Today’s students are the innovators of tomorrow.
In this article we summarize the month-long summer internship program (July 2022) that we offered to have two high school students understand the nuances of engineering by working on a project that was current, interesting, and challenging @mHUB. This enabled them to work alongside with other startups in a collaborative environment that fostered learning, intellectual growth, and hands on expertise in hardtech engineering. mHUB is the largest innovation center in North America and located in the heart of Chicago. It is a place that makes innovation and hardtech happen – where start-ups collaborate with experts, academia, and investors to bring to focus smart engineering in the new paradigm for a forever connected world.
When Estelle Reardon from StandOut Search, a platform funded by the University of Chicago that helps Illinois high school students find internships and volunteering opportunities, reached out to us defining a unique internship program we decided to participate in it. Standout Search is currently being acquired by a Techstars Chicago company, Slingshot Ahead, that matches startups with teenage computer science prodigies. Albert Ji, a 11th grader who was mentored by the program teamed up with Nikhil Uchil, a 10th grader to work with our team during their summer break to be part of our Summer Internship Program at Numorpho Cybernetic Systems.
We thank Scott McGowan in particular who helped mentor the interns in our weekly stand-up calls on the basis for manufacturing and how to effectively communicate. We would also like to thank mHUB for providing us with the basis for this program – Mark O’Conner, Jerries Azar, John Welin and Josunda Bradshaw in particular for having helped them with onboarding, and Alex Lambert for giving them a crash course on investors and VCs (have you seen the show Shark Tank?). Donato Ceres, Tyler Grudowski, Zack Zlevor, Constantine Bovalis, Jose Cardona, Sybil Berry, Kat Seale, Alex Ocampo, Nana Akorful and other members of mHUB also provided their perspectives and a holistic view towards research, engineering and innovation.
We designed our program to give students an understanding of the innovation ecosystem, ideas for product development, and an opportunity to work with a team of entrepreneurs and engineers to turn an idea into a functioning prototype. We focused it on helping them understanding engineering concepts, design thinking and collaborating on learning the nuances of design, engineering, and time management.
Our goal for this program was for the students to learn:
- Why make a product,
- What it entails to make it, and
- How to think about problems you might encounter, and how to solve them
by working as a team.
We also wanted to ground the students on the tenets of engineering, how the sciences and math play a big part in understanding the known-knowns, how engineering is now morphing into a multi-disciplinary field, and even tackling some of the unknowns.
Utilizing the James Web Space Telescope (JWST) as the backdrop for the project, we divided the course into two aspects – understanding the scientist’s perspective of enabling the complete build activity of the JWST and replicating the design and some of its complexity by utilizing 3D printing and other Additive Manufacturing capabilities.
We broke the program into two streams: Development and Management. Development dealt with the usage of tools and hands on work, and management showed them how to make data work by working on different digital assets – file versioning, metrology (the science of measurement), and the creation of a lexicon to manage engineering vocabulary.
WHAT IS ENGINEERING?
The intention here was to provide the students with a basis for understanding engineering fundamentals:
Engineering is the appropriate application of science and math to build products. While the sciences (physics, chemistry, and biology) provide the basis for the understanding, mathematics provides the detailing behind the creation of products.
Whereas science and math can be abstract, pure, and theoretical, engineering takes a more practical approach by accounting for variables and conditions with a box. It utilizes science and math in an “applied basis” to come up with solutions to day-to-day problems. In other words, engineering is all about solving problems, being aware of and affected by factors that can cause problems and being able to work with a wide range of materials and parts.
The goal of engineering is to build products that are successful and efficient. Engineering is not only about understanding something, but it is also about creating something. As a student in engineering, you are able to utilize your knowledge and skills in order to create something new. Engineering is not only about the product you build, but it is also about your journey into and out of the product. Engineering is about taking things and turning them into something new.
Engineering has a wide range of applications and is not limited to the production of physical goods. It can be used to develop computer systems, software, medical devices, and treatments, among other things. The term engineering comes from the Latin word ingenium, meaning “cleverness” or “skill.” It is a broad field that encompasses many different specialties or disciples: mechanical, electrical, chemical, civil, and environmental engineering. There are also subdisciplines, such as aerospace, computer, metallurgy, materials science, and biomedical engineering.
More recently, engineering is a cross-disciplinary endeavor comprising of:
Soft-tech – The application of software engineering to enable product and program management. This would be the use of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) tools, Cloud provisioning and software development tools to build an agile methodology to map, manage and version control progression of master data, product variants and developmental activities. More recently AI/ML based articulations enable activities to be intelligently actioned using trained Neural networks.
