to a "shared folder" on the network. The CD resource includes classroom worksheets, homework sheets and guidance in drawing. Sample designs and the data for producing them on various machines is supplied on the disk so, with just the cutting-out time from a flat acrylic sheet to worry about, several examples of finished designs can be shown to the students.

The package is an inexpensive investment, providing a fun task that could be expanded into a major project or used as an introduction to CNC manufacture.

Designs to Inspire and Make KS3-4 Techsoft UK pound;44 plus VAT Tel: 01824 780 318 Email:

If you have only recently added a CNC machine to the resources of the design and technology department then you may find the gap between opening the package and being totally proficient in its use, dauntingly large.

Techsoft's new package of designs and tutorials to help teachers gain the expertise covers a significant amount of ground in addressing that gulf.

The designs are all smallscale and of the kind that come as introductory exercises with new software or hardware. Two different designs for miniature chairs might entice students to consider CNC prototype scale models of GCSE flat-pack project items, but the detailed tutorial for plastic scissors, a "slot-jointed" noughts-and-crosses set in a plastic case, and a mechanical miniature wheeled toy would be useful as simple tasks to involve students in producing items using the milling equipment.

At the same time, of course, staff involved would become familiar with what may be a new machine and the techniques and skills involved in using it.

Two 3D "foam model" designs are included for a small aircraft and a simple camera. These were created using Prodesktop and Rowland's Modela Player software. Useful step-by-step guides are provided. The custom-setting charts for tool parameters should allow straightforward "first-time" results.

All of the eight designs included in the pack also have their full Machining drawings already supplied using 2D Design for the Modela and Camm2 machines around which the resource has been built.

Some basic materials are included in the package, such as modelling foam blocks, and acrylic sheet and rod, which is just enough to experiment with the designs covered in the resource.

The CD included in the pack contains pdf (Acrobat) files that can be viewed on the screen or printed out and assembled into a fairly thick stack of reference material.

Detailed setting-up instructions for the machines are included along with diagrams and plans. At my own school the pack has served its function well by engaging staff in accessible exercises to produce a simple but imaginative product with the minimum amount of time spent learning how to use the equipment.

Bill Richmond is head of Damp;T at St John's C of E Comprehensive School in Epping, Essex

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