Beyond math and physics: Lab Facilitator finds ideas for engineering projects in unlikely places

By Melissa Nilan, Marketing and Communications

Jared Cloutier loves to tinker. This personal interest has been a bonus for students in the Engineering and Fabrication Technology Diploma program.

Jared Cloutier, a lab facilitator in the Engineering program at Douglas College, works with a student in the fabrication lab in pre-COVID days.
Jared works with a student in the Fabrication Lab in the good old pre-COVID days.

Jared’s primary duty is to train students how to safely use the machines and tools in the Engineering Fabrication lab – including a water jet cutter, laser cutter, 3D printers and CNC machines, lathes and welders, power coating ovens, finishing machines, grinders and buffer wheels – and then supervise and assist them in using them.

But the Engineering and Fabrication Lab Facilitator also finds inspiration for projects for his students that stems from his personal interests.

Tinkering for inspiration

“I recently did some dabbling with pewter casting and jewellery making and thought it would be a great project for the students,” Jared says. First I created a pewter cast of a wrench with engineering print on it. Then I showed them what to do with my pre-made design. For their final casting project, they had to come up with their own design. They made coins, gears and etched pictures, as examples.”

Jared also takes inspiration from his frequent trips to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores, which sell donated home décor and building supplies. During one trip he bought a water-jet-cut puzzle box, which inspired a lamp box project, where light is projected through designs cut into a lamp shade. Each student created their own lamp and designs. On another trip, Jared found a deal on marble and snapped it up; the marble was turned into a planetary gearset business card holder by a student.

A lamp box made by an Engineering student.
Lamp box project

His most recent project involved turning an old transmission from his own truck into a lamp and assigning the students to design a matching lamp shade for it.

“A lot of my tinkering sparks ideas, and I think, why not try that? I’m always in the mindset of, ‘what can we do that’s fun, engaging, but not heavy on the math and physics aspect?’ Projects don’t need to be about the book time; they’re about exposure to the equipment and processes. And through exposure, students get motivated and come up with their own ideas and designs,” says Jared.

More than just math and physics

Jared says he cannot emphasize enough the value of the hands-on experience the fabrication labs offer. While a design may look perfect on paper, the reality can be very different, he says.

“I had a student submit a design change that altered the measurements by 0.10mm. I pulled out my Vernier caliper and measured the change in distance, and then pulled out a beard hair and measured that, which was only 0.08mm. So they were basically splitting hairs with the changes they’d made. It might have looked good on paper, but in reality that kind of miniscule change isn’t going to matter. By seeing it, they had a better understanding of how their design translated to the physical item.”

Projects don’t need to be about the book time; they’re about exposure to the equipment and processes. And through exposure, students get motivated and come up with their own ideas and designs.

Jared Cloutier

Jared says it’s common for students taking engineering at a university to get no hands-on experience during their program for the first couple of years. His goal is to expose his students to as many fabrication processes as possible, so that when they go out into the real world they understand the processes used in industry.

Engineering and Fabrication Technology Diploma student Carlos Vasquez knows first hand the value of hands-on experience.

“In the real world, it’s important to have a prototype when you are creating something new, so you don’t waste materials. In learning all the fabrication processes of the different machines, I now know how to create my own prototypes; I won’t be afraid to try something new because I have a better understanding of how my designs will convert to reality,” says Carlos.

Read more: This Engineering grad wants to change our reality.

Jared Cloutier is a lab facilitator in the Engineering program at Douglas College. He wears full PPE gear when he is on campus during the pandemic.
Jared on campus in full PPE.

This practical knowledge and experience can also give Douglas grads an edge when applying for jobs or for cooperative education work terms if they transfer their credits to university to complete a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

“I think it’s who you know that gets you a job, but it’s what you know that lets you keep it. Exposing students to the fabrication labs isn’t just about the equipment, it’s also about developing dexterity and manual hand-eye coordination, and understanding how a place of manufacturing functions. You have to wear safety equipment, get an orientation and follow the order of operations,” says Jared.

Getting a holistic view

Getting exposure to both sides of engineering – the math and physics, and the fabrication – gives students a more holistic view of the field they’re going into, Jared says. Some students may decide they enjoy the hands-on aspect more and switch their study path from a university degree to a trade certification – or even become an entrepreneur (Etsy, anyone?).

“By exposing students early to all aspects of engineering, they know whether they’re in the right field for themselves before they’ve put in years of study. It also exposes non-engineering students who take a fabrication course to a variety of new career options.”

“There is a huge variety of equipment in the lab for students to interact with,” he adds. “You could literally pick one and make a career out of being an expert with it.”

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