Imagine working for a physicist, chemist, or biologist and being asked to turn whatever theoretical brainchild they dreamed up into reality. Now imagine working for a campus full of them. Welcome to Jake Holland’s world. Armed with a well-equipped machine shop, he and two colleagues from the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), spend their days constructing everything from massive roach hotels to top-secret-laser-beam-diffuser widgets.
He’s the first to admit that it’s a very cool job. “We work for the College of Science, and the professors and researchers there are always coming up with these crazy ideas to test their hypotheses,” Holland said. “Wade Cline, Carl Davidson, and I are responsible for helping them design and build the lab equipment needed to pursue those ideas.”
Holland graduated from UNR in 2013 with a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering. Over the next five years, he worked for several companies. These include “a Mom and Pop shop” that makes rocker arms for race engines,” General Electric, where he designed eddy current probes for machine diagnostics, and as the lead engineer for a robotics company in Reno that “shipped him all over the country.”
Tired of traveling, he spoke to a professor in the chemistry department at the university (who also happens to be his wife), and she mentioned that the school was looking for a Development Technician. Holland jumped at the chance. “Even though it meant leaving the industry, I knew I’d have a lot more freedom and a lot less stress,” he said. “It was totally the right decision.”
Filling the gap
Designing sheetmetal parts and making all manner of widgets every day is right up Holland’s alley, and he immediately got to work. However, there was one small problem—even though he has CNC live-tool lathes, five-axis machining centers, band saws, knee mills, and a small woodshop at his disposal, he repeatedly came up short in one area: cutting sheet metal. If only Holland had an efficient, cost-effective means to perform this critical metalworking process, his shop would be complete.
Fortunately, he had another discussion shortly after starting his new position, this time with someone he’d known since childhood. His friend told Holland about an online laser cutting service that offers instant quoting, quick turnaround, and very competitive pricing. Its name? SendCutSend. Since then, Holland and his colleagues have come to rely on the sheet metal fabricator for a variety of projects.
Although he’s unable to share many of the details due to confidentiality agreements, he pointed out one recent project: a thin-gauge brass part that, ironically, was destined for laser use. Thanks to SendCutSend’s use of fiber lasers, he reduced his part costs by a factor of ten. “The parts have a series of narrow slits in them—about the width of a human hair—that act as windows for the laser beam,” he said. “Normally, we would have sent them out to a wire EDM shop, but SendCutSend was able to cut them in less time and for a fraction of the price.”
In another example, Holland was facing several days of in-house machining followed by tedious deburring of small parts made from laser cut 20-gage 304 stainless steel. Here again, laser cutting turned out to be a more efficient option for everyone involved— SendCutSend made the parts for $70, the professor received them in less time, and Holland was free to work on other projects better suited to his shop’s equipment.
The wheat from the chaff
One project that Holland is free to talk about is a seed separator for the university’s agricultural department. “The professor needed a way to clean seeds more efficiently, so we designed this hopper assembly that’s about two-feet square with a funnel shape on one end for catching the seeds,” he said. “I don’t have a machine for bending sheet metal though, so I drew it up in our CAD software with these little stitches on each seam. I sent it over to SendCutSend, they cut the whole thing out for me, and when I got it back a couple days later, I just folded it up. It worked great.”
His final story hits close to home for anyone who appreciates dry hands. Frustrated with the school’s refusal to give him a key for the shop’s paper towel dispensers, Holland managed to get his hands on one long enough to snap a picture with his smartphone. “I traced it in my CAD system and uploaded the file to SendCutSend’s website. Now I have ten of them,” he laughed. “Seriously, though, they’re awesome people. They work really hard, and if I call them up with a problem or rush job, they always pull through for me.”