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Each year, thousands of engineering students and machinists worldwide learn how to use a manual mill for the first time. Frequently the machines in schools and training programs are old, outdated, and not designed for human cognition. In spite of this, manual machining as a craft and method is commonly taught to engineers as a key stepping stone before automated and mass manufacturing techniques. 

With this in mind, how might we incorporate technological augmentation to improve the educational experience of manual machining, without fully automating it?

The Haas VF-1X is a concept milling machine that leverages technologies such as projection mapping and user logging to make machining more efficient and effective in educational contexts. It does this without automating or replacing manual processes, but rather by providing visual augmentation and cognitive aids to prevent mistakes, waste, and injury. 

Project lead, user research

Part of Products Studio IV: Designing Products for Social Systems

at Carnegie Mellon University


The Haas VF-1X is a project about restraint. Once you consider the proposition of these heritage machines as sensing, intelligent systems, how do you carefully add technological aids that don't remove the valuable learning experience of manual machining that is so crucial to engineering practice?

Features and aids throughout the design support first-time machinists in manually creating their first parts, without automatically machining for them. All of the movements of the machine are still fully controlled by the operator.

User identification & logging

An RFID pad and LED light allow a student user to send 3D CAD files of their part to the machine, allowing it to understand the operations list, part geometry, and necessary tools for the job. Linking the student ID card with the machine also logs their machine hours, experience, and permissions which can be set based on their course level.

User-centric controls layout

Displays and interfaces are laid out radially from the central machining position. Everything is kept within arms reach, aside from existing conventions related to the axial movement of the bed. 

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A curved display provides helpful visualizations of key dimensions and operations in the process. The prototype UI suggests realtime 2D visualization of the machining tool within the part.

Detection & projection

A camera/projection module underneath the machine head pairs with side cameras to capture and project visual augmentation directly onto the stock and the machine table. When paired with the student ID-derived 3D part file and the display screen, it relates key dimensions to visually accessible animations and overlays. 


Camera modules slide onto both sides od the machine table, offering additional computer vision data about the part dimensions, stock placement, and material sizing. 

Projection graphics

This prototype projection mapping shows how the machine completing an operation within the material stock can be interpreted and re-projected onto the table surface to help the student understand what they're doing in a simple 3D visualization. (14).gif
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2D graphics were created and prototyped in Figma to simulate what visual overlay may be helpful. 

Research process

My user research began with interviews and observation sessions, where I would have beginner users visually and verbally annotate their thinking and interactions with the machine at different steps of the machining process.


Early in my process, I visualized some concepts exploring how much the fundamental machining practice could be altered. I settled on a concept similar to the rightmost image, leveraging more integrated augmentation instead of uprooting the standard conventions. 

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Generative controls placement

I built a cardboard and aluminum extrusion rig to be able to alter the dimensions of the major machine areas. I then invited my previous research participants to layout their 'ideal' features and interface locations. I then aggregated their annotated feedback for building and dimensioning my digital CAD model. 


The HAAS VF-1X explores technological augmentation a craft of within systems of education and professional practice. Projection-based visua augmentation and an approachable device design inspire and support novice users. 

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