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Laser Technology

A teaching tool that’s also fun

By Tom Klemens

Have needle-nose pliers, will demonstrate

April 2013 - There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about how to get kids, or people in general, interested in manufacturing careers. One of the biggest hurdles in approaching the subject is explaining all the interesting challenges of manufacturing. A handy way to get over that hurdle is to apply a time-honored writing guideline: Show, don’t tell. A tangible example can be particularly helpful when it’s an unfamiliar concept, such as modern metalworking. Seattle-based Fascinations offers a collection of laser-cut sheet metal model kits that illustrate nesting, fabrication and assembly, as well as how precisely lasers can cut steel. Plus, they’re fun to put together.

ffj-0429-webex-teaching-image1Just as NASA programs had spinoffs over the years, so has manufacturing technology. Producing this line of models has only become practical in the last few years with the introduction of laser cutting in the toy manufacturing realm. More than one company offers this type of miniature models, but Fascinations’ Metal Earth series, which the company refers to as “a parallel universe,” is definitely worth a look.

Many of the Metal Earth offerings consist of a single 4-in.-square piece of light-gauge steel that has been laser cut to yield, in some cases, dozens of parts.* Here, the needle-nose pliers come in handy as many of the individual parts require some bending after being broken out of the sheet. It’s not hard, but it can be delicate, ship-in-a-bottle type work. It’s a great example of what metal fabrication is all about, and yes, it also leaves you with a fine specimen of a sheet metal skeleton.

The company offers a variety of models ranging from simple to complex. Nine U.S. architecture models are available and 10 international ones. My favorite: the Neuschwanstein Castle, although the (leaning) Tower of Pisa is a close second.ffj-0429-webex-teaching-image2

Transportation models make up the bulk of the offerings – four ships, four tanks, six motor vehicles and a dozen aircraft. The Staten Island Ferry and the P-51 Mustang plane are each notable for the details they include, but in different ways. The ferry has rows and rows of windows and other openings, which provide a good example of an arrangement that could be difficult to punch, because they are in such close proximity, but is much easier to achieve with a laser. The P-51 has far fewer pieces and openings, but features a great deal of surface etching, replicating the custom paint job that gave each Mustang its own identity.

Recent additions to the Metal Earth collection are more complex and require two sheets to accommodate all the parts. The farm tractor, for example, has 48 separate part numbers and provides a fine example of nesting. The individual treads for the knobby rear tires (38 each of part nos. 44 and 45) are sprinkled throughout the sheets wherever they fit. As a teaching tool, this provides a good example of how repetitive manufacturing can be, but you may not want to make it the first model you tackle.

Each kit comes with a detailed instruction sheet, which also can be downloaded as a PDF file from the Fascinations website. The kits are available in hobby shops—which is where I stumbled across them—and other retail establishments, as well as on the web.

Finally, thanks to Zach Klemens for these field notes on the recent assembly of a Fascinations commercial  jet model:

“The needle-nose pliers were a must. Then, it’s a matter of perfecting the skill of bending the ‘tabs’ without warping the structure of the plane. After a couple tabs, it’s relatively easy and fun.” Elapsed time: about 45 minutes. FFJ 

* If you’re a baby boomer, you may remember the simple kit of airplane parts – a wing, a tail and a rudder – we would punch out of thin sheets of balsa wood. These models are like that, but way more fun to assemble (even though they don’t fly). 

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Sources

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Company Profiles

AIR FILTRATION

IRONWORKERS

NESTING SOFTWARE

SERVICE CENTERS

Camfil APC - Equipment Trilogy Machinery Inc. Metamation Inc. Admiral Steel
Camfil APC - Replacement Filters

LASER TECHNOLOGY

PLASMA TECHNOLOGY

Alliance Steel
Donaldson Company Inc. AMADA AMERICA, INC. Messer Cutting Systems Inc.

SOFTWARE

BENDING/FOLDING

Mazak Optonics Corp.

PLATE

Enmark Systems Inc.
MetalForming Inc. MC Machinery Systems Inc. Peddinghaus Lantek Systems Inc.
RAS Systems LLC Murata Machinery, USA, Inc.

PLATE & ANGLE ROLLS

SecturaSOFT

BEVELING

TRUMPF Inc. Davi Inc. SigmaTEK Systems LLC
Steelmax Tools LLC

LINEAR POSITION SENSORS

Trilogy Machinery Inc. Striker Systems

COIL PROCESSING

MTS Sensors

PRESS BRAKE TOOLING

STAMPING/PRESSES

Bradbury Group

MATERIAL HANDLING

Mate Precision Tooling AIDA-America Corp.
Burghardt + Schmidt Group EMH Crane Rolleri USA Nidec Press & Automation
Butech Bliss Fehr Warehouse Solutions Inc.

PRESS BRAKES

STEEL

Red Bud Industries UFP Industrial AMADA AMERICA, INC. Alliance Steel
Tishken

MEASUREMENT & QUALITY CONTROL

Automec Inc.

TUBE & PIPE

CONVEYOR SYSTEMS

Advanced Gauging Technologies MC Machinery Systems Inc. BLM Group
Mayfran International

METAL FABRICATION MACHINERY

SafanDarley HGG Profiling Equipment Inc.

DEBURRING/FINISHING

Cincinnati Inc.

PUNCHING

Prudential Stainless & Alloys
ATI Industrial Automation LVD Strippit Hougen Manufacturing

WATERJET

Lissmac Corp. Scotchman Industries Inc.

SAWING

Barton International
Osborn Trilogy Machinery Inc. Behringer Saws Inc. Jet Edge Waterjet Systems
SuperMax Tools

METAL FORMING

Cosen Saws Omax Corp.
Timesavers FAGOR Arrasate USA Inc. DoALL Sawing

WELDING

HYDRAULIC PRESSES

MetalForming Inc. HE&M Saw American Weldquip
Beckwood Press Co.

MICROFINISHING TOOLS

Savage Saws Strong Hand Tools
Triform Titan Tool Supply Inc.

 

T. J. Snow Company

TPMG2022 Brands


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