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[Engineering] One small step to engineering

Lately, I've been self-studying a decent amount of undergraduate physics, thanks to MIT OCW and ex-professor Walter Lewin. However, while I have a decent grasp of basic mechanics, electromagnetism, and thermodynamics, I have always found myself somewhat distant from conversations of physics manias about the applications of such knowledge in real life. I, too, thought that it was quite ironic to possess more than enough knowledge to create many electronic devices, yet have no experience of building a basic electronic gadget like a refrigerator or a mini speaker.

Hence, (I began to use this word a lot recently because I've been doing lots of report writing) I decided to visit a makerspace near me do gain some hands-on experience of engineering and applying my knowledge of physics.

When I opened the door, I knew that I would love the place from first glance. Ever since I was young, I had a strange obsession with machines, and the place was literally filled with machines that I haven't ever seen before.

An engineer at the makerspace provided me with some safety education, as machines designed to cut stainless steel could clearly cut my fingers as well! In fact, one of the reasons why I was hesitant to begin using these tools was because I had no knowledge of safety, and I was actually scared that I might cut my fingers off. In fact, the engineer at the makerspace already had one of his fingers cut off, and he told me that I should pay careful attention or the same could happen anytime.

After conversing with him about some physics and my career plans, we went right into making my first work from steel. I am a person that is extremely enthusiastic about making things, and the engineer seemed to be content as well at my exuberance.

Since it was my first time, I made something very cute (the one in the left). I was given a large board and a rod of steel. My first task was to put the large board tight in a clamp, and use a saw to cut it into a 50*50 mm square. I was handed a vernier calliper, which I had seen it in real life for the first time. I also was given a gadget that I cannot remember its name, but was used to mark the length on the raw material. I do have a picture of me using it, so please leave a comment if anyone knows what it is.

I was also handed what was called a "hacksaw," which looked very intimidating and likely to cut my fingers off if I were uncautious. But regardless of how it looked, it was oddly satisfying and fun to cut metal using it. After miserably failing to cut the board without any cutting oil, I learned the importance of cutting oil.

After cutting the metal plate with a hacksaw, I used machining to smoothen the surface and calibrate the massive error that my incompetent sawing had made.

I was introduced to three types of new machines: drilling, turning, and milling.

(Diagram of each type below)

Turning, the one on the right, is when the work piece is rotated at an extremely high speed while the turning tool stays where it is. As the name suggests, the work piece is turned against the sharp turning tool, which would result in the work

piece being cut in a circular way. (Think of a rotating body in calculus)

The second tool is milling, where the workpiece is kept where it is, but the tool rotates instead. The tool is rotated at an extremely high speed, so when the tool chips away the work piece. During turning and milling, it is pivotal that you do not chip away too much or too fast.

The final tool is drilling, which the name is self-explanatory. However, a difference with a hand drill would be that these are much more accurate. Also, drilling tools have a wide variety of tips, which means that you can change the bit to chip the sides of a hole as well.

So here, I am using a milling machine to amend for my terrible sawing skills. The one that I am holding with my right hand moves the plate in the forward direction. I first move the plate in the up-down and left-right direction to chip away suitable amounts, and then I slowly move it forwards-backwards.

One thing I learned is that based on how fast or how slow I move the steel around, it would have different "waves" on the plane that it has just been cut, just like a Japanese traditional sword.

I finally got the final outcome! My first, small, step into engineering was very fun and oddly satisfying. I feel that I have found the right path.

But what is more remarkable, (as I am writing this post a couple of days after visiting the makerspace) is that my way of seeing the world has just entirely changed after learning this. Milling, drilling, and turning are just sufficient to make everything that exists in this world, only if we are given a suitably robust machine! When I see a plate of metal used in a motorcycle's engine or the bearing stuck into a motorcycle's wheel, how the shape was made comes into my mind. When I see "wave" shapes on the surface of a metal column of a road sign, I now can infer whether the person making the column quickly or slowly spun the turning machine. It was truly amazing how the world just seemed different after this single session.

P.S. That object above, while it looks very straightforward, took around an hour to make. Now I get why people called the 3D printer a groundbreaking innovation when it was first invented.


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