In 1997, Stewart Prince, professor of mechanical engineering, was awarded an NSF grant to develop a paperless machine design facility—one where students could do all their design work on computers and then produce the parts using CNC machines and rapid prototypers. In shopping for the CNC machines, Prince approached Haas Automation, the largest machine tool builder in the United States, to see how far the grant funds would stretch. The company, located in Oxnard and founded by CSUN alumnus Gene Haas, responded with a unique proposition: instead of selling the machines, it would entrust them to the college, as long as they were incorporated into the curriculum. And thus the Gene Haas Machine Design and Manufacturing Lab—and a fruitful ongoing partnership—were born.
The new 2,000-square-foot lab was dedicated in October 1998, enabling the department’s 300 students to design and manufacture parts for assignments and projects. And under the terms of the agreement, every couple of years since, Haas has come in, evaluated the college’s needs and replaced the existing machines with the newest, state-of-the-art technology.
“We have completely integrated these machines into our curriculum, so almost every student in our program is exposed to the Haas machines,” says Prince, who continues to oversee the lab. “And it’s in Haas’s best interest to make sure we have the latest and best machines. We create mechanical engineering students, not technicians, so the students who come out of here will be mechanical engineers who work at Haas designing the CNC machines of the future. Haas can select its employees from among our students, and that’s how it benefits.”
Today there are more than 750 students in the mechanical engineering program, and the lab has grown to 5,000 square feet, divided into two halves—one devoted to fabrication, where students make parts, and one where they work on their senior design projects, including the Human-Powered Vehicle, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, Formula SAE car, and Intelligent Ground Vehicle.
“Students are using the machines to make incredible products,” Prince says. “They love it because they can see their products come to fruition.”
The CSUN lab is part of a network of more than 2,000 Haas Technical Education Centers worldwide, mainly at community colleges and universities, where the company either provides machines through an entrustment, as it has at CSUN, or allows the institutions to purchase them at a deep discount.
“Because CSUN is also the alma mater for Gene Haas and it’s close to home, we support it at a higher level, primarily with equipment and any technical support we can give,” says Peter Zierhut, Haas’s vice president for European operations, who also manages the company’s educational programs. “We also show up at TechFest and job fairs and regularly hire students from CSUN.”
In recent years, the company has begun to support the school with financial contributions as well. Through the Gene Haas Foundation, it began providing program funding in 2004, and last year supported an assistant technician for the lab, as well as several student projects and scholarships.
“The Haas corporation and Gene Haas in general have been very, very good to us,” Prince says. “We’re very grateful.”
While Haas Automation may be one of the college’s most visible industry partners, it is by no means the only one, and over the past year, several other partnerships with area companies have been formalized, expanded and solidified.