An Introduction to MechNet
MechNet Inc. was started in 2009 when the Owner of GDJ Inc Jack Gilbert saw a need to allow all students of a diverse background equal access to the expensive research grade equipment his company produced for primarily 4-year University Mechanical Engineering programs. The Mechanical Engineering programs have both the budgets to purchase this equipment along with the resources to maintain this equipment. Even if a High School teacher was able to write a grant to afford to purchase a wind tunnel, they had an extremely difficult task when it came to maintaining the equipment. Most all of the universities have trained technicians on their staff to repair the complex data acquisition and control systems required to operate this equipment.
Currently there is a major effort in the United States and throughout the world to improve math and science education. Schools are being formed to specifically teach STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education. One major effort with these new programs is making learning more “Hands-On”. Jack Gilbert the owner of GDJ Inc and MechNet Inc is a former teacher and has learned first-hand from his students that if there is a stated purpose to learn something that a great deal of his students that where in a vocational program and determined to be “Not College Material” could perform algebraic formulas if the math being used was to solve a specific problem. If all of the letters in the equation relate to something real it puts things in an entirely different perspective. Now the formula becomes a tool to solve a problem and a real reason exist for learning how learning how to manipulate a formula.
The problem with this is that it requires the schools to have the equipment onsite. For example, Mr. Gilbert got started building wind tunnels when he received a grant from NASA to design and build one at the Aviation High School he taught at. The following summer he received an internship at NASA to write the curriculum to support the project. He along with several of the engineers created a very comprehensive hands-on aeronautics curriculum using math that was no more complex than Algebra One. The comments he received where “This is a great curriculum, but the big problem is that it requires a school to purchase a research grade wind tunnel to obtain the data which no school can afford to do.
Similarly, later on while working with the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) to purchase 1/10 scale RC car chassis dynamometers for a high school version of their “A world in motion” program under a grant from General Motors. They stated almost the same thing. “Even if we spend $1,000,000 to get the program started that will only allow us the be in around 6 schools per state.
MechNet Inc. solved this problem by designing a system that allowed the students to operate their expensive equipment remotely via the internet. The equipment was already computer controlled and all of the data was in a C-Rio based National Instruments Integrated controller that was communicated with via an IP address. All they needed to do was design a system that required an authentication code to access the equipment. At first it thought they had the problem solved, but there was still the problem that every time a student logged in there would be a charge to access the equipment and the teacher had to schedule in advance when they were going to run the lab. Even though this method greatly improved the number of students who could access the equipment it still limited the use to a certain number of students per day per piece of equipment.
This problem was solved now by creating a RECORDED DATA LAB. They recoded all of the Data and Video from a test in progress so now MechNet can now allow all students, equal access to the same equipment with only a very low software cost per semester per class. They operate the equipment in the exact same way as if the equipment where in their classroom, but through a software program. The big advantage of this type of program is the students are receiving actual real data from a test in progress. This is not a computer generated CFD program of what we think the data should be this is the real thing.
MechNet has also produced a complete Blended Learning Media Rich set of lesson plans for each piece of equipment. This eliminates having to train each individual classroom teacher on the appropriate technology to teach all to the different theories required for all of the different labs.
The data the students take from the experiments is all extremely accurate. This allows the students to use the data directly in a formula to solve a problem. In fact, the data screens from the equipment are used in the lessons to explain how the formulas work.
There also has been a great deal of effort put into the students understanding how the data was taken. The sensors used in the equipment are all included in the lessons so that the students will have at least a basic understanding of how the sensors work and what the output of the sensors is. In many cases the manufacturers of the sensors have allowed us to use their videos they produced on how the sensors work.
This format is excellent for Online Teaching as well as the Charter School Programs since they will not be required to purchase the equipment or train the stall at each individual school.
MechNet Inc currently has laboratory experiments for aerodynamics using 3 different NACA airfoils and a chassis dynamometer to teach how an electric vehicle operates and the theory behind how the dynamometer works.
We will soon have experiments for a model roller coaster, Internal Combustion Engine Dynamometer, Turbine engine Dynamometer and Brake Dynamometer.
When MechNet was first allowing students to operate its equipment remotely via the internet the owner of the company often heard the comment of “This is a great idea, but you know you are 10- 15 years ahead of your time” Now with the recorded data labs the same people are stating “ You know with the remote operation of your equipment I thought you where ahead of your time. Now with your new recorded data labs and with what the schools have had to go through this past year, the schools have now caught up to what you are currently doing”.
MechNet Inc. is now perfectly poised to make a major impact teaching STEM Engineering Technology in the Schools.
The late Steve Jobs form Apple once stated at a meeting with President Obama. “Everyone gives me all sorts of grief for not building the iPhone in the USA. To build the iPhone in China requires 30,000 engineering technicians. I cannot hire that many in Technicians in the USA”