Skip To Main Content

Polar Express

Technology students assemble “Christmas train” as part of CAD-focused class

For 13 technological studies students, a fall semester project designed to help them learn CAD (computer-aided design) turned into a fun way to showcase their skills and celebrate the holiday season.

Associate professor of technology Feng Jao’s Product Design and Analysis class (TECH 2231) was designed to prepare students to use and create CAD drawings with a software application called Autodesk Inventor. One of their projects involved re-engineering a wooden toy train set using CAD drawings and 3D printing.

As an unexpected surprise, the project received a healthy dose of Christmas cheer, as well.

“As we were working on these, I said, ‘Well, you know what? Christmas is coming, so let’s print them in the Christmas colors,’” says Jao. “Then I had a student say, ‘Hey, I have a lot of villages.’ And so I said, ‘You know what, let’s put a table together.’”

The CAD model Christmas Train The result became an entire tabletop Christmas village display set up in the lobby of the Department of Technological Studies in Taft Memorial. Not only did the students create the train and each train track piece (each marked with its student creator’s name), but they also combined into six groups to create the other fabricated objects you see: the train stations, railway crossings, pine trees and more.

Sophomore Jon Nichols holds two pieces he created for the Christmas train display.The festive display has taken on a life of its own in the building. Passersby stop and admire often, and Jao noticed that each time she passes it, the train has been moved to a new position on the track. (Although the train has an operating engine, it’s left stationary at all times.)

But the payoff has been more than just a festive novelty. At least one-third of the class had never used CAD before enrolling in the class. Now, they are all well-acquainted with one of the most widely used technological applications in manufacturing today, providing them with high-impact learning and a valuable skill set going forward.

“Before, I didn’t know anything about CAD, and once I did it, I feel like I’m proficient in it. It’s a great tool,” says sophomore Jon Nichols, a manufacturing technology and construction management double major. “Most manufacturing companies use CAD, and now I understand why. I would absolutely love to use CAD in my future career.”

3D Printing a Holiday Train Set