Jul 3, 2012

Engineering Design Tools for All Ages

A few weeks ago I posted a topic on raising your engineering child using the free software Google Sketchup. After a bit more searching the internet I've found there is actually a healthy variety engineering design platforms, from beginner to professional, all of which will help your kid pick up the basic tools needed to succeed in STEM fields. I therefore wanted to jot down a roadmap for taking your aspiring child from the developmental stages of using an engineering design tool to a professional designer.

Pre-Stage 1: Legos

Age: Start in Pre-K through adulthood

Yes, legos. If you haven't bought your kid Legos and are thinking about ways to nudge them toward engineering - buy them Legos! Note - this is not free (or even cheap) but probably the best "toy" you can award your child with. I'd start them off with a basic LEGO brick box, like this one and slowly buy them more and more. My parents got us a couple large sets of basic bricks, then we'd get one "fancy" set each Christmas. Of course, that set was completely integrated into the other generic pieces by New Years day each year and we'd be off making our own creations.

Why are Lego blocks so expensive you ask? Well, the interesting thing is that Lego blocks are manufactured with very precise "engineering" tolerances. This essentially means that each tiny little Lego piece is made to a very precise dimension so that it will lock quite nicely into any other piece. Other toys are made with very imprecise "toy" tolerances (when you try and take an arm off of one doll and put it into another, exact same one, it barely fits). 

Step 1: Lego Digital Designer

Age: Start when learning the computer (1st grade maybe?) through adulthood

Now this is where things get, well, awesome. Lego has created an engineering design platform specifically geared toward making Lego kits! Download this program to your Windows or Mac computer and let your child create a virtual Lego model using a huge selection of virtual Lego pieces. 

The software Lego has put out here is an incredible transition for young engineers. When they graduate to more advanced 3D modeling software, having used this will be an advantage to them. 

Oh, and this is absolutely free! 

If you have a elementary-aged child and are reluctant to buy Lego kits because of their price, why not download this free program and tell them if they want a Lego kit, they must first build it on the computer. If they manage to actually build a virtual model on the computer... well you'll probably feel gushy enough to go out and by them the real thing now, right?

Step 2: Google Sketchup

Age: 6th grade - adulthood

A great tool for the intermediate skill levels. If your child has been doing great with the Lego Digital Designer but is looking for more of a free-form challenge (not constrained by the rigid Lego bricks) it may be time to graduate them to Sketchup. 

Step 3: Autodesk Inventor

Ages: Middle school - professional career (adulthood)

Until recently I was unaware that Autodesk (company making professional engineering software) offered their software FREE to students. That's correct: if you are a student you can download and utilize several of the quite impressive (and professional grade) engineering tools straight from the Autodesk website at no cost to you. 

Inventor is an industry standard in engineering modeling that your child will probably use in his undergraduate education (or he will use a very similar platform that will seem easy to learn should he already grasp Inventor). It really blows my mind that you can download this for free, and I urge all who are interested in engineering to go ahead and download this to play with. 

So there you have it...

If you are looking for free tools to nudge your children into engineering, start with the Lego Digital Designer, then Sketchup, and finally Inventor. These three platforms offer to all age levels the wonderful world of engineering modeling at absolutely no cost.

1 comment:

  1. Autodesk inventor... pretty much industry standard, but it is big bucks. (students can use it free for one year). . solidworks is another

    Solidworks 2012