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Welcome to DU’s Machine Shop

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Sylvia Morna Freitas

Student Content Writer

Article  • Blog  •

The Center for Design Manufacturing & Fabrication, better known as the Machine Shop, is run by Mechanical Lab Manager Justin Huff on the first floor of The Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science. Huff received his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Denver in 2011 and finished his Master’s in Engineering Technology from Purdue University in 2014. Since 2019, Huff has spearheaded the operation of the Machine Shop and its importance in the curriculum of Mechanical Engineering students here at DU.  

As Huff explains, “These days, everything that you see or touch has touched a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine at some point… CNC machines build our lives and I truly believe that. So when you understand that and you understand the value that comes out of training people in manufacturing engineering, you can’t do that without a machine shop.” 

The Machine Shop at DU serves a variety of functions; certifying students on how to operate mechanical engineering machines, supporting research projects at DU by creating parts and fixtures for them, and providing the opportunity to participate in real-world project designs for third-party contractors. The Machine Shop’s office hours are from 8am to 4:30pm Monday-Friday, and students who are Machine Shop certified are allowed to work in the Shop from 8am to 10pm as long as there are two people in the Shop at all times. To receive that certification, Huff teaches a 10-week course that instructs students on “how to run a lathe, basic operations, milling operations, safety procedures… When you leave the course you are confident enough to then come up with new projects and other ideas that you can use those machines to complete.” 

Huff emphasized how valuable this experience is and how the Machine Shop at DU opens the door for dedicated mechanical engineering students to work on manufacturing for real-world projects. To date, the Machine Shop has worked on several. Huff highlighted a partnership with biomechanics researchers at DU, a potential upcoming project in renewable energy, and prior work with NASA.  

With the biomechanics project, the Machine Shop created parts that could record data on anatomical human movements in a way that was accurate and repeatable. In 2019, Huff machined an instrument that flew on a NASA airplane to collect particles in the stratosphere. 

“The possibilities are endless. From NASA to biomechanics to robotics… We have so many different projects that come through the machine shop that need to be highlighted and so many students who touch people's lives and change lives… I think that in the future the machine shop is growing to include and to support anybody who has an idea or thinks of anything novel that can come out of a university.” 

Beyond the walls of DU’s Machine Shop, Huff also emphasized the relevancy of hands-on experience with CNC machines for students graduating from DU and heading into the workforce. “Students who come through my shop will have a fundamental knowledge of the nomenclature, the procedures, the safety, the documentation, and how to actually make something work… As long as you understand the coding, the programming, and what the machine is doing… the skills are transferable,” Huff said.  

Huff underlined two main things he would like people to be aware of about the Machine Shop. First and foremost, “the machine shop is not, by design, a safe place to be… And you need to respect that,” Huff explained. When safety measures are observed, however, Huff emphasized secondly that the shop is open to all, “If you’re willing to open your mind, and you’re willing to go put yourself out there to go try and learn how to make something, the shop is there for you. And the shop is for everybody.” 

Huff added how appreciative he is for the support he’s received from the DU community since first starting his undergraduate degree here. Having the same positive impact on his students is what drives his passion for his role, “I have roots here… I turned into an engineer here. I became a machinist here… I want [people to say], ‘You’re a DU engineer? Oh, good. Finally, finally, someone who knows what they’re talking about.’”