Senior Design Resources: The Machine Shop

Mark Bouley, right, sits with a UConn Engineering student during safety classes. (UConn Photo/Christopher Larosa)
Mark Bouley, right, sits with a UConn Engineering student during safety classes. (UConn Photo/Christopher Larosa)

Tucked away in the basement of Castleman is a 6,000 square-foot space filled to the brim with mills, lathes, and an industrial 3D printer.

Known to students and faculty as the “Castleman Machine Shop,” the space acts as a major resource for university research across all disciplines. But come every spring semester, the Machine Shop becomes a second home for UConn Engineering students trying to design, build, and finish their Senior Design projects.

In their fall semester, Senior Design teams will decide whether or not they need to use the Machine Shop based on their project. If so, they can send one or two group members to attend the mandatory 16-hour training class to learn the basics and safety procedures of the shop from two lifelong machinists who run the machine shop, Senior Machine Shop Engineer Peter Glaude and Mechanical Design Technician Mark Bouley.

The training is mostly an introduction to the shop’s capabilities, but safety is one of the main concerns when teaching students, Glaude said, who has worked at the Machine Shop for eight years.

After a student completes their mandatory training, they are free to come into the shop and work on their projects. Most students come in with an idea in their head, and Glaude and Bouley are there to help them make it into a comprehensive design. For Glaude and Bouley, sometimes this means telling students that their projects aren’t realistic with the time or money available.

“These students spend all fall semester designing and thinking about their project. Then they come to us in February and tell us all about what they want to make, and we have to teach them that they can’t make what they want,” Glaude said.

Eventually, students come back with tweaks to their plans and get started on their projects.

“It is a learning experience,” George Assard, Director of Engineering Technical Services, said. “Students have to figure out how to work together to make a project happen.”

Both Assard and Glaude agree that students experience a “pretty steep learning curve” when they come to the Machine Shop, but Glaude and Bouley try and teach students as much as they can in the time students have to bring their projects to life. “We like to see them learn, we don’t want to see them fail,” said Assard.

For Bouley and Glaude, their goal of making sure every student succeeds doesn’t end with the initial design process. They take students through their projects from start to finish by answering questions, teaching students more specifics on how to use machines, and sometimes even helping them make parts that they couldn’t have made on their own, Glaude said.

Still, with all of this help, March and April are crunch-times for most students preparing for Demonstration Day.

“Mark and I are running around putting out fires here and there, chasing tools, it can get kind of hectic,” Glaude said. Even in the hustle and bustle of Senior Design, Glaude and Bouley still have to keep up with other university research projects, so they always keep busy, Glaude said.

Glaude’s biggest tip for Senior Design students using the Machine Shop is to get there when the shop opens at 8 a.m., that way they get extra time and attention since the shop is usually empty until about 11 a.m. every day.

The end result of a year’s worth of work is rewarding not only for the students but for Bouley and Glaude as well.

“Students get to finally put their ideas into actual parts. That experience alone when they get done with something, and they’re just excited that they were able to go from thinking about something to having it is really neat,” Glaude said.

Glaude and Bouley always try to make sure that every student has something to present on Demonstration Day, even if it isn’t exactly what they originally planned, Glaude said.

“There is usually always an answer to a problem. We will put in some extra hours with them versus making them do all the parts themselves so at least the school has something to present,” Glaude said.

Most importantly, Assard points out that the goal of Senior Design is to learn crucial workforce skills.

“The industry is looking for people who can work together as a team in a time frame and budget to finish a project,” Assard said. “This is what they’re going to do in the outside world.”