PENDLETON — Tri-County Technical College General Engineering Technology (GET) Program Coordinator Dorian McIntire believes the best way to spotlight a curriculum is to show prospective students what they could be learning about and designing in classrooms and labs.
Last semester students in his senior Hydraulics and Pneumatics class explored pneumatics and PLCs (Programmable Logic Controllers) by building a six-legged walking machine (Hexapod) powered by pneumatics and controlled by a PLC.
“Multi-disciplinary projects like this one are an ideal way to teach and engage students while solving complex system integration problems,” said McIntire.
“It serves as an interesting application for pneumatics. In the past, students only have used trainers they built, but trainers only go so far and aren’t as fun and challenging as building complex, multi-disciplinary machines, like a Hexapod, that walks and is controlled by a PLC. It’s a real-world application of pneumatics that is interesting and fun,” he said. “Also, being able to show prospective students what they will do and learn in the GET program is worth a thousand words.”
Initially the class built the Hexapod as a senior project and later decided it would serve as a permanent mascot for the program.
McIntire took it one step further. He posted a video on You Tube of the students testing their creation. He sent the link to Automation Direct, an automation distributor in Cumming, Ga., the online industrial supplier of the materials.
The distributor was so impressed by the project that they offered to donate parts to build another unit to be used for public outreach via photographs on the company’s website. The next version of the Hexapod is more sophisticated. It has an aluminum tubing body to give it more capability to maneuver and act more lifelike.
“Students added sensors to the Hexapod so it can interact with the environment (avoid obstacles),” he said. “We put the name of the distributor on the Hexapod and will be able to keep it in our program as a marketing tool.”
The company also requested that the GET students to help them create a pneumatics solution and project manual. Students are assisting in writing a booklet on pneumatics that will be available to the donor company’s customers. This application manual for pneumatics will give students some experience in writing a technical manual.
The GET program regularly uses projects like this to facilitate learning in the program, said McIntire.
“Students learned a lot about pneumatic principles and produced a great marketing tool for the GET program,” said McIntire, who says he expected good work from the students but admits he was beyond impressed with the final product. “The students really surprise you sometimes. I was floored by the caliber of the final product.”