Hi-tech – The utilization of engineering simulation to validate products before they are built. Computer Aided Design (CAD), Computer Aided Engineering (CAE), and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) tools enable the design, engineering, and proof for production. AR/VR tools of late are gaining popularity especially as we progress into the realms of the Metaverse where the physical-digital mélange will define a new concept for living. Parametric and Generative design are offshoots that got created due to this that are gaining a lot of attention in the Additive Manufacturing field.
Hard-tech – The judicious use of mechanisms and electronic componentry to build physical products. Tenets of 3D printing and Additive Manufacturing are already changing the traditional way of manufacturing, enabling flexibility, customization, and re-shore production capabilities. Innovation centers like mHUB are dedicated to providing support and training, resources, talent and mentoring to enable startups innovate in hard-tech engineering.
Deep-tech – The research and use of emerging technologies like genetic engineering, quantum mechanics and nanotechnology to ideate and iterate on future solutions. For example, the use of nanotubes and graphene for battery technology will be a game changer. Quantum Computers are already making inroads in solving some problems that are impossible for traditional computers to handle. Argonne National Lab’s innovation arm, the Chain Reaction Innovators enable startups with advice, labs, equipment and grants to research on the different fields of deep tech.
Reverse engineering is the process of redesigning a product or a part when the original basis for the creation does not exist. In order to do this, engineers take apart the product and analyze its individual components in order to understand how it works. They then use this information to create a new product or part that functions in the same way.
HOW TO MAKE DATA WORK?
An understanding of data management principles – the yin-yang relationship between Data Science and Information Technology is very important to make sense of data and enabling it to be actionable for the functioning of engineering activities. Data Science is about making sense of the data, and Information Technology is about its acquisition, ingestion, storage, analysis techniques and rendering.
Albeit data is becoming the new currency, it is important to distinguish between Smart data and Big Data when it comes to dealing with volume, velocity, variety, and verity to appropriately determine how and where it could be used. Correlation does not necessarily cause the correct effects and AI models need to understand the question focused-ness (the reliability factor) of data before extensively training the model to solve problems.
We discussed the DIKIW principle to contextualize data with the following example:
Data = 90
Information = 90 degrees F
Knowledge = 90 degrees F and it is hot
Intelligence = 90 degrees F and it is hot. Therefore, I need to hydrate myself frequently.
Wisdom = When it is 90 degrees F and hot, and I need to hydrate myself frequently, I must carry water bottles with me.
During World War II, fighter planes would come back from battle with bullet holes. The Allies initially sought to strengthen the most commonly damaged parts of the planes to increase combat survivability. A mathematician, Abraham Wald, pointed out that perhaps the reason certain areas of the planes weren’t covered in bullet holes was that planes that were shot in certain critical areas did not return. This insight led to the armor being re-enforced on the parts of returning planes where there were no bullet holes. This wisdom was also beneficially applied to the Skyraider during the Korean War.
This shows that the reasons why we are missing certain data may be more meaningful than the available data, itself. In questions of aircraft design, don’t only listen to what the evidence says, listen also to what is not being said.
A recent method of making data actionable is by using Artificial Intelligence. AI/ML comprise of trained networks that understand certain properties of data – patterns, outliers, and correlation, and utilize this to predict behavior of input conditions. Data needed for training such networks need to be cleansed and validated so that the outcomes do not lead to disastrous consequences. There are edge cases where failures do occur, and these could be catastrophic thus leading to what is called “brittle AI”. One of the goals of Numorpho is to reduce brittleness in AI by instituting contextual and evolutionary basis to the actionability and also utilizing physmatics, a blend of science and mathematics that would then be used to multi-modally orchestrate intelligence.
TACKLING THE ALPHABET SOUP
Terms and Acronyms are part of the jargon that is engineering, and it is imperative as a beginner (or even as an accomplished personnel) to understand what they mean so that it is part of the vocabulary. In this exercise we wanted the inters to stop and contemplate and even search on the appropriate full form of the acronym or term and catalog it in a table form initially in word, then in a sortable excel sheet and eventually in a relational database schema.
We then instituted this into our Everything Connected book of business as the first section defining these terms in a Lexicon so that it could be referenced throughout the reading of the materials for context and additional information. We will be publishing this subsequently in our series on Everything Connected.
Prior to entering the shop and getting physically involved in making, it is mandated that everyone gets trained in the tools that they use. mHUB has instituted a portal that certifies that the individual has undergone the proper training and safety procedures before allowing them access to the tool/machine. This is important because it provides a sense of safety to all individuals working in the shop. There are a wide variety of tools in the shop, and the individual can only access the tools that they are certified to use.
