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Laser Cutting

Laser cutting is the process whereby a 60W laser beam is generated in a light-bulb - like device which is then beamed and focussed onto a very small area of a material to be cut. The temperature of this focussed light is many thousands of degrees and rapidly vaporises a tiny amount of material.

The beam is guided by mirrors and focussed by a lens made of a mineral that does not react to laser light as glass would.  The software controls the mirrors to follow the paths of the drawing that is made by a computer program. The machine contains the beam safely and the fumes created by the 'burning' of the material to be cut cannot get into the room to be breathed in.

The machine is actually very simple - much more simple than an inkjet printer . The 'work' stays flat on a bed of rails and the laser cutting head moves around beaming the laser light onto its surface until the job is done. 

This machine has relatively few hazards and can be safely operated by children as young as 11 provided they are tall enough to reach and see the control panel! At this age their craft skills would not be at all well defined but the accuracy of what they can laser cut is well beyond that which can be made by even an experienced craftsperson.

People often think of 3D printing as being 'state of the art' but in reality LASER cutting is far more widespread in industry.  It is easy to maintain and operate with as many if not more applications. We do 3D printing as well of course . . 

Iterative Learning

One of the most difficult aspect of Design to teach in school is the process of design! Kids are happy to draw an idea but not often so happy to draw many ideas and even less happy to develop an idea step by step though many iterations so that you can look back and trace your decisions.  This is not surprising as development takes a lot of time and is often frustrating. It can be a big disappointment when your idea doesn't work and you've spent many hours making it. There is a need to prototype ideas much faster and accurately than with manual making skills. Very often the reason why an idea fails is BECAUSE it has been made poorly or inaccurately. 

With laser cutting things are made quickly and accurately. Errors in the design can be seen and corrected in the drawing. You can then quickly remake a better product. Often you don't need to remake the whole thing - just the part that is not right. You can make many duplicates of your design and many versions of it too.

And yet Technology in schools still revolves around manual craft skills -  which is fine if your design is something that does not rely on mechanisms or functional featiures. Craft skills need to be taught through products that work no matter how well or poorly they are made -such as furniture decorations and storage.

LASER cutters can make gears and mechanical devices. Whilst construction kits are available they are hugely expensive and not easily embedded into a product. Laser cutting enables you to make functioning mechanisms integrally with the product and so serves a high level of design /engineering.

Special Needs or Spacial Abilities?

In our experience we have found that many children with 'special needs' have increased abilities in some areas of design. We have found that children who struggle in lteracy and numeracy go on to develop these abilities THROUGH the processes of innovation. The big reason for this is the need to communicate and calculate - the purpose is its own motivator and very often they develop their own strategies to overcome their difficulties. 

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