Machine shop: the ultimate tour destination

In the lab during research, I hear at least two tours going by every day. The guides especially like to point at all the research posters outside professors’ offices and show all of us working in the labs. If you’ve taken a tour this summer, trust what they say because it’s all true. Mudd only has undergraduates, so all research positions go to us. The posters are all from research done over the summer, during the semester, or from Clinic. Every year Harvey Mudd students earn patents for their work, publish a paper with their professor, and/or attend a conference (sometimes as the only undergraduate team).

Unfortunately, during the summer not all the facilities are open/accessible for viewing during the tour. This includes the machine shop, which is my favorite place to visit for a tour. Only student shop proctors and some staff have card swipe access to the shop rooms and there are no regular shop hours during the summer.

To make up for that, here is a blog post about the machine shop, a source of much excitement for our visitors as well as us Mudders. We have 4 student shops, and you can use 3 of these starting your first semester of freshman year. The other one is used during E80, or Experimental Engineering (better known as our rocket science course).

Machine shop with lathes and mills (image from the E8 Harvey Mudd web site)

Once you pass the mandatory safety quiz and go through some training with the shop proctors (all students, not staff), you can use any of the machines during any of the shop hours. We have a sheet metal shop, wood shop, and just a general shop with 3 lathes, 2 mills, 1 CNC mill and 1 CNC lathe.

Most of the time freshmen go through shop training for either/both of the following courses: E11 (Autonomous Vehicles) and E4 (Intro to Engineering Design & Manufacturing). E11 is offered during the fall to only freshmen, and you learn some coding, robotics, and machining to build your own autonomous vehicle. E4 is the first required course in the engineering core, and I took it during the past spring semester.

In E4, you complete team design projects, one of which is a project assigned to you by an external client. Three friends and I worked on improving a mixer for 21 Choices, a frozen yogurt store with branches in Pasadena and Claremont. This machine mixes hard pack frozen yogurt and any ingredient ranging from Snickers and Reese’s Pieces to strawberries and sprinkles. At the end it produces a customized frozen yogurt flavor. My team and I decided to focus on the lever system that controls the spinning auger, which mixes the ingredients together. We spent quite a few weekends and late nights working away in the machine shop to create a very rough prototype to send to our client at the end of the semester. We also give a presentation to other teams working on the same project as well as our professors, and prepare a CD with a 3-D model of our prototype and our final report for the client. And hopefully 21 Choices has benefited from our recommendations! (I also wrote earlier in the semester about this project component about E4. If you have other questions, my e-mail is at the end of every post I write!)

Our prototype that acts as a proof of concept, for our suggestions for replacing the current lever system on the 21 Choices yogurt mixer.

In addition to the design projects, we have E4 lab. This is where we receive training for the machine shop, learn a bit of Solidworks (3D design software), and how to read diagrams & tolerance measurements of different parts. E4 lab culminates in the creation of the famous hammer. Over the course of 6 weeks known as the hammer season, we headed down to the machine shop to work on our hammer head, handle, and faces. This is something all Mudd engineers, past and current, can talk about – everyone who has graduated with a Harvey Mudd bachelor’s degree in general engineering owns/owned a hand-crafted hammer.

My hammer! 🙂

You can also complete two extra credit assignments – the sheet metal tool tray and the screwdriver. I didn’t complete the tool tray, but I had a ton of fun making the screwdriver. I got to work with different kinds of equipment and tools on the mill and the lathe, as well as clear acrylic for the handle.


My screwdriver – surprisingly didn’t take too long to make!

I show prospective students the machine shop because it connects to some unique characteristics of Harvey Mudd. Firstly, the shop reflects our honor code. The shop is more or less student run – the school hires student shop proctors, trains them in the beginning of the year, and assigns head proctors who oversee the management of the shop. You can work in the shop whenever there is a shop proctor there, and I myself have asked my upperclassmen friends to open up the shop past regular hours so I could clock in extra hours for my hammer.

Second, the shop shows how hands on our assignments tends to be and the benefits of that kind of work. Before coming to Mudd, I had no background in machining, engineering software, or the design process. However, I received exposure to engineering work early in my college career. Through E4 I gained personal experience in making my own prototype, collaborating with my team, and working with clients, and not so much of the theoretical aspects of engineering design that I had expected. The practical nature of this class provided me with much more realistic expectations of what a major and possibly a career in this field could look and feel like.

Last, but not least, I show the machine shop because…well, who doesn’t think making your own hammer and screwdriver is the most awesome thing ever?

( for comments, questions, suggestions)