One of the challenges we give to our STEM students involved in robotics or other courses is to create movement in a variety of ways. The application of difficult concepts such as energy efficiency, packaging space, and manufacturing must be taken into account when students design machines to lift, roll, bend, throw, shoot or climb. A limiting factor when it comes to student ingenuity is this area is a simple lack of experience. Most kids just don’t take things apart and put them back together any more. One reason of course is that many of the items they typically interact with simply haven’t got many moving parts . Another reason kids aren’t familiar with mechanisms is that initial purchase costs are so low and replacement parts may be so expensive or unobtainable, that it doesn’t enter into a person’s mind to try and fix something that is broken. Ask any adult or student what they would do if their $50 computer printer, or a small appliance such as a toaster broke and you’ll see. Planned obsolescence of consumer products over the past few decades has changed the mindset of the American kids from tinkerers to tossers .
STEM educators are on a mission to change this attitude, and one way is to use the class room environment to learn about mechanisms by taking them apart and harvesting usable parts for projects. Another is to explore the fascinating world of mechanisms from the not too distant past, before solid state switches and semiconductors took over the world of engineering. Gears, ratchets, worms, pumps, pawls and other examples of fine craftsmanship and precision machining abound in what you will see. Some of these devices used for movement are still found today in products from lawnmowers and fishing reels to mechanical watches and garage door openers.
In a future article, we’ll dive into detail on some STEM projects that use these antique innovations for modern tasks in the classroom. In the meantime, enjoy the sample below. Encourage students to find some of these hidden gems of engineering around their own homes, and show videos in class such as this one. Begin a discussion of what tasks the young engineers, artists and scientists in your classes can use these mechanisms for on their own projects with the design and manufacturing resources available to them.