Appreciate, learn from, but don’t rely on Pappalardo Lab.
Over your four years in Course 2 you’ll come to love Pappalardo. Out of those years, you’ll likely clock a cumulative total of about one year’s worth of time in Pappalardo alone, and probably another 0.5 to 1 years in your UROP lab or another machine shop (roughly calculated assuming students take 2.007 + 2.009).
Sophomore year it’ll be the reason you wake up early. Senior year it’ll be the last thing you remember when you wake up, and the first place you need to be each morning (and most hours of the day).
And if you buddy up with the shop guys (who are pretty pro), ask questions if you don’t know how to build whatever you’re visualizing, and take the time to try new machines, then you’ll find that with Pappalardo’s tools you can make almost anything.
I’m now a second semester senior and the reality is setting in that in a matter of 5 months I will no longer have access to a lathe, CNC mill, drill press, expert welder, band saw, laser cutter, water jet, etc. whenever I want it.
Actually, it’s even worse than that. It’s not just that I won’t have access whenever I want anymore, but that I feel I could’ve done SO much more with them but now my time is running out AND I’ve got things that I desperately want to build which require such tools.
I’ve got a serious case of youdontknowwhatyouvegotuntilitsgone-eosis.
In the US you can go to membership machine shops, use Misumi and McMaster, and even save up and build a personal workshop in your garage… but it’s not the same as Pappalardo. It won’t be as nice, the equipment will be expensive and maintenance will be a pain, and you can’t buy the shop guys. Plus membership machine shops like the MIT Hobby Shop are actually pretty rare, and if you take a job that requires you to design machinable components then you still won’t necessarily have a machine shop to work with, and you’ll instead be designing at a computer as if you needed to build.
The original point of this post was that you should really take full advantage of Pappalardo lab while at MIT but you’ve got to learn not to depend on it. I’ve mentioned before that I’m involved in starting a company in India. So right now I’m spending my IAP in India, trying to figure out how to build a few new machines to increase production and just make things work. I came up with the designs for the machines at the end of fall semester, with the intention of building everything in country. But then I got here and found that lathe access is really hard to get – Especially with a small one-off part. Small parts will never get priority in a shop and you’ll be hard pressed to find a guy who just has an idle lathe sitting around that’s not in use. The next best thing will be to find a carpenter or machinist who can do the part for you… you’ll need contacts, and even that one magical contact will have a hard time giving your part priority.
You have to look at problems in a new light. How to design anything such that it can be built in [insert your situation here, e.g. a different country], such that the parts can be sourced locally, and how to plan schedules given that the part you could make in Pappalardo after spending 2 minutes on a lathe or CNC, was quoted to take 2 weeks (quoted, but in reality expect this to mean 4 to 6 weeks).
Beyond this, design things well enough that someone else can build them, because chances are you’re not going to be doing all the handiwork yourself no matter what job function you’re in. You’ll need to be able to think about any machining issues they might run into, and be able to optimize your design before you send it to be built/prototyped.
While at MIT, Pappalardo makes every MechE feel like a kid in a candy store. But when you leave you’ll need to learn how to translate all of your machining and theoretical skills into one ability: problem solving. You’ll need to be able to visualize the machining process and make due with the tools you’ve got without necessarily having all resources at your fingertips.
A few ways to take full advantage of Pappalardo while at MIT:
- Get in early, the shop opens at 8 and you’ll avoid waiting for tools and get full attention of the shop guys
- Always have a personal project going on. If you’re a tinkerer or someone who just likes to build new machines, take advantage of the fact that you’ve got the tools. Everyone should always have a side project theyre working on, but know that if that project requires machining then you might be able to get it done in Pappalardo. Just go in early, make sure it’s not at one of the busiest times of the year (last month of the semester), talk to one of the shop guys and see what you can do.
- Know that you can also use the Hobby Shop, Central Machine Shop, or your UROP lab.
- Know that everyone who is a part of 2.007, 2.670, 2.009, and the lab in general is a BOSS. They literally are some of the best teachers at MIT, and are pretty overqualified. But they do it because they love it, and it shows. So try to absorb some of that brilliance and be open to learning, even if you’re on a deadline.
- Keep a good lab book to keep track of your work and sketches. (ooh, sketches. always sketch any part you need to make before going to machines.)
- Which reminds me, try to do as much of the calculating, computer work, coding, CADing, sketching, etc BEFORE going to lab. Maximize your access to machines by doing all the other work the night before while the lab is closed.