Five questions for the ultimate handyman

Bill Rickard

Photo by Bob Elbert.

Bill Rickard, coordinator of the aerospace engineering labs and shops, is the ultimate handyman. Need a wind tunnel? He’ll see that it gets built. Need an airfoil to test in that wind tunnel? He’ll see that it gets built. And when students need to find tools to complete their class projects? He and other shop coordinators across campus are building something for that, too.

The basics

  • Name: Bill Rickard
  • Position: Teaching laboratory coordinator, aerospace engineering
  • Years at ISU: 26 years

What kind of tools do you have in the Howe Hall shops?

There’s a composites lab for carbon fiber and fiberglass projects. There’s a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) hot wire foam cutter. There are two 3-D printers in the rapid prototyping lab. In the shop there’s a CNC router table plus table saws, miter saws, band saws, sanders and cabinets full of hand tools. In addition, we have electronics capabilities for soldering and troubleshooting circuits. It’s amazing how much stuff is on campus right now.

What do you build with all these tools?

There are so many examples. The airfoils that are used for turning vanes inside one of the wind tunnels were made with the hot wire foam cutter. Scale-model wind turbines were made with 3-D printers. Models of cities and farms for tornado studies were made in the wood shop. We also support a number of student projects, including the "Make to Innovate" program in the aerospace engineering department and our senior design class.

But there’s a problem with student access to these and other resources on campus?

There’s a great deal of frustration for a lot of students. The university is moving into interdisciplinary approaches in classes. Students are doing a lot of projects they have to design, fabricate and test. The frustration is when a student says, "I need a couple of pieces of metal CNC milled, but I don’t have that in my department and how do I do it?"

Shop managers have come up with a solution?

It’s called the Undergraduate Resource Hub and it was developed with a three-year, $150,000 grant from the dean of the College of Engineering. It’s like a library of resources and safety training. Aerospace engineering has CNC equipment. Agricultural and biosystems engineering has welding and metals equipment. The Boyd Lab in mechanical engineering has wood and CNC metal working tools. The College of Design has printers, scanners and laser cutters. Every shop keeps its unique identity and methods of tracking and doing jobs. The Resource Hub doesn’t take priority. But the shops will make resources available to undergraduate students when they can.

Can others get involved?

We hope to get more departments involved. Not only does it make resources available to students, but also peer-to-peer instruction and the chance to work with people in other disciplines. We want lots and lots of departments. Just contact me or any of the people listed at the Resource Hub. I can’t see why this would not take off.