The senior class of University of Virginia (UVa) mechanical and aerospace engineering students who’ve been working all year with me at OESH, just gave their final thesis presentation in preparation for graduating next month.
They had to give their presentation in front of the rest of the professors and students in the department. It was the first time this year that we met not at the OESH factory but in one of their classrooms at UVa where I got to just sit and listen.
Boiling down a year’s worth of work into one hour was challenging but they did it beautifully. They had to first present all the problems with current shoe manufacturing that is largely being outsourced to China – e.g. toxic foams, adhesives, wasteful tooling, etc. Then they had to systematically review all the things we do at OESH that solve these problems – e.g., sustainable design and tooling (where even the metal molds are recycled in a local foundry) and of course, the complete absence of toxic materials.
They talked about our using FEA (Finite Element Analysis), a mathematical model, to help dictate the design of not only the OESH sole, but all the tooling and machinery used to make the sole. They discussed our using both additive and subtractive manufacturing techniques (e.g., 3D printing and CNC milling) to make all the foundation tooling as well as prototypes and final molds. They described how they determined the optimal amount and size of the cooling plates and lines needed to cool the hot injected (and recyclable) material. And they explained how they actually constructed all the foundation tooling and molds using the CNC (computerized-numeric-controlled) machinery in the factory. For example, they described how they made the cooling plates, drilling deep-bore holes into aluminum using the CNC milling machine outfitted with a specialized parabolic drill.
They did a lot. They learned a lot. As did I. At the end of the presentation they were challenged by one of the professors with the question “what was the single-most important thing that you learned at OESH this year?”
Their answer: “Machining is not trivial.” A respectful response but it conveyed all the many times that things went wrong, before they were right. There was not enough time to list the mistakes and lessons learned. E.g. the time that they hit the wrong button on the milling machine or the time that the injection-molding machine refused to work because of an inadvertently turned-on limit switch. Or the time that static electricity interfered with an otherwise perfect machine design.
At the beginning of the year, I told them a number of things that needed to be done so that we could make the entire OESH sole in the factory here. In their reviewing that list, I realized how daunting it actually was. I had forgotten that we hadn’t yet even had sufficient power to run all the new machinery. I was reminded of the trials, tribulations, and city approvals it took in our getting a whole new utility pole necessary to run the 3-phase machinery.
Their work at OESH serves as the basis for their graduating thesis. Fortunately, their presentation was very well received. In fact, if standing ovations were ever given in an academic forum, they would have gotten one.
Which means, graduation is just around the corner.
As is… the new line of OESH shoes!