Product Setup & Summary
My final product focused on designing and 3D printing an exoskeleton for a space mission to Mars. Space activity suits are skin tight preventing astronauts from being able to carry life support systems and other necessities. The exoskeleton would allow the astronaut to carry the extra weight of the PLSS, liquid cooling and ventilation device, and the hardware to fabric connections. I needed to create an exoskeleton strong enough to bear this load.
UNT Material Science Lab - 3/31
Visit Frisco Public Library - 4/24
Working with Siemens interns - 05/14
Visit Grapevine Public Library - 05/23
Description of Process
I reached out to my mentor and we began brainstorming how to approach designing the exoskeleton. We discussed the engineering design method and started there. In order to create the exoskeleton, I needed to approach my final product in two separate steps. First, I needed to decide upon the best material for the construction of the exoskeleton. Second, I need to use design software to actually create the blueprint, which I then send to a 3D printer.
To decide on the “best” material, I needed to create a requirement list and then compare different potential materials to the requirements. I decided to use a design matrix to remove human emotion and bias from the decision. In order to find a good variety of potential materials, I reached out the the UNT Material Science Department for ideas. After this visit, I looked into other private exoskeleton companies and the materials they use. Then I looked into public sources (NASA) to cover my bases. To make sure I didn’t overlook useful metals, alloys, composites, I did research on my own. After running the different materials through the matrix, chromoly and MIT 3D graphene were my two final materials. Since the 3D graphene is very new, it isn’t reliable enough to trust the lives of astronauts.
The next step is to approach designing. I have no experience in design engineering and I needed to get some help from a professional and learn some on my own. My mentor and I reached out to many different design engineers and finally two interns from Siemens obliged. They recommended I use Solid Edge to design the exoskeleton. They helped me create the intricate parts such as the screws and springs, but I created the larger parts of the exoskeleton. Designing itself was fairly straight forward; however, assembly was extremely time consuming. After assembling all the different pieces, the next part was to resize the assembly so it would fit within the 3D printer limits. I needed to figure out the scale factor to resize. Since the 3D printer is fairly small, I decided to divide the exoskeleton into three separate parts. Dividing an assembly had to have been the most tedious part of the final product. There were many software failures, so this took a long time.
To 3D print, I visited the Frisco Public Library and talked to them. Unfortunately, the Frisco Public Library has over a week long backlog. However, after talking to the 3D technician, she recommended trying the Grapevine Public Library. Grapevine has multiple printers and the printers are larger. After talking to Paul Duesterheft, he rushed the print job.
Utilization of Higher Thinking Skills
For my final product, I created an exoskeleton. This means that I synthesized my previous knowledge from my original work and applied it to compose my own design. Initially, I observed different composites and alloys through research. Then I evaluated these materials against the requirements I produced to decide upon the final material. For the design aspect, I had to learn a new type of engineering and how to use software. I applied this knowledge to innovate my exoskeleton. Then to finally create a model, I used 3D printing software to create a visual record of my research and innovation.
The tangible result of my final product is my exoskeleton design blueprint that I created and my 3D model. This is the physical representation of all the knowledge and experience I have gained throughout this year, especially second semester.
I learned a tremendous amount about material science and important field related to engineering. An important role of engineers is to improve upon current technology or trouble shoot problems by trying alternate solutions. Material science is very valuable for this exact reason and I am armed with more experience in this field going into the future.
The most important aspect, however, is design engineering. This is its own subsect of engineering and learning how to use design software sets me up for the future, especially college. Learning how to even tamper with design software makes my future slightly easier since every engineer must take at least one course in design engineering. This valuable experience provided me insight into what a future in engineering would entail.
The largest lesson learned would be problem solving. I have continuously used problem solving skills this school year, but this project required knowledge, innovation, and patience of a whole new caliber. Numerous software failure, unexpected computer updates, stubborn technology, and my lack of design experience plagued the project. This forced me to become smart with my time and try many different methods to approach each individual problem, which was tiring, but very stimulating. This lesson in trouble shooting is a very needed one for the engineering field and I am glad that my final product experience took place how it did because it allowed me to grow my skill set and become more prepared for a future in engineering.
The exoskeleton has applications in numerous fields. I designed the exoskeleton as additional support for a Martian space suit, but the possibilities are endless. My exoskeleton can be used in occupational therapy, the military, and athletic events. The exoskeleton can be applied to anything that requires strength and load bearing capabilities.
This product taught me important lessons and aspects of engineering. My final product served to benefit my own personal learning and growth more than anything else. This product and the journey that went along with it focused on me applying past knowledge to present problems and trying my hand at a large variety of different engineering subsectors. This has allowed me to learn more about engineering as a whole and my place in it. It has also provided me with valuable experience doing engineering in real life, giving me important experience outside of a strict learning environment, instead allowing me to learn through experimentation and physically working on a project rather than theory.