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Practical Gift Injects New Power into Engineering Machine Shop

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Practical Gift Injects New Power into Engineering Machine Shop

April 24, 2015
Manufacturer's gift of unused tooling valued at $200,000 bolsters creative capabilities of University of Arizona students.

Thanks to a donation of machining tools from Sturm, Ruger & Co., University of Arizona College of Engineering students are designing and building more finely tuned projects.

Engineering senior Rolland Prempeh perfects a component for his senior design project on a mill in the AME machine shop.

“I am so glad to hear about this donation,” said aerospace engineering student Rolland Prempeh. “The machine shop is the heartbeat of our department. Everyone comes down to the shop to work on projects and learn from the staff.”

The firearms manufacturer gave $200,000 worth of unused surplus machining tools from its factory in Prescott, Arizona, to the UA Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Instrument Shop, a vital training ground for UA Engineering students.

“We get about 200 undergraduate students working in the AME machine shop each year. That’s a lot of people -- most of them inexperienced -- working with tools that can be used only a certain number of times before they get dull, lose their precision and break apart,” said shop manager Joe Hartley, who earned a BS in mechanical engineering at the University in 1992 and worked as an engineer at Johns Mansville and Boeing before joining the shop nearly seven years ago.

“This new donation has increased the dollar value of our tooling tenfold and will extend our tooling capacity for several years. We are grateful for this most practical contribution to student learning.”

Small Tools, Immense Value

In late December, shop staff member Lane Hammond, a longtime machinist with extensive design experience, drove a truck from Tucson to Mesa, Arizona, where a Ruger representative met him halfway down from Prescott with the donation: 140 varieties of tools filling eight boxes and weighing nearly 200 pounds. The items include drilling and cutting instruments of varying shapes, sizes and coatings for use in the machine shop’s manual and CNC, or Computer Numerical Control, milling machines.

The tooling, commonly used in industry, ranges from cobalt, jobber and taper drill bits costing less than a dollar apiece to a variety of carbide coolant-through drill bits, some valued as high as $300. Other valuable items include specially coated end mills and reamers. Hartley is hoping that the few items too advanced for existing equipment will become useful when the shop can acquire new CNC mills and upgraded attachments.

Senior Design Project Central

Most UA Engineering students know the AME machine shop as the place they build their projects for the College’s required Senior Design program, which culminates in Engineering Design Day. This year, the big day is May 5.

In mid-April, tables and benches in the shop were strewn with calipers and hammers; pieces of foam, plastic and aluminum; and air nozzles, batteries and generators. Power cords descended from strategic ceiling locations, and boxes of design project components were piled high against the walls.

The clatter of milling machines filled the air. Sawdust was everywhere. It was down to the wire.

Seniors like Prempeh, who is working on a Sensintel-sponsored autonomous aircraft, spent the fall semester using computer-aided design, or CAD, and graphical user interface software programs to design their projects. This spring, they are using the new tooling to drill, slice, shave, etch and put the finishing touches on their projects.

With financial support and mentorship from industry and faculty, teams of students design and build sponsor-driven models and prototypes. The students are responsible for purchasing all project materials, including the necessary tooling. The AME machine shop provides services, equipment and materials at minimal cost.

“When I contacted outside machine shops to produce carbon filter ducts for our project, they quoted several thousand dollars,” said Kyle Smith, who is working on the Honeywell-sponsored “Firebird UAV,” a drone to advance firefighting capability and safety. “With help from the AME machine shop, we were able to make the ducts for just a couple hundred dollars.”

Vital Training Ground and Research Support

The AME machine shop is open to all UA undergraduate or graduate students who have completed the required shop course Hartley teaches, covering manual mill and lathe, CNC programming and machining, metal cutting and shop safety.

“Even if they never go into manufacturing, all engineering students should know the fundamentals of design and manufacturing and how things work,” Hartley said. “For many students, the AME machine shop is the only place they get this knowledge first-hand. If you really want to get to the nuts and bolts of engineering, this is where it happens.”

In addition to seniors working on their design projects, others who depend on the shop include the College’s design-and-build clubs, such as the UA Baja racing and Formula racing clubs, and student and faculty researchers.

Gateway to the Work World

Hartley, Hammond and Dale Drew, who has been with the shop for nearly 30 years and handles the projects requiring the most intricate and delicate craftsmanship, are all committed to preparing students for rewarding careers and matching employers with job-ready students.

“When an engineer, often a former student of ours, says they’re looking for someone to help with a particular project, we refer the right student,” Hartley said.

For information about AME machine shop services and working at or contributing to the shop, email Joe Hartley at or call 520.621.2598.

Photos by Lauren Jacobsen.