Guitar Software Hero

June 28, 2010 at 9:09am
Easy-to-Use CNC Software Enables High School Students to
Build Guitars 

The Invention Factory and Makery, Manoa, Hawaii uses invention as the catalyst for teaching middle and high school students the principles and relevance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

In a pilot project, the Invention Factory and Makery recently trained 48 students to design and build from scratch their own Hawaiian electrical steel guitars. A key enabling technology in this project was the availability of easy-to-use software that enabled each student to define the geometry of and produce a computer numerical control (CNC) program for making almost every part in the guitar.

“Delcam’s FeatureCAM CNC programming software reduced the time required to program a typical part from a day to a few minutes,” said Neil Scott, Director of the Invention Factory and Makery. “The result is that our students were able to design and build their own electric guitar from scratch in only 20 hours.”

In the Invention Factory and Makery’s first year, middle school students made assistive devices for disabled children such as a toy that could be controlled by external switches. During the second year, students focused on building devices to assist older people. “For the third year, we thought it was time to have them make something for themselves,” said Raemi Shibata, instructor for the program. Shibata and Scott selected a Hawaiian electric guitar, also called a lap steel guitar, because the students are interested in music and because of the instrument’s role in Hawaiian culture.

“The biggest obstacle we had to overcome in designing the curriculum was simplifying the design and programming process,” Shibata said. “The programs that we used in the past required so much knowledge that they were bewildering. In particular, the CNC programming software that we used in the past required that the user dig deeply into the details of how the part would be made just to get started. How could we teach the kids when we were having trouble getting it? The breakthrough for us was separating the design and manufacturing functions between AutoDesk Inventor and FeatureCAM.”

“Inventor enables our students to draw realistic objects in their first session with the software by creating sketches, dimensioning them and adding the third dimension,” Scott said. “FeatureCAM provides the ability to automatically recognize features such as holes, slots, pockets, and bosses in 3D solid and surface models. This means that students don’t have to deal ith each individual surface but can program a much smaller number of features instead. FeatureCAM reads the native Inventor file format. We train the students to import the model and use feature recognition. The software automatically recognizes and organizes the features in the part. The students then review the list of features identified by the software and make any changes they wish such as merging, splitting, adding or deleting.”

After the students build their guitars, Scott taught them to play the guitars.

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