By Daniel J Vaccaro
The new Aerospace and Engineering Sciences Building is MSU Denver’s starship Enterprise. Not only will it take student learning to places that few colleges have gone before, but its successful launch is the result of some serious teamwork.
That teamwork will be on full display at the June 22 ribbon-cutting ceremony, where the University will announce a $1 million gift from Lockheed Martin.
Among other things, the gift will fund an additive manufacturing laboratory, centered around a state-of-the-art 3-D printing machine called the Stratasys Fortus 900mc. That printer can manufacture parts for everything from satellites to medical devices. And not just small stuff either. The Fortus 900mc is the size of a small shipping container and looks like something straight out of a Star Trek movie.
Robert Park, Ph.D., the director of MSU Denver’s Advanced Manufacturing Sciences Institute (the University’s Captain Kirk, if you want to extend the metaphor), says the top-of-the-line machine is one that most students never have the opportunity to see, let alone use.
“I think this printer and lab uniquely position MSU Denver as an educational institution in the field of tooling (parts for making other parts) development,” he said. “Tooling is critically important in a number of industry sectors, from a high-value, low-quantity manufacturing perspective.”
Brian O’Connor, vice president of Production Operations at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, noted the new lab’s impact on students.
“[They] will get firsthand experience with emerging manufacturing technologies that eliminate the constraints associated with traditional manufacturing processes, allowing them to unlock their creativity and design solutions that we can only dream about today,” he said.
The gift also establishes the Lockheed Martin Endowed Director of the Advanced Manufacturing Sciences Institute position at MSU Denver, which will be held by Park.
But the printer, additive manufacturing lab and endowed directorship are only the latest output from a relationship that goes back to when the AES Building was little more than an idea.
The story goes like this: Five years ago, while MSU Denver President Stephen M. Jordan, Ph.D., was meeting with a White House staffer, he heard that aerospace and advanced manufacturing companies in Colorado were having a difficult time finding well-trained local employees. Instead, the companies were spending valuable time and resources recruiting talent nationwide.
“I immediately saw an opportunity,” Jordan recalled. “I knew we could step in to fill the void.”
So, Jordan put together a team. He created an AES Advisory Board, which included representation from Lockheed Martin, Jeppesen and the Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Alliance, and recruited faculty from seven disciplines, all of which touched on aerospace and advanced manufacturing. That team developed an interdisciplinary curriculum that integrates aerospace science; industrial design; civil, mechanical and electrical engineering technology; computer science; and computer information systems.
The first-of-its-kind curriculum, already available to students, is administered by the Advanced Manufacturing Sciences Institute with the goal of providing a pipeline of employees for two of the biggest industries in the state.
With a curriculum established, there was only one problem left to solve: The program needed someplace to live.
Plans for the AES Building were announced in 2013, and a groundbreaking was held in October 2015. The cost of the nearly $60 million construction project was split three ways between MSU Denver, the state of Colorado and private companies.
Today, the building makes its debut. Guests at the ribbon-cutting will get a first look at 90,000 square feet of innovative learning space, where classes will be held this fall. The entire building is 117,000 square feet.
More than half of the building is dedicated to specialized laboratories that support specific skills and technical expertise. Many of the labs on the first floor have glass walls, which give visitors a peek into the world of advanced manufacturing. Designed with collaboration in mind, the building also has plenty of gathering space for students. Three large doors on the south side can be opened to create an indoor/outdoor classroom or event space.
A 50 percent scale model of NASA’s Orion spacecraft hangs above the reading room in the glass-walled west facing atrium for all to see as they drive by on the Auraria Parkway. The model was manufactured by MSU Denver students and their faculty advisors, under the guidance and support of Lockheed Martin engineers, using 3-D printing techniques. And according to Park, it’s not just there to look cool.
“It’s meant to remind students of what they can achieve inside this building by working collaboratively,” he said.
Of course, a building is only as good as the work happening inside, and the AES Building is aimed at providing students with opportunities to learn by doing.
Thanks to a partnership with Hartwig Inc. students will get hands-on experience working with state-of-the-art programmable machine tools, some of which will be equipped with advanced robotic accessories.
Hartwig plans to refresh the equipment regularly at no cost to the University, ensuring that students will always work with the most cutting-edge machines. The initial estimated value of the manufacturing and inspection equipment, software, tools and consumables is around $2 million. “Tremendous value is added when you consider all the technical expertise that Hartwig and its partner companies will bring to the table,” said Park. “For students, that will translate to a highly relevant and targeted education experience in the advanced manufacturing area.”
Beyond access to state-of-the-art equipment, students will benefit from a unique public-private partnership enterprise floor (the top floor of the building) that will be home to a number of operational companies, providing exposure to real-world design and manufacturing businesses.
One such partner will be York Space Systems, a manufacturer of uniquely-designed small satellites. York will establish its satellite production facility, in addition to a mission operations center, on the enterprise floor.
With mentorship from the experts at York, students will be involved in the design, engineering and manufacturing of satellites. They’ll also get to operate the spacecraft on orbit and learn how to analyze collected data for the benefit of society.
“With partners like York, Hartwig and Lockheed Martin, we are poised to offer an education like no other,” said Jordan. “What other university offers students the opportunity to build and operate satellites as part of their education? Or the chance to work on the machines being used at some of the top manufacturing companies in the world? I can tell you: It’s not many.”
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