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“Designing, creating and then improving”: Middle School Engineering Students Explore Design Process at Caterpillar

By Ryan Alridge ’24

helping engineering students design and create

On Friday, Jan. 4, Middle School students in Michelle Nunalee's first-semester engineering classes visited the Caterpillar Machine Development Center in Clayton. Students watched Caterpillar's engineers at work and learned about the design and testing of some of their projects. They also participated in a problem-solving activity to get a feel for what it's like to be an engineer. Seventh-grader Ryan Alridge shares his reactions to the trip.

I was really excited when I saw I could take Engineering I because just about everything revolving around engineering interests me. I really like how creative and imaginative engineers can be, because ideas that may seem unrealistic can always become realistic! Technology and computerized systems seemed insane hundreds of years ago, but now they are giant parts of everyday life. I also like how engineers work to improve already functional things to make them better, instead of always doing something completely new. Taking inspiration or basing a design off of another thing allows for understanding and a building ground for inventors and engineers.

engineering student activities Raleigh, NC

I also really love computer coding and software design, which made the Raspberry Pi unit my class did very intriguing and interesting to me. I also liked the programming our class did to LEGO robots to make them achieve different goals. I had taken a class in sixth grade specifically on LEGO robotics, and it allowed me to better understand the programming and coding of larger and more advanced technologies and machinery. We also did a unit where we made wind turbines for the KidWind Challenge, which allowed us to see a problem and create a productive solution.

All three engineering classes in the Middle School went to Caterpillar’s Machine Development Center. While there, we were able to see all of the machinery that engineers and construction workers use and how they work. We saw just how much the engineers did toward making their machines safe, comfortable, productive and innovative. There is a wide variety of machinery that the engineers invent in order to complete different unique tasks. Some of these machines include bulldozers, compactors, excavators and utility vehicles. We also were able to see how engineers use 3-D printing to maximize cost efficiency by creating cheap and sturdy prototypes. Making a design, sending it to a manufacturing company and then receiving a faulty prototype costs thousands of dollars, wastes months and months of time and is super aggravating. The 3-D printer allows for cheap, reliable and quick production of prototypes. We also learned about vibrations and their frequencies and how frequencies that match the engine or motor frequencies would cause more pain and discomfort for the driver of the machine. We also discovered that the engineers use a similar engineering design process as us, which is based on designing, creating and then improving.

The trip to Caterpillar allowed me to see in real life just how much work, effort, safety, and thought goes into creating machinery and machine parts that I see just about everyday on the road. I really enjoyed this experience and it allowed me to really see the true meaning of STEM+ at our school and how it prepares and helps students get ready for the real world, and possible engineering or other STEM based jobs. I am going to take all of this knowledge I have now about STEM and implement it in most things I do to fully understand and grasp the true meaning behind everything I am told, as well I everything that I choose, to do.

Thanks to the Emonson Family for facilitating this worthwhile trip!

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