Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bay School Engineering Shop Tour

Last weekend I met a good friend of mine for lunch. Brad runs the engineering design program for the Bay School located out in the absolutely scenic Presidio in San Francisco. In the last two years Brad has taken a bare bones building and put together an impressive hands on workshop to teach engineering design and robotics to high school students. I have had the pleasure of knowing Brad for almost ten years now. We started our friendship working at an engineering job shop that I managed in Pleasanton. These kids will definitely benefit from his years of hands on experience.

It does me good to see programs like this being created and run by people with real industrial experience. I often worry that the US is moving away from our roots as a innovative manufacturing leader. The Bay school and Brad recognize the need to train the future engineers in the hands on part of an engineering career. They are putting their money were their mouths are by setting up a first class workshop. With these kinds of programs we help move the economy ever so slightly away from finance based toward innovation and high tech manufacturing.

When Brad was tapped to head up this budding program there was no shop space. From a rickety historic building he brought together the equipment and resources to create the entire engineering design and robotics programs from the ground up. I remember this period well. I wouldn't hear from him for weeks on end then a flurry of emails on some technical detail on some shop infrastructure item. I can say he has done a fine job. After more than a year I finally managed to get out to see the new shop and see some of the things the students are working on.

A brief history of the building where the engineering shop is located.
The crispy before picture of the building. They were not allowed to modify the exterior of the building because of historical preservation rules at the Presidio.
An interior view during the construction. The building is two levels with the engineering shop on the ground floor and an multi use space on the second floor where printmaking, wood crafts and painting are taught.
Here is a shot of the shop before the machinery was moved in. Brad doesn't like the columns but I do.
Brightly lit and organized just like a shop should be. Currently they have a lathe and a milling machine with plans to add a sheet metal capability. The big screed TV is the digital readout for the lathe. Just kidding.
This pretty much sums up the teaching method in the shop. The students are encouraged to try things out and learn from the experience. The projects range from civil engineering studies of bridge construction to robotics.
 A bridge truss study in done in pasta. This one failed at something like 200 times its own weight. And when your done you can make a snack.
I thought I had a cool office. Looking out the window of Brads office is a 155mm howitzer. This is some kind of gig, all the teachers at the Bay school are issued a laptop and an espresso machine. And yes it makes excellent espresso.
One of the benefits of having your school on the grounds of a national park, your own personal howitzer. 
Not a bad view from one of the upper levels of the school. This happens to be the teachers lounge where no students are allowed. I wonder why they put the lounge up here?
 I wish I had a window like this near some of the lathes Ive had to run. I just hope nobody whips a part out of the chuck and sends it through the window.
Here is an idea I haven't seen before. With a small lathe instead of changing the jaws around for OD or ID work just invest in a second chuck. On smaller machines the chucks are not that expensive and can be removed quickly, at least more quickly than you can swap master jaws. You wouldn't do this with a twelve inch chuck but with the smaller ones it makes some sense.
The shop started with one manual milling machine. Notice the phase converter on the floor. These old military building didn't come with three phase power which kind of surprised me for a military installation. I really like the natural light coming through the window. We had a mill near a window like this years ago. One time we were doing some very precision boring on that particular machine. The sun shining through the window was enough to heat the machine casting enough to affect the work. We had to block off the window for that particular job.
Brad had to work within a budget when he was putting the shop together. He found these heavy duty kitchen tables at Ikea that he re-purposed into serviceable shop benches. For the life of me I cant find these on the site but Brad assures me they came from there. The benches are solid wood not pressed board.

 With a few additions to the equipment list Brad will really have a first class shop helping to turn inquisitive kids into the future engineers and scientists that will hopefully keep innovation and manufacturing here at home where it belongs.

Thanks for looking.


  1. Try this link: :)



  2. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for wading through the Ikea site. I was getting a little annoyed at the search function.


  3. Sure thing! I think I pretty much just stumbled on it by accident by browsing around on the Ikea site.

    Love your site too.


  4. Thanks Tom-we miss you and Brad here at Athenian but are so glad things are going well at bay school. Thanks Tom for your year's of service with Athenian robotics. Jim