Laser Engraving Equipment Makes Big Splash in Schools

Students and teachers find innovative uses for cutting-edge technology

11/20/2009
technology
MIKE DEAN

Cumberland Valley High School uses it in the classroom, but also to create awards for faculty, staff and students.

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The Academy of Engineering and Design Technology (AEDT), part of the prestigious Bergen County Academies, uses it for their robotics team.

The John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center incorporated it into its “Entrepreneurship Education” program.

The CO2 laser engraving and cutting system is a versatile technology that’s becoming increasingly popular in curriculums across the country.

Laser engraving and cutting systems are rapidly making their way into educational institutions across the globe. These highly functional systems are creating excitement among educators for their ability to engrave and/ or cut a variety of materials — including wood, acrylic, plastic, fabric, glass, paper, treated metals and much more. Because of this versatility and ease-ofuse, laser engraving systems are having a positive impact on both the schools incorporating them and students who are using them.

Located in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania and operating for over 50 years, Cumberland Valley High School has gone through significant changes, including massive increases in the student population, as well as heightened demand for cutting-edge learning facilities.

During Cumberland Valley High

School’s reconstruction, a great deal of emphasis was placed on developing a strong in-classroom learning experience for the students.A hands-on program that could enhance the learning environment for a classroom was very important to the school’s mission. In search of a technology that could meet these ambitious needs, technology instructor Robert Rudolph saw a CO2 laser system in action at a state association tradeshow. He immediately knew the system would be a very good addition to the school’s program.

“The kids love it! It’s easy to use, students learn it very quickly and it is very motivational for them,” says Rudolph.“Students can easily add clip art, text and photographs in CorelDRAW to their projects and then send it to the machine.”

CO2 laser engraving systems work much like a printer, but with a laser beam instead of ink. Users can simply import their artwork, input the correct speed and power settings for their material and “print” the job to the laser. Instead of putting ink to paper, they are putting the power of the laser to whatever material they’re working with — wood, acrylic, fabrics and much more.

The students of the technology class have created many items using the laser, including awards for the school’s teachers and tiles to commemorate the reconstruction of the building. For the tile project, the Technology Student Association team came up with a logo to etch onto the tiles, then painted on color to each tile’s engraving and sold them to the high school teachers and students as a fundraiser to help the team get to their school’s state technology competition.

“The tiles were designed as coasters,” Rudolph said.“We used printer’s ink to fill the tile etching and added felt to the back and sold them.The system works just like a regular printer only it’s a laser.”

While Cumberland Valley has an array of uses for their laser engraving system, some users have very specific applications in mind for their machine.

Dark Steel Robotics, a premiere robotics team comprised of five ambitious students at the Academy of Engineering and Design Technology, uses CO2 laser engraving and cutting equipment solely for robotics and engineering projects.These innovative students use machines to etch on metal and plastic, engrave logos onto their robots, cut wooden prototypes, and more.

“Having laser engraving and cutting equipment makes it much easier to work on our robots,”said club president Bryan Uber.“We use the system for a variety of applications — the machine is necessary for so many of the projects we do.”

Most recently, Dark Steel Robotics finished competing in the Boston University Design Challenge. Members Uber and Daniel Abolafia took first place in the competition out of 62 teams.

“The laser engraver was an invaluable tool during this project,”Uber said.“We used it to cut out the prototype, as well as numerous complex components for the real robot.”

The versatility of laser systems makes them ideal for both academic learning as well as vocational training.

John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center is a full-time vocational technical center located in Hancock County, West Virginia. Realizing the importance of keeping up with technology and offering students the most advanced learning opportunities, administrators and instructors were interested in finding and utilizing technological equipment that expands curriculum and provides hands-on experience to students.Additionally, the career center wanted to find and utilize equipment that could parlay into the introduction of an “Entrepreneurship Education” program to students.

In pursuing the most current technology, the JDRIV Career Center secured the funding to incorporate a laser engraving system into some of their training courses. By incorporating laser engraving technology into its curriculum, the career center has both enhanced its course offerings and provided additional opportunities for students — both inside the classroom and out.

The career center placed Steve Shannon, instructor of building construction, in charge of the machine. He has had the opportunity to not only learn to use the machine himself, but has also played an integral part in helping students learn to incorporate the laser into their education and, perhaps most importantly, understand the limitless possibilities laser systems provide.

“The students are all very eager to learn to use the laser,” Shannon said. “Not only are they intrigued by how it works, but they also realize the many opportunities that a laser machine opens for them out in the world. Some of them see it and immediately think of how to start a small business using it, while some see it as a useful tool for existing enterprises.”

They’ve even begun finding new uses for it in courses not immediately associated with laser cutting and engraving. In geometry class Mr. Shannon worked students to cut out geometric shapes with the laser for a project.“The students were amazed at how detailed the laser was able to make the shapes they needed,”said George Danford,director of the career center.“The number of things we could find to use this machine for are countless!

“There isn’t a program offered today which hasn’t been changed with the incorporation of technology.This is why we selected a laser engraving system, and it has definitely improved our curriculum,” Danford said.

Technology continues to grow and advance all around us.As teachers and administrators, it is crucial to keep up on the latest technological developments and determine how those developments can be an asset to students and the community.

CO2 laser engraving technology is no exception to this rule, as it continues to gain popularity and inventive users find more and more uses for these valuable systems. From classroom use to extra curricular activities to student and faculty recognition, laser engraving technology is making its mark on schools world wide.

Mike Dean is director of sales and marketing at Epilog Laser. For more information visit www. epiloglaser.com
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