Redefining the Classroom

Student engineer harbors high hopes for handcrafted yo-yo

Posted: February 1st, 2012

MILLED FOR SUCCESS – Lake Superior State University engineering student Jonathan Spencer holds up a yo-yo he created from scratch for a milling competition offered by the Roland DGA Corporation. The grand prize is a new $12,000 Roland micro-milling machine for LSSU's Product Development Center. Consolation prize is a trip for two to Japan and a tour of Roland's industrial facilities. Spencer, a senior in mechanical engineering from West Branch, Mich., has been a PDC student employee for more than three years. Incidentally, the 0s and 1s in Spencer's design spell out 'LSSU' in binary code. (Photo by John Shibley)

A print-resolution photo that runs with this caption can be found by clicking here.

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. -- Jon Spencer, a junior in mechanical engineering at Lake Superior State University, has married three (3) passions into one (1). His engineered yo-yo (1) might win his alma mater state-of-the-art equipment for its Product Development Center (2), and him a free trip to Japan (3). To accomplish all this, Spencer has entered a custom-designed yo-yo into Roland DG's Creative Awards competition.

Roland DG is a Japan-based manufacturer of micro-milling equipment. Spencer used a Roland numerical controlled (CNC) mill in LSSU's Product Development Center to create his yo-yo from scratch. Spencer, whose hometown is West Branch, Mich., has been a PDC student engineer for the past three years.

The annual Roland DG 2011 Creative Awards recognize work by Roland users around the world. Winners from 14 regional competitions vie for one of four Roland machines. Regional winners, who must be present to win, get an expense-paid trip to Roland DG’s 30th-anniversary celebration at corporate headquarters in Hamamatsu, Japan. Winners will also tour the company’s facilities, and visit Tokyo and Kyoto.

Spencer’s entry is for the North America region.

LSSU's Roland DG MDX-540 is a miniature mill used for creating small parts to build prototypes for its clients. Spencer used bits as small as .0130-inch to inscribe designs onto two faces of the yo-yo. One face spells out 'LSSU' in binary code, along with an integrated circuit pattern that represents the computer and electrical aspects of the PDC. On the flip side are markings that represent the PDC's mechanical engineering services.

Entries are judged on creativity, including originality and imagination; innovative use of Roland equipment (e.g. an application not typically associated with the Roland product utilized); and excellence in the execution or rendering of the exhibit. Spencer’s yo-yo is built to specifications based on a Duncan model, right down to the Egyptian cotton string. The yo-yo was developed as an experiment with alternative materials for manufacturing client prototypes.

“We’re always looking for ways to keep costs down for our clients,” said David Leach, one of two project managers with the PDC. “Jon worked with a liquid urethane and mineral composite. The major benefit of the composite is the cost. It is less expensive than solid plastic. It starts out as a liquid that is poured into a mold and formed a more efficient shape. Jon was able to make a block for machining that was less than a third the cost.”

“The most unique aspect of the yo-yo is the composite,” said Spencer. “The sand is abrasive to the tools and makes milling more of a challenge. Other materials are being reviewed that are less abrasive but have the same strength characteristics,” he added. Another downside to the composite is its weight. The completed toy replica tips the scales at .75 pounds.

The yo-yo parts were cut, filed and sanded, and then sealed with a Krylon clear coat. An aluminum connecting post was machined and threaded to allow the halves to spin independently.

Learn more about Lake Superior State University’s Product Development Center by running a Web search on "LSSU Engineering PDC."

Run a search on "Roland Creative Awards" to read about the competition. View a gallery and vote for your favorite exhibit. A monthly winner is chosen by popular vote. Roland judges select regional winners on Feb. 15 who will compete for the world grand prize in April.


CONTACTS: John Shibley, e-mail, 906-635-2314; Tom Pink, e-mail, 635-2315.