Lean Thinking Helps STEM Kids Build a Tiny Windfarm

When we see a new build by [Gord] from Gord’s Garage, we never know what to expect. He seems to be pretty skilled at whatever he puts his hand to, with a great design sense and impeccable craftsmanship. You might expect him to tone it down a little for a STEM-outreach wind turbine project then, but when you get a chance to impress 28 fifth and sixth graders, you might as well go for it.

98j6zpStarting with an idea from his daughter’s teacher for wind turbines each kid could make, [Gord] applied a little lean methodology so the kids would be able to complete the build in the allotted time. The design is simple – a couple of old CDs holding vertical sections of PVC tubing to catch the breeze and spin neodymium magnets over four flat coils of magnet wire. It’s enough to light a single LED and perhaps a kid’s imagination.

As simple as the turbine is, the process of building it needed to be stripped of as much unnecessary work as possible, and [Gord] really shines here. He built jigs and fixtures galore, pre-built some assemblies, and set up well-organized workstations for each step of the build. Everything was clearly labeled, adult volunteers were trained using the video after the break, and a good time was had by all.

Sometimes the hack isn’t in the product but in the process, and [Gord] managed to hack a success out a potential disaster of disappointed kids. If getting a taste of [Gord]’s style makes you want to see more, check out his guitar fretting jig or his brake rotor mancave clock.

35 thoughts on “Lean Thinking Helps STEM Kids Build a Tiny Windfarm

    1. Well. There was a time where hitting ESC in the browser would stop that nonsense.

      I have the suspicion that we are being slowly boilt, like the proverbial frog :-)

      Nice project, btw., kudos!

      It has an interesting philosophical side to it, which tickled some “scare nerve” in me (this makes the report the more interesting for me!).

      Somehow it has this “industrial taste” to it, with strong division of labor and little wiggle room for the individual work^H^H^H^H kids. OTOH the reasons for doing it this way are clear.

      Perhaps the lesson (for me, at least!) would be to think hard on how to let the kids participate in the planning and preparation phases of that.

      Thanks again: I got lots of food for thought.

      1. I have a suggestion, why do’n’t we adopt the “scroll lock” button to acti like a animated gif lock button.
        When this button is active… animated GIFs will no longer be animated, just normal pictures.
        Solve the problem of a previous article and the problem of lot’s of anoyed users.
        Perhaps even better, animated gif (of ridiculous sizes would not be loaded pas the first frame,when “scroll lock” is activated, saves bandwidth. If this catches on then mobile phones will be having a scroll lock button too.

    1. AOL may have been single handedly responsible for the industry of affordable dvd-r’s showing up. They sent out so many “free” cd’s to everyone in the US that people started making “art” out of the disks…. We may also be able to blame them for some of the ‘modern trash art’ we have today…

    1. One addition though: put the zip ties already under the coil as it’s being wound, so when it’s done you can close them before removing the wire from the jig and the whole package comes out nice and tight.

      All that needs is four axial slots machined into the spindle.

      1. I also love the jigs. They are overkill for this project (it could use wood, not aluminium).
        Anyone got some docs about how to project and build jigs?

  1. Those neo magnets are powerful I hope nobody got bit by a pair. I am puzzled by the flux and how it makes the coils work, the orientation of the discs poles? Even the least efficient way would still make one LED light up. I am preparing a ring of hard drive magnets and want to make a bolt on equivalent of a bike hub generator. I want 3-5 watts out.

    1. The field reverses between the magnets. It’s not symmetrical – one half ot the cycle generates lower voltage – but it doesn’t need to be because the diode is acting as a half-wave rectifier that basically blocks the weaker half-cycle. Turning the diode one way or the other should make it glow brighter or dimmer.

  2. I really wish there was an upvote/downvote system here because this is something I would like to see more of that doesn’t generate a whole lot of comments like the controversial crap.

  3. Very impressive! The only issue I have with this is determining what education level this should be for. I can see this being a high school project and I could also see this as a project for college students determining the efficiency of this generator and possibly determining how they could make this better. Altogether this could be a learning instrument for a great range of students and it could be good for someone that does not want to rely on power from “the grid”.

  4. I suppose I never figure out why some decided to be annoyed by animated gifs. They are what they are, no requirement to stare at one and not scroll pass it. I seem to recall there use to be a paper version of this turbine project.

    1. Our eyes are reflexively attracted towards motion. Some people have a harder time overriding this reflex. There are ways to disable the .gifs using browser add-ons.

      I wonder if a paper pinwheel would generate enough power for an LED?

    2. A lot of us cannot easily read anything if there is something moving on the page. They’re also a HUGE waste of bandwidth and RAM. It’s as annoying as an auto-playing video but takes even more bandwidth in the process and we have nearly zero chance of blocking them.

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