Technological Literacy and Computer Control

The worlds of Design and Manufacture are changing. Where designers used to ‘just’ design, and have someone else create anything other than foam or balsa models, Technology has forever changed this. Computer Aided Manufacture is where an object is created on a machine connected to a computer. A representation of the design is created on the computer, and commands are sent to the machine, telling it where to remove unwanted material, or drill holes. Industrial level machines are used in almost all forms of manufacture, from car parts and assembly at Holden or Mitsubishi, through to cabinet manufacture, and moulds for creating injection moulded ice-cream containers. For all but the smallest companies, and applications other than just prototyping, the per-unit savings in cost, materials and time quickly overwhelm the significant cost of the machines. A machine for turning wood into cabinet parts can cost upwards of $250,000, but is capable of producing one part every few minutes - all identical, and with no errors. Technological Literacy is having an understanding of modern technologies, and being able to articulate the various costs and benefits of such systems. In short, having and idea of the skills involved, having some experience using the systems, and hopefully being able to transfer the skills from one system to anther. With the acquisition of a small CNC (Computer Numerical Controlled) milling machine, schools will be able to develop these technological literacies, vital as they are for modern design and manufacturing, to a high standard. The particular machines we are looking at, while much smaller than those used by industry, offer significant similarities to them. For example: currently students use a low technology method of creating electronic printed circuit boards. They trace a design onto a copper board, and place the product in a chemical that removes unwanted copper. Designs are slow to create, and errors usually result in starting again. With a CNC mill, students will create their own design using computer tools, and the machine will remove all of the unwanted copper. Errors in the design phase result in just a redesign of the board - the computer itself does not make errors in the milling process. Having a machine remove the copper also alleviates the problems in that area in working with nasty chemicals and the fumes they create. Similarly, students studying CAD (Computer Aided Design) already develop skills in creating 3D virtual representations of real objects, and those of their own design. What they lack is the opportunity to create a ‘real’ version of these objects. Their creativity is limited by their skills. In many cases, students in Year 9 are able to design an object that would require the skills of a master craftsman to create to any accuracy. With the inclusion of CAM in a curriculum, we can more accurately model industry. Graduates will have a solid understanding of how articles are manufactured in today’s world, rather than just a limited set of skills. This will open up a whole new variety of career paths and career ideas other than those the students already have. The world of work is forever changing. We need to change to keep up with it, and suitably prepare our students in terms of technological literacy.

Technological Literacy Series

One thing I wrote about a year ago in an attempt to get some funding for a new piece of machinery for my classroom, entitled Technological Literacy and Computer Control, is now available on my website. I’ve put it in at the date I originally wrote it, which means it never made the front page, hence the reason for this post. And, I may write some others in the same vein about other topics related to Technological Literacy. May.