University of Massachusetts Amherst

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A Shop Where Students Conceive, Design, and Prototype the Future

The MIE department is working energetically to upgrade its outdated machine shop and turn it into a highly accessible learning environment. The new high-profile Innovation Shop will be outfitted with an inventory of state-of-the-art machine tools, instruments, and computers to support inventive mechanical engineering projects, including all related design, modeling, manufacturing, and testing activities. The Innovation Shop will feature areas for classroom instruction, team meetings, computer-aided design, fabrication, and assembly. Spanning graduate and undergraduate education, the new shop will accommodate labs and classes for some of our most important design courses, including MIE 315 Design and Mechanical Components, MIE 415 Senior Design, MIE 497S Super-Mileage Vehicle, and MIE 643 Mechatronics.

It will also be a home away from home for the 40 members of the student design organization, Let’s Go Design.

In short, it will be a place where all 700 of MIE’s undergraduate and graduate students can work safely, effectively, and efficiently to conceive, design, and build creative technologies.

“The goal of the new MIE Innovation Shop,” says MIE Professor Frank Sup, one of the masterminds behind the new space, “is to create a space where students can translate their classroom knowledge from theory to practice, giving them the experience of creating a design and learning what it takes to make it real. In a sense, the Innovation Shop completes the loop on their education by providing the students insight into the power of their engineering education.”

Students will be able to take their projects from concept to reality. “To do this, we have to provide them access to, and familiarity with, the sophisticated manufacturing equipment comparable to what they will be working with after they graduate,” says Sup. “It will be a critical part of their education: a safe, interactive, innovative environment in which to explore their ideas and develop themselves as engineers.”

For the past several months, the MIE department has been breaking down walls in the basement of the ELab Building, reconfiguring the whole floor, opening up unworkable spaces, moving heavy equipment and instruments, painting, buying new computers, and determining the equipment they need to bring an old machine shop into the 21st century. Students have already begun to use the Innovation Shop in its initial phase to design and build such inventions as the Super-Mileage Vehicle, a position-sensing power laser meter, an easy-dumping wheelbarrow to assist senior citizens in the garden, a vegetable blancher and shocker to boost the volume of produce processed while freezing locally grown vegetables for wholesale, and an assistive walker that allows older people to navigate stairs more easily.

To begin the transformation, the department has purchased a 3-D printer, which is a rapid prototyping technology that builds computer designs into three-dimensional plastic models -- from “design to reality in one step.” The technology enhances students’ learning by enabling them to quickly realize their virtual design in a physical, functional part.

Another piece of equipment slated to be part of the Innovation Shop is a water jet cutter, a tool capable of slicing metal or other materials using a jet of water at high velocity and pressure. Similarly, a 4-Axis CNC Vertical Milling Machine, an automated tool used to machine solid materials, will improve the capabilities of the shop and offer the students the opportunity to work with and understand modern manufacturing processes.

An important aspect of the 3D printer, water jet cutter, and CNC Milling Machine is the ability to offer hands-on engineering experiences to all of our MIE students. Each of these machines in the context of the Innovation Shop layout accommodates both individual students and teams of students working on a project.

While the projects carried out in the Innovation Shop serve a practical purpose by enriching the educationof our mechanical engineering students, they will also  make significant contributions to the common good. The projects will be driven by real challenges that face society—energy, health, poverty, and climate, to name a few. In addition, the Innovation Shop will help to attract and retain the best and brightest students, give them hands-on machine experience, provide them with the tools to turn their dreams into innovation, and enable leading-edge research and teaching.

Such radical enhancements, of course, can be costly. The MIE department is currently seeking private funding of about $500,000 to support the purchase of new machines and equipment like the water jet and milling machine, classroom furniture and computers, and to reconfigure the spaces in the basement. Financial support will contribute to the preparation of the next generation of engineering innovators ready to make a difference in our world.

Ultimately the newly designed, re-equipped, and reinvented Innovation Shop will reinforce the culture of engineering that is uniquely UMass Amherst and distinctive to the excellent education in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department in the College of Engineering.

If you share in our mission of preparing the engineering leaders who will address some of society’s most pressing issues, please Give Now Online or contact Paula Sakey, Director of Development for the College of Engineering at or 413-545-6396.

Altra Challenge Fundraising Information »

Innovation Shop Brochure »

(March 2012)