Catch as CAD can

1st November 2002 at 00:00
Stephen Stott outlines a six-step plan for lessons in computer-aided design and manufacture.

Design and technology is an integral part of all our lives. It is most powerfully evident in the architecture of our towns and cities and in the products that form the miniature detail of our interaction with the modern world.

An engineer, architect or product designer must consider the performance characteristics of their proposals as well as the aesthetic. This approach relies on specialists across many disciplines collaborating to evolve a complete design.

An opportunity exists in secondary design and technology to emulate professional working practices and guide the student to create cross-curricular projects between CADCAM and the sciences.

The Technology Enhancement Programme (TEP) is developing strategies to support cross-curricular design and technology projects at key stages 3 and 4. One particular project aims to encourage students to look at the built and natural world to gain inspiration for product designs and integrate mathematics and physics in the design process. TEP is providing initial funding for the project that includes student groups from schools in England and Wales.

Collaboration between Bill Nicholl, the course leader in design and technology education at The University of Cambridge, Dave Prest, senior advisor and NESTA fellow at Cornwall Design and Technology Advisory Service and myself has created a six-strand approach to a total design ethos that will drive the cross-curricular project.

The six strands are:

* Visual vocabulary

* Scientific and technical knowledge

* Clarifying and communicating ideas

* Materials, processes and manufacturing

* Designing

* Values, issues and influences This multi-faceted approach represents an opportunity to develop a design from an aesthetic and functional platform and to include applied mathematics and physics in the design process. Bill, Dave and I have developed an approach to enable trainees studying design and technology teacher training at Cambridge to deliver CADCAM to pupils at KS3 and beyond.

The images shown on the left represent design proposals for a computer mouse and were generated on solid-modelling CAD software. CAD has become a vital element of the six-strand, total-design ethos and is part of the visual vocabulary of the students, enabling them to communicate ideas and eventually manufacture their design. These designs can be produced on a typical CNC machine in 25 minutes. The student can achieve near professional outcomes using this form of three-dimensional CADCAM. The only concern is that the manufacture of this type of product is an expensive use of a limited time resource.

An alternative strategy to achieving three-dimensional designs is to adopt an architectural style of construction.

At the University of Cambridge, teacher trainees are encouraged to follow the six-strand principles by investigating large-scale architecture to extract visual and constructional clues to produce a small-scale product design.

The buildings around London formed the basis of an investigation into high-tech architecture by a trainee teacher that inspired the design of a CD holder.

The TEP CADCAM training program at Cambridge introduces students to simple solid-modelling techniques using primitive geometric shapes that produce components from 2mm plastic sheet. A design brief invites the student to investigate architecture and create a design of a desktop storage system.

The picture below left shows a Post-it holder created in 3-D CAD using simple circles, squares and rectangles and fundamental modelling techniques to create the solid. The toolpaths that drive the CNC machine were created on a 2-D CAD system and the manufacturing time took six minutes for the complete product. This represents a significant saving in manufacturing time. This strategy offers the teacher the opportunity to introduce CADCAM at KS3 and to be confident of producing projects that can be completed within a typical design and technology lesson. The design on the far left illustrates how large-scale engineering designs such as a tower crane can influence the design of a desktop lamp. This design is an example of how the mathematical principles of forces and bending moments can be integrated into a product design.

Having tried out the system with post-graduate systems, we wanted to see if the project would work with the target age group. The Gatsby Foundation funds a project headed by Terry Phillipe to raise standards for design and technology at KS3 and KS4 in Middlesbrough Educational Action Zone (EAZ). In collaboration with Terry, I organised a four-day summer school at Ormesby School in the EAZ to introduce the architectural strategy for CADCAM to 30 students from the Middlesbrough area. The project involved making observational drawings of local architecture and developing card models of desktop storage products. The students used 2mm plastic sheet to manufacture their designs on the TEP milling machine. In just four days, Terry was able to take the group from a position of little or no prior knowledge of CADCAM to a point where each student had created a manufactured product.

Stephen Stott is CADCAM Projects Manager of the Technology Enhancement Programme Further information is available from: Stephen Stott, International Manufacturing Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL Tel: 024 7657 3994; Fax: 024 7657 3975; Email:

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