Name: Lucas Miller
Type of Project: Artistic & Creative Endeavor
- Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.
The primary objective of my project was to learn about the technology and components that go into computers and 3D printers by personally building them. To this end, I constructed a CAD-ready computer and a 3D printer from their components, documenting the process through photographs. From this project I gained experience in troubleshooting integrated systems as well as in hands-on construction of hardware which is extremely useful in the Computer Science and Engineering major.
- What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?
Due to the hands-on building approach this project necessitated, completing it was personally challenging. I did not have much experience in building in general, let alone of electrical devices. Seeing as this project was extensively based in physical construction, it challenged me to move outside of my comfort zone. As a result I not only now better understand the inner workings of the machinery I use to code, but I also became much more acquainted with building and tools in general. I also gained insight into the hardware and world of 3D printing, and can now participate in the community.
The project was socially expanding as it allowed me to tap into the large network of others who have built their own computers as well as the 3D printing community. I conversed with several people who built their own PC’s for advice and feedback on the components I selected. Through this topic of conversation I made several new connections. Once the actual build was underway, I asked for advice as I went through the process and thus gained additional connections. Furthermore, once I completed the build I became a point of contact for information for others working on custom PC builds.
- What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?
In building the CAD ready computer, the main challenge I encountered involved the CPU fan. The original fan I installed onto the CPU was the stock fan that came packaged with the CPU. When I installed it the first time however, I realized I had not left enough wire length to reach to the motherboard’s CPU fan plug. As a result, I had to rotate the fan and reattach it. But the fan’s preapplied thermal paste was already spread. So when I started the computer, I ran into issues with overheating. As a result, I had to uninstall the stock fan and install a more challenging, after market fan. The challenge of removing the existing thermal paste and applying new paste while not damaging the CPU or motherboard helped me become more confident in my hardware problem solving techniques.
As to the 3D printer build, one problem I faced was the discrepancies between the build instructions and the parts I had. For instance, in building the y-axis motor assembly, there was a z-nut to be installed so that the entire y-arm could move up and down. But this assembly was quite cramped, and as it turned out the z-nut was just slightly too large to fit where it needed to. So, I ended up taking an Exacto knife to it until it fit in. This helped me achieve my personal goal of becoming more familiar and skilled with hardware.
Another problem I encountered with the 3D printer build involved the actual printing process. A major problem that many encounter with 3D printing is getting the first layer to stick to the printing surface (bed). If this step fails, the print must be stopped or else it will just pool into a mess of plastic at the hot end. I had to employ several strategies to prevent this from happening. I used blue painters tape cleaned with isopropyl alcohol top provide a rough and clean printing surface on the bed. I then roughed this up further with sandpaper and applied some hair spray. The combination of these efforts allowed my first layer to stick. Once again, problem solving through this situation built my confidence and skill in hardware and physical troubleshooting.
All in all, my STEP project was an extremely rewarding experience. It has allowed me to explore technologies normally too expensive to simply purchase and learn from. I am now set up to continue with these technologies past what was described in my STEP proposal, and can benefit from the project for years to come.
- Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?
As a new Computer Science Engineering major, I know I will have a lot of exposure to software design and programming through my coursework. But the CSE curriculum does not have much in the way of hardware. Thanks to this STEP project, I now have experience in the hardware side of computer science. This will help me in my search for a job after graduation and provide perspective to the software side of my major. Additionally, since I just recently switched to CSE from Chemical Engineering, the 3D printer build allowed me to employ my cross-disciplinary knowledge as the polymers and heating elements of this build fell squarely into Chemical Engineering.
This project reaffirmed my decision to change my major. Working with the Chemical Engineering side of the 3D printer was fun, but not nearly as fun as the coding and software aspect of the project. After completing STEP and also taking a few Computer Science and Engineering courses, I am confident I made the right choice in switching majors.