There are many different ways to make things. The way a product is made is just as important as what the product actually is. With the help of technology, there are endless possibilities for how a product can be made. The products that are made at mHUB are made using a variety of techniques, including:
- CNC Machining – CNC machining is a process that uses computer numerical control to operate machine tools. This means that a machine is operated by a computer program. The program is written in a specific code that tells the machine what to do. CNC machining is used to create parts from a variety of materials, including metals, plastics, and composites.
- 3D Printing – 3D printing is a process of making a three-dimensional object from a digital file. The object is created by adding layers of material, one on top of the other, until the object is complete. 3D printing can be used to create parts from a variety of materials, including metals, plastics, and composites.
- Injection Molding – Injection molding is a process of making a three-dimensional object from a plastic material. The plastic material is melted and injected into a mold. The mold is then cooled, and the plastic material is solidified. The mold is then opened, and the object is removed. Injection molding is used to create parts from a variety of materials, including metals, plastics, and composites.
- Laser Cutting – Laser cutting is a process of cutting a material using a laser. The laser is directed at the material, and the material is vaporized by the laser. Laser cutting is used to create parts from a variety of materials, including metals, plastics, and composites.
- Welding – Welding is a process of joining two pieces of metal together. The metal is melted and joined together. Welding is used to create parts from a variety of materials, including metals, plastics, and composites.
- Carpentry/Woodwork – It involves working with wood and other materials to create things like furniture and buildings. Carpenters use tools like saws, hammers, and chisels to cut and shape wood. They also use nails and screws to join wood together.
Born not Built is our philosophy at Numorpho Cybernetic Systems to accomplish Additive Manufacturing techniques and new engineering. To this end our internship program mainly concentrated on making parts using 3D printing and this was the basis for the 4-week internship program.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST or Webb) is the next great space science observatory following Hubble designed to answer outstanding questions about the Universe and to make breakthrough discoveries in all fields of astronomy. It will see farther into our origins: from the formation of stars and planets to the birth of the first galaxies in the early Universe.
We used the JWST as the backdrop to enable our interns to understand the management, science and engineering that went to building it. It was also appropriate and timely in the sense that it was just deployed and has begun sending these amazing photographs of our universe in a detail that was previously unfathomable. “JWST will be a game changer in the exploration of our universe. It will lead to so many technological revolutions and revelations that will excite your generation and generations to come.” said Nitin Uchil in explaining to the interns why we chose it to be the basis for the internship.
1. THE WHY? – One of the main components of NASA’s vision for the future of space exploration will actually have a keen eye for the past. JWST will be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope and will be able to observe objects in the Universe that are even further away and even older than what Hubble can see. JWST will also be able to see objects that are too dim for Hubble to observe. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a powerful tool that will enable scientists to study the universe in unprecedented detail. JWST will allow us to see the first stars and galaxies that formed in the early universe, and to study the atmospheres of exoplanets in detail. JWST will also allow us to study the formation and evolution of galaxies, and to search for evidence of life on other worlds. The reason why we chose the JWST for this internship project was because of its scientific scope, engineering complexity and collaborative effort that needed to conjoin together to define, design, build, and deploy the solution.
2. THE WHAT? The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a large, infrared-optimized space telescope that was launched into orbit in 2021. Here are the different components of the JWST:
- Primary Mirror – It consists of 18 motor-driven hexagonal segments made of gold-plated beryllium., each of which must be meticulously aligned so they can focus as one.
- Secondary Mirror – It is the secondary surface the light from the cosmos hits on its route to the telescope. The secondary mirror is supported by three struts that extend out from the large primary mirror. The struts are almost 25 feet long yet are very strong and light-weight. They are hollow composite tubes, and the material is about 40-thousandths of an inch (about 1 millimeter) thick. They are built to withstand the temperature extremes of space.
- Integrated Scientific Instrument Module (ISIM) – is a framework that provides electrical power, computing resources, cooling capability as well as structural stability to the Webb telescope. It is made with bonded graphite-epoxy composite attached to the underside of Webb’s telescope structure. The ISIM holds the four science instruments and a guide camera.
- Sunshield – Webb’s large mirror and advanced suite of instruments are protected by a five-layer sunshield, built to unfurl until it reaches the size of a tennis court. This protects the telescope from warming by the Sun, Earth and the Moon. Each layer is as thin as a human hair, is constructed from Kapton E, a commercially available polyimide film from DuPont, with membranes specially coated with aluminum on both sides and a layer of doped silicon on the Sun-facing side of the two hottest layers to reflect the Sun’s heat back into space.
- The Spacecraft Bus – The spacecraft bus provides the necessary support functions for the operation of the Webb Observatory.
