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  • Engraving Darth Vader on Plexiglass: HSE University Opens an Innovation Workshop

Engraving Darth Vader on Plexiglass: HSE University Opens an Innovation Workshop

The Innovation Workshop that opened at MIEM HSE has everything you might need to create an engineering project: from numerically controlled machines to a soldering station. Creativity is more than welcome at this lab. The heads of the workshop, Sergey Belanov and Alexander Semion, gave HSE News Services a guided tour of the lab.


‘Here, we have numerically controlled (NC) machines to make 3D parts. This part of the lab is for bench work,’ said Alexander Semion, MIEM programmer and student project supervisor, ‘We have already started to laser-cut wood for a project, but here, we’ll also be able to do timber work with a plane. On the right, there is a cutting machine for soft materials: plastic, wood, and fluoropolymers. On the left, there are small machines for ‘fine work’ and further on you can see bigger units that can process steel, aluminum, and bronze.’

Of course, before starting to work with this equipment, it is necessary to receive instruction on all types of work. And, of course, safety is paramount. Protective goggles are a must if you want to avoid the shavings getting into your eyes. In the middle of the room, there is a big table with cut-out plywood parts and engraved pictures. According to the workshop supervisors, this is not the whole collection: the students have taken some of the projects, such as a wooden 3D printer, in order to finish them at home.

Sergey Belanov, Laboratory Head at Project Management Centre, chose the equipment: ‘I have diplomas as a wood-turner, a milling-machine operator, and NC machine operator. I used to work in construction, since I have a degree in civil engineering, and I also have a second degree, in law. Today, I am maintenance director of one of HSE buildings, and head of a laboratory. It looks like life has taught me everything.’ He said that the idea of creating a workshop appeared long ago, even before MIEM merged with HSE University. When choosing the machines, they considered the types of works needed: turning, milling, and drilling. And, of course, they took into account the comfort: for example, it is easier to cut metal with a swing saw. To avoid smoke inhalation from the laser machine, improved ventilation has been installed.

‘We are only just starting: the workshop is still developing. We want to install our own coating booth, so that we can paint small parts right here and not inhale paint: everything will be leakproof, and the toxic fumes will go to the air vent,’ Sergey Belanov said, ‘The laboratory is now operating in free mode, but in the new semester, we are going to launch online registration on the Project Management Centre website. We want the students to have a clear understanding of what they want to create here, and, preferably, to show their blueprint, in compliance with the state standard, which will demonstrate that it is possible to manufacture the part on a certain machine.’

Here, at the workshop, student Nikita Khairulin is finishing his personal project – a New Year present for his parents. A frame, a LED tape, two magnets, a microcontroller, and a feather – that’s all he needs to make a ‘live’ picture. When the electric magnet changes its polarity, the feather in the frame is moving and the blinking diodes cause a stroboscopic effect. ‘Imagine a rotating wheel. When it is moving very fast, the eye can’t follow it, and an illusion happens: it seems that the wheel is rotating backwards. This is the same effect,’ Nikita explained his artistic method.

Project-Based Learning

Next year, fourth-year students Nikita Khairulin and Mikhail Smusev will take part in a project for the Russian Railways supervised by Alexander Semion. This will be an automated handcar for railway inspection. The objective is to replace the teams who patrol the rails in search of cracks and chips. ‘We were walking along a hall at MIEM and met Alexander,’ said Nikita, ‘I believe, this is one of the most interesting project this year, since here we can apply many approaches, including welding, turning work and milling. The hand car will be driverless, so that the station operator doesn’t have to send a team to walk 10 km and check the rails. The driverless machine will inspect the area and transmit the data on the rails’ status. It should not be like in a Chekhov’s story, where a railway station keeper patrolled the rails to make sure no one had stolen a screw nut.’ After the holiday season, three project teams will work on the project: one will be making the handcar, the other will be making antennas over the rails, and the third will program the indicators and the neural network. Some of the most complicated calculation tasks are performed by MIEM doctoral students.

According to Sergey Belanov, the project has become a reality thanks to the innovation workshop. All works on making the handcar, from turning to milling, will be performed at the lab. Only welding will be done outside, for fire safety reasons.

The workshop is divided into two rooms, a so-called ‘dirty’ one with machines and a ‘clean’ one with equipment for producing electronic devices. The ‘clean’ part of the lab is equipped with soldering tools, an oscillograph, and a microscope for making and checking the boards. ‘A student who comes here with blueprints and drafts will be able to make any device they believe to be innovative or interesting,’ Alexander Semion said.

For example, Tatyana Podvoiskaya, a fourth-year student, came to the lab to make an amplifier for headphones. ‘Tatyana has made a board with a soldering station, and then she will be able to check it with an oscillograph and a generator,’ said Alexander, ‘She can, of course, try to connect the amplifier to a phone, but she can do it with a generator, and register the indicators at the same time.’

The workshop welcomes students who come with their own projects, and not only those registered in the project office. Sergey Belanov remembers how they engraved Darth Vader on plexiglass with Dmitry, a freshman, who was interested in the laser-cutting equipment. He also helped Alexey, a student who leads a robot engineering studio for kids, to make a mini-copy of a laser from plywood. ‘Many people check in here and ask questions. I explain that if you want to make something for yourself or are taking part in a MIEM project programme, you are welcome: come, sit, and create. This lab is something that has been specially made for you.’

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