Katie Schutt is a Mechanical Engineering Student Apprentice. She interned with LifeFormations during summer 2022.
Where did you intern and what exciting for you about that opportunity?
This summer I was a mechanical engineering intern at a small company called LifeFormations. They design and fabricate animatronics and other scenic elements for amusement parks, museums, and other entertainment experiences. As a media production and mechanical engineering student as well as special effects enthusiast, I have always been excited about working in the intersection of entertainment and engineering. This was a great opportunity in that field!
What kinds of projects have you had a chance to work on over the summer?
I contributed to many different stages of multiple animatronic projects for high-profile clients in the entertainment industry. This ranged from machining parts for animatronic characters that were about to be shipped, to writing maintenance and safety documentation that included calculations, to designing structural components in SolidWorks.
Was there a particular challenge you encoutnered that really pushed your engineering skills?
Occasionally I would have to redesign or fully design parts in the armature, or internal mechanical “skeleton” of the animatronic. This greatly challenged my design-for-manufacturability skills and thinking. While building the 3D part geometry in SolidWorks, I was constantly asking myself questions: Can I water jet this component, or does it need to be machined? Does a machinist need to re-fixture the part to make these features? Does this geometry interfere with the external structural and decorative shells? It was incredibly helpful to have these and more discussions with the full-time engineers at LifeFormations, who have many years of design experience.
Did you have any "aha!" moments when you realized that you could use an equation or skill you'd learned in class?
Many different mechanical engineering concepts I had learned at CU popped up during my summer internship! For example, to justify motor selections for a figure’s movement, we utilized torque-speed curves like those I had made for my MCEN 3025 Component Design project. I also spent over 400 hours working in SolidWorks at LifeFormations: designing sheet metal and machined parts, building weldment frames, and creating correctly toleranced and dimensioned assembly and detail drawings. The introductory SolidWorks skills I learned from the labs and projects in MCEN 1025 were a great foundation for the work I did at LifeFormations.
What advice would you have for other students interested in working or interning in a related field?
If you are interested in gaining experience at a company in a niche engineering field, don’t turn away if there aren’t any internship roles posted on their website! Keep researching and asking for information. I discovered LifeFormations through CU Mechanical Engineering alumni and LinkedIn, and reached out to the company through the contact form on their website.