Utilizing STL files downloaded from Thingiverse, we started 3D printing the different components that made up the assembly. As we print out each component of the James Webb telescope, we will revisit its building, its people and collaborations that were needed to be synchronized to fulfill the project’s intense demands. It will also attest to NUMO’s philosophy of defining the knowns and the unknowns as we unravel the complexities in our endeavors
3. THE HOW? The JWST project is a perfect example of the benefits of public-private partnerships. The telescope is a product of a collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency. ESA is providing the telescope’s optics and the spacecraft bus, while NASA is providing the launch vehicle, the science instruments and the integration and test facilities. This type of partnership allows each organization to bring its own unique strengths to the project. NASA has the expertise to build large, complex spacecraft, while ESA has the experience in building and operating large telescopes. By working together, the two organizations are able to create a telescope that would not be possible if they worked separately.
The JSWT is the largest cryogenic optical system ever built. Construction, Integration and Verification testing were key in the initial part of the How, with considerations for assembly before and after, and transportation on earth and in space.
The JWST project is an excellent example of how Additive Manufacturing can be used to prove and improve product development. It is a very complex system with a large number of parts that need to be manufactured to very precise specifications. 3D printing was used to develop and test prototypes of many of the telescope’s parts, including the mirrors, sunshield, and spacecraft bus. It was also used to create tooling and molds for the production of the telescope’s parts. This allowed the JWST team to test and verify the designs of the parts before they were actually manufactured. This saved time and money and ensured that the parts met the high standards required for a space-based observatory.
For this project we utilized different 3D printers at our disposal at mHUB – Anycubic filament and resin, Lulzbot, Enders etc and understood the basis for creating CAD drawings in Fusion 360, different slicer softwares to create the gcode and the nuances of printing and postprocessing.
The telescope was ferried from California to French Guiana in October during a 16-day trek that passed through the Panama Canal. It was done in secret, in part out of concerns over piracy.
The Webb telescope is so big that it had to be folded origami-style to fit into the nose cone of the European Ariane 5 rocket for liftoff from the coast of French Guiana in South America. Its light-collecting mirror is the size of several parking spots and its sunshade the size of a tennis court. Everything needs to be unfolded once the spacecraft is speeding toward its perch 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) away. The most daunting part of the mission: Unfolding Webb’s mirror and sunshield following launch and locking them into perfect position.
The spacecraft spent month travelling to its far-off home a million miles away, where it will orbit the second Lagrange point, or L2. Gravitational forces there ensure that the spacecraft will stay locked in line with the Sun and Earth, always on the night side of the planet. Earth’s L2 Lagrange point – a location where the pull of gravity is equal from the sun and the earth which would enable it to revolve around the sun in tandem with the earth.
Troubleshooting issues is key in any Engineering project, as is showcased in this article on the recently deployed Lucy spacecraft charted to explore the Trojan asteroids of Jupiter. Space has been a unique frontier for such troubleshooting of problems as was exemplified to begin with during the Apollo 13 mission (remember – Houston, we have a problem!).
ROADTRIP TO MxD
MxD equips U.S. manufacturers with the digital manufacturing tools and expertise they need to begin building every single part better than the last. It is where innovative manufacturers go to forge their futures. In partnership with the Department of Defense, MxD equips U.S. factories with the digital tools, cybersecurity, and workforce expertise. Their theme is Design for Manufacturing, and their series of projects enable smart manufacturing, cyber security and IoT based features to define the DNA for Industry 4.0.
The tour of the MxD facility enabled the interns and others from mHUB to understand the operational aspects of a factory and how smartness was enabled by simply adding digital capabilities like sensors and vision cameras to old machinery, how to subvert intrusions and hacks (cyber security), and how to create a AR based automation capability to aid work. We would like to thank Brian Townley for guiding us thru the MxD facility and detailing the different processes they have instituted there to showcase the future of manufacturing.
In a series of informal meetings with startup companies based out of mHUB, the interns understood the merger between development and management. This is similar to water cooler conversations that employees have.
Here the interns:
- discovered the role of the project manager, where you have to wear different hats to assume the understandings from a customer perspective vs the engineering perspective
- how to price a product so that it matches with what the customer is willing to pay for it
- how you can use diverse fields like frequencies and electric signals to detect cancer
- how you mix old with the new to create a unique record player and Bluetooth gramophone
- how wearables can be invisible and yet accomplish its needs
- how do you add new features into an existing product that has been functional for more than 50+ years
- how to retrofit bikes with an electric motor economically and within 20 mins with DIY parts
- why focus groups are important for ascertaining product fit
- small colleges vs large colleges and why it matters
- international travel helps integrating with different cultural differences
- why selecting a well-rounded curriculum in college is important and why not to overload yourself with course work to prevent burnouts
The students worked on a project for four weeks and delivered a working prototype at the end. The program was a success and we are looking forward to offering it again next summer.
NI+IN UCHIL Founder, CEO & Technical Evangelist