Volume 4 No.1, Winter 2000

ISSN# 1523-9926

 Guest Editorial

Real versus Simulated Laboratory Equipment

Wesley L. Baldwin
Associate Professor, Coordinator
Manufacturing Engineering Technology
Ball State University

Over the last decade virtual hardware has been implemented effectively into many engineering technology laboratories.  An area with which I am familiar is CNC machine tool simulation.  I believe it is possible to replace completely real machine tools and teach students entirely on the computer-simulated hardware.

 Virtual laboratories have many advantages over hardware-based laboratories.  First and foremost is safety.  I never worry about accidents when my students cut a toolpath on a computer simulation.  Second the cost associated with a software laboratory is a small percentage of the cost of a real machine.  My students can now program and simulate 5-axis mills that would cost over a quarter of a million dollars each if purchased.

 On the other hand, I tell myself that students still need experience on real hardware.  I have not declared the CNC mills and lathes in our laboratories as salvage.  My students still break tools and drill holes with end mills.  I continually tell myself that the virtual equipment is only a supplement to the real hardware.

Engineering Technology faculty in all fields face a similar decision to the one just described.  Realistic computer simulations are available in almost every area of study.  Many of them claim to be complete laboratories.  Can a student complete a technical program and only use computer simulations? Should a student complete a technical program and only use computer simulations?  What is the balance between real and simulated laboratory equipment?  How should faculty make this decision?  


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