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Like the School in which it's housed, the MIME Machining and Product Realization Laboratory (MPRL) has two overarching goals: to educate engineering students, and to support and facilitate research. And under the visionary oversight of MPRL manager Brian Jensen – and before him, of the late Steve Adams – the facility does an outstanding job of fulfilling both commitments.
In its instructional capacity, the MPRL plays a central role in MIME students’ hands-on education, arguably providing the singlemost important programmatic contribution to their preparation as truly work-ready graduates.
“Learning how to use the lab and its equipment is an integral part of our undergraduate curriculum,” says MIME interim school head Rob Stone. “Certification in safe and proper use of the equipment is a prerequisite for our junior year Introduction to Design class, so by the time they start pro-school, all of our mechanical and manufacturing engineering majors, and quite a few of our IEs as well, know how to use the equipment in here.
“And that’s a good thing,” muses Jensen, “because for many of our students working their way through our programs, the MPRL comes to feel a lot like a second home as they use the facility for completing assignment after assignment during their junior and senior years, not to mention the work they’re doing as members of the Formula, Baja, robotics, AIAA, solar car and other engineering teams and the designing, manufacturing and testing they do in the course of completing their capstone design projects.”
Machining labs are a staple of most top-echelon engineering programs, but compared to its counterparts at other institutions, what sets the MPRL apart is its extraordinarily high level of student access. In addition to its regular 40-hour-a-week operations, the MPRL offers extended hours to students whenever the need arises, most typically as terms wind down and class projects become due. Any student (or faculty member, for that matter) who has completed the requisite certification is welcome and encouraged to use the MPRL for their projects.
And whenever the MPRL doors are open, lab staff make a point of being on hand for consultation and assistance.
“Lab staff members are almost always available to train students on new lab equipment and are always eager to help out if problems arise,” concurred ME master’s student Sean Kirkpatrick, who has been using the facilities since his undergraduate days at OSU and is now working in the lab as a graduate teaching assistant. “Without their hands-on coaching, I wouldn’t have been able to learn from the many mistakes I’ve made along the way I’ve made along the way with the lab equipment.”
Kirkpatrick, whose engineering interests are focused on the thermal–fluid sciences, is only one of many MIME students who have found employment in the lab over the years. In fact, the majority of MPRL staff members comprise GRAs, GTAs, and undergraduate assistants. These students are gaining not only expertise in lab equipment use but also invaluable opportunities to witness – and emulate – the mentoring and collaborative practices for which OSU faculty are so widely renowned.
Along with a host of other machining devices, the MPRL is equipped with a wide range of CNC machines, allowing fabrication of items ranging from micro-scale devices to transmission housings for the SAE vehicles. In addition, several fused deposition modeling machines allow researchers to quickly prototype new conceptual designs.
Which brings us to the lab's second function: supporting university-wide research.
Along with their teaching roles, MPRL staff are frequently commissioned to design and fabricate custom parts and components needed by faculty and graduate researchers throughout OSU, including not only engineers but also chemists, oceanic scientists, agriculturalists, health and human performance specialists, and more. This work is an important source of funding that helps keep the facility in operation; and, as Jensen noted, the lab has a campus-wide reputation for producing superior products at competitive prices. Recent commissions have included titanium instrument flanges for vessels use to collect ocean water data, fixtures for material property and fatigue testing, masks used for vacuum deposition processes, and custom fixtures for measuring radiation levels of materials in a vacuum chamber for chemistry.
“The Machining and Product Realization Lab has helped me by creating fixtures which allow me to conduct testing in special configurations and environments,” said Steven Naleway, a master’s student in the university’s interdisciplinary Materials Science program. Naleway, who has worked with ME associate professor Jamie Kruzic on numerous material science research projects, has been a return customer of the MPRLs prototyping services for several years. “Without the machining lab I would have had to either outsource the construction of fixtures (likely at a greater cost), or outsource the testing itself.”
In 2008, an MPRL expansion spearheaded by Adams more than tripled the lab's size and numbers of lathes, mills, and other equipment holdings in order to continue the growing numbers of MIME students in basic manufacturing skills. But with record-breaking increases in student enrollment and university research activity over the past five years, there is a now a strong need for further lab expansion, and fundraising efforts for another round of facilities upgrades are currently underway.
The planned space and equipment upgrades not only will better serve MIME students; they will also expand the range of prototyping services available to OSU researchers. If you are interested in supporting this renovation project, please consider making a gift to the MIME Excellence Fund.