HackPGH Goes to MAC

August 26, 2009

Update: If you’re interested in joining a HackPGH class at MAC, sound off in the forums!

On Tuesday, August 25th, a couple dozen HackPittsburghers joined up with a few other folks to go tour the Manufacturing Assistance Center (MAC) at the University of Pittsburgh Applied Research Center (UPARC) in Harmarville, PA.

MAC’s mission is to support and foster the science and art of industrial manufacturing in western Pennsylvania. They provide facilities for both manual and computer-controlled machining of wood, metals, and more, as well as hosting hands-on classes where students learn to use big machining tools, price materials, and program and operate CNC machines.

We gathered, like a bunch of hooligans, in the UPARC parking lot just before 7pm, and headed in to get security badged.  Our excellent guide, Johanna Murphy, then rounded us up and started the tour.  We began with a history of the MAC, and were treated to a look at some examples of what an electrical discharge machining (EDM) machine can do.

From there, we checked out an impressive collection of manually operated machines (see the image on this post). While many of these machines are old and rugged (Johanna described a few as being “older than the Korean War”), most are outfitted with some of the latest gear, giving them accuracy to rival their modern counterparts.

Next, we were taken to the intimidating CNC machine room, where giant 5-axis, self-tool-changing machines can mill, lathe, route, and more, all day, without a human operator.  We also got to see some examples of MAC students’ handiwork from these machines in the form of custom metal chess pieces, each carefully designed and programmed by a MAC student as part of their final project.

Finally, we visited the computer lab, where students are taught everything from basic geometry and computer skills to G-Code, CNC simulators, and material pricing estimation.

Johanna also explained that, if there is enough interest and commitment from enough HackPittsburgh members, we may be able to get together a condensed form of their machinist classes!  Stay tuned for updates on this, as we’ll be working out the details this week.

Thanks go out to Johanna and MAC for giving us the opportunity to check out the facilities, and to Nick for organizing the event. Thanks, also, to everyone who came out!

For more photos of the MAC tour, and other HackPittsburgh-related happenings, check out the HackPGH Flickr Pool!

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