Hot Metal Post-Mortem

I. Introduction and overview of the project

Project Description

Project Hot Metal is an educational project aiming to teach engineering students how to operate a Metal Additive Manufacturing (AM) machine.

Project Goal

With dual-platform support of PC and VR, the goal of the project is to simulate the operation of a metal AM machine and provide instructional support for engineering students. Students will not only have detailed instructions and assessments on the PC platform but also have a practical experience operating the machine in the virtual world. Project Hot Metal will also integrate the prototype with a machine-based tutor created with CTAT (the Cognitive Tutor Authoring Tools), developed by the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) at Carnegie Mellon University.

Project Deliverable

Our final deliverable includes two parts:

  1. The first part is a functional prototype, including both PC and VR tutorial. The PC tutorial includes 4 steps of unity interactions and their implementations on CTAT. The VR tutorial includes the whole experience operation of the machine.
  2. The second part is the documentation, including tech documentation, hardware installation, design documentation, and results from playtest sessions.


Sandra DeVincent Wolf – Executive Director, NextManufacturing Center

Bruce McLaren – Associate Research Professor, Human-Computer Interaction Institute

Todd Baer – Additive Manufacturing Technician, NextManufacturing Center

Nick Jones – Ph.D. student, Mechanical Engineering

Faculty Advisors

John Dessler – Special Faculty

Scott Stevens – Teaching Professor

Team Members

Tai Ching Cheung – Artist          

Jiming Li – Lead Programmer    

Akash Phadtare – Programmer

Danke Luo – Programmer           

Chenchen Tan – Producer      

Mengqi Wu – Designer          

II.  What went well

Our project delivered a solid and complete tutorial at the end of the semester. Both the team and the clients were proud of what we have achieved. The clients invited the team to present the project at Manufacturing Future Initiative Forum as one of the key projects sponsored by the Manufacturing Future Initiative. There are several key components lead the team to succeed:

  1. Good team communication and good team dynamics really help us work better as a team. Even though there were some misunderstandings and miscommunications throughout the whole semester, we talked it openly and got to know each other better. Furthermore, when the team bonds better, it makes the work easier to be delivered on time with good quality.
  2. A good relationship with clients improves the efficiency of the project development. We maintained good communication with our client throughout the semester. We kept updated our progress with our client so we could get immediate feedback from them. Efficient communication really saved us a lot of time and work in development.

Overall, our project went quite smoothly and well throughout the whole semester. We narrowed down our scope and came up with the best solution, combing both PC and VR tutorial, to fulfill the clients’ requests. We finished what we promised at the beginning with high quality and we had a good time working with each other.

III. What could have been better (or what went wrong)

There would be two things we think that we could do better:

1. Ask for one more artist. In this project, the machine in the lab is very complicated and there are many tools needed in the whole experience. At the same time, our client requires a very realistic art style. However, we only have one artist, even we have a good one, it is still not enough to get everything we need to be done in one semester. So, we need to buy assets and make them fit in our environment as possible.

2. Talk about the scope with our client earlier. If we could figure out the scope better at the very beginning of this semester, we could tell the client how big the original scope(2VR + PC) was. We could tell them how much we could deliver in one semester and let them choose what they prefer earlier. If so, we might cut down some parts of VR and spend a little more time on PC.

IV.    Lessons learned and conclusion

We have learned a lot from this project. We realize that traditional training is quite different from training in virtual reality. We could not simply use the same content in VR. We need to change the content-heavy learning material into interaction-biased training, but also keep those contents in our PC version. Because our target audience is graduate engineering students, playtest sessions by these specific demographics really helps us a lot in the development of iterations.

We felt lucky that we had each other in the same team. Among six teammates, half of the team are going to graduate soon, we wish everyone all the best with a bright future.

Week 15 Dev Blog

It was the last week before the final presentation. Because our project will be continuously developed by another team in the summer, in week 15, our project focused on documenting everything and got the project ready to be delivered to our clients.

The clients were very excited with what we have achieved this semester and invited us to showcase our project at manufacturing futures initiative forum as one of the key project sponsored by Manufacturing Future Initiatives. We were very excited to present our project at such a formal event before the end of the semester.

MFI Forum poster
MFI Group Project

We are looking forward for our final presentation!

