Jan. 23, 2014

JanFab gives student-engineering teams a leg up

Student engineering teams fabricate components for their upcoming projects during winter break in January.

Combine 80 Cornell students from five engineering project teams. Blend in the frenetic activity from Santa’s workshop, marinade in the zest of March Madness, sift in esprit de corps of Slope Day and simmer in the serenity of the winter break.

Voila! You’ve got JanFab.

It happens every year: January Fabrication, or JanFab, is a two-week period on campus during winter break when students from the engineering project teams – Cornell Racing Formula SAE, Cornell Mars Rover, Cornell University Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, Cornell Rocketry and Cornell Baja Racing – drill, mill, bore, smooth and frame team projects for upcoming regional and national contests.

“In the two weeks of JanFab, we’re trying to manufacture as much as possible over winter break, before the semester starts,” said Markus Burkardt ’14 of the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle team. Working Jan. 6-20, the underwater vehicle group created electronics racks, end caps, metal frames, main hull components, and pneumatic grabbers and actuators. “A day’s worth of work here at JanFab is a week’s worth of work during the semester,” he said.

The students toil 12 hours a day every day for a fortnight, only to break for lunch, dinner, sleep and perhaps a Netflix flick projected on a wall. In fact, students crammed 130 hours in the Emerson Manufacturing Lab at Rhodes Hall fabricating steel and aluminum parts on the Bridgeport vertical mills, turning billets into cylinders on the metal lathes, creating one-of-a-kind parts on the 3-D router or going from blueprints to reality at the Okuma vertical machining center. For the JanFab alone, Joe Sullivan, the Emerson Lab manager, carted away six barrels of “chips” – about 1,200 pounds of scrap aluminum – to recycling.

The team leaders coordinate among themselves for allocating precious machining resources during this two-week period. “They are not only highly functioning teams, but they morph into one large JanFab team and look out for each other,” said Rebecca Macdonald, the Swanson Director of Engineering Student Project Teams.

In the Experiential Learning Lab, a basement space in Upson Hall shared by all the teams, the Baja Racing team welded their frame, filed metal tubes and turned their dune buggy design into reality. Baja’s Andrew Crego ’14, a team leader, listed tasks completed: the Baja car frame, cutting and mitering. The team awaits a delivery of suspension parts; their first competition is April 24, just 13 weeks away in El Paso, Texas. Of course, they’ll need to ship the car in advance, as they need to build the car and get time to test. “JanFab is very critical for us, and I think this has been a successful JanFab season,” said Crego.

Cornell’s Mars Rover student team – a national rover contest quite similar to NASA’s program – has enjoyed their first year in Jan Fab. So far, so good: The rover team completed the drive system, frame and suspension, says team leader Georgia Crowther ’14. They now must build a robotic arm and drill to accumulate a soil sample and analyze it. Team rover engineers now have time for technical tests. Said Crowther: “More testing time is priceless.”