Week 4 Dev Blog

On Monday, Todd, the lab technician, and Nick, the Ph.D. student at NextManufacturing Institution, gave us a tour of the lab. We got to know the procedure much better by actually seeing the manipulation in person. We also took a lot of photos for future reference. Here are some highlights of the tour:

AM machine
Lab Tour

After the tour, we rearranged the content we had and made sure everyone understood each part well. With the pictures we had, our artist modeled the chamber in more details.

Chamber Model

For the art part, we also have purchased some art assets including screws, lab environment, and work coat packages.

For the programming part, our programmers were continuously working on the interactions in Virtual Reality. Here is a screenshot of the door open function of the machine:

Door Open Function

On Wednesday, we presented our semester-long plan to the faculty at 1/4 walk-around and got a lot of feedback from them. We modified our plan to be VR-focused. We planned to finish the first VR prototype before the half and will design our PC part after the playtesting the VR prototype. We are excited to see the progress we are going to make in the next 3 weeks before the half presentation.

Quarter Presentation

Week 3 Dev Blog

In order to prepare for the quarter walk-around next week, we decorated our room with the patent posters ordered online. We started to use the scrum board to keep everyone clear about the progress everyone has. We also designed the poster, half-sheet and project website.

Project Poster

We also met with Jesse Schell and received a lot of suggestions from him about how to attract students to pay attention to the PC training. Jesse also gave us some advice about how to display texts in Virtual Reality in a good way. We definitely would consider them into our design.

Our programmers continuously developed communication between CTAT and Unity. They also built Level Management System by using Level Manager-Level-Goal structure and interaction system based on grabbing and raycasting.

VR Simulation

Our artist began to model the chamber of the machine. Here is the first peak:

AM machine chamber

On Friday, we had our regular Faculty meeting with Sandra, Bruce, Lu, and Nick. We were excited that we would have another lab tour next Monday with Nick and the lab technician, Todd. We would have the same training as the current students have for AM machine. We clarified a few more details about the operation and tried to keep our vision and expectation the same as our client.

Lastly, here is our team photo:

Team Photo

Week 2 Dev Blog

During our 2nd week, programmers have figured out the integration between Unity and CTAT and started prototyping the basic interactions of the operation in AM machine in Virtual Reality . Our artist designed our logo shown below.

Project Logo

We also set our project description :
“Project Hot Metal is an educational project aiming to teach engineering students how to operate a metal Additive Manufacturing (AM) machine. With cross-platform of PC and VR, the goal of the project is to simulate the operation of metal AM machine and provide instructional support for engineering students.  Students will not only have detailed instructions and assessments on the PC platform but also have a practical experience operating the machine in the virtual world. Project Hot Metal will also integrate the prototype with a machine-based tutor created with CTAT (the Cognitive Tutor Authoring Tools), developed by the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) at Carnegie Mellon University. “

We talked about our semester-long plan. We were planning to deliver our first VR prototype before the half presentation and working on the PC and VR platform simultaneously.

Here is the detailed design plan:

Current Design Plan
Composition Box

Week 1 Dev Blog

As the new semester started, our team could not wait to meet up with each other.

On the first day of school, we went out and had a team dinner. We introduced to each other and had a great time there.

Team Dinner – Jan 14th, 2019

Before our client meeting on Friday, we sat together and did some research about our client and their product. The NextManufacturing Center is a CMU research center, for additive manufacturing (AM), commonly known as 3-D printing. Our Client, Sandra DeVincent Wolf, the Executive Director of NextManufacturing, is looking for a prototype that could provide instructional support for AM machine training in Virtual Reality. We looked up the client’s website and talked about our expertise and preferred positions in our team. We also listed some potential questions that we could ask the client during our first client meeting.

On Friday, Jan 18th, we met with our clients on campus. Sandra gave us a brief introduction about the lab, the fundamental knowledge of 3D metal printing and her expectation about the project. Bruce McLaren, the associate research professor at Human-Computer Interaction Institute, and his student, Lu Sun, also gave another introduction about CTAT (the Cognitive Tutor Authoring Tools) and how they wanted our prototype to integrate with this tutoring software. They wanted to extend our training software in the future to collect and analyze student’s data for research purpose. After the presentation, Sandra, along with her student, Nick, and lab technician, Todd, gave us a lab tour and explained the machine on-site. We had a really great time during our first meeting and we felt very impressive about how high-tech the machine is and how much space it took to store all the metal powder.

First Client Meeting – Jan 18th, 2019
Additive Manufacturing (AM) machine

After our first client meeting, we set our role in this project and designed the responsibility assignment matrix together.

RACI Chart