With the ink barely dry on his master’s in mechanical engineering from UC Davis, Nick Raymond is interning this summer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. He is working to retrofit a buoy used to sample water temperature profiles at different depths in the ocean—by adding an inertial sensor that could measure the float’s speed while it is drifting in the currents.
The buoys sometimes beach themselves. So the scientists with whom he is working need to track how fast each buoy is moving and its relative location so when it gets too close to shore they can change its buoyancy in an effort to send it back to deeper waters.
To get on the front lines of the climate change battle, Raymond took what some would see as a circuitous path: He attended Santa Rosa Junior College and worked full time for six years in Bodega Bay, for the Sonoma Country Regional Parks system, before entering the UC system.
He loaded up on a variety of classes to sort out what interested him (engineering physics) and what did not (psychology). He took on an independent project, in ocean wave energy capture and built a small model from PVC pipe and magnets. To test the power output, he converted a fish aquarium into a wave tank for generating four-inch-tall waves. And he bought a three-axis desktop manual milling machine that he later retrofitted into a small CNC machine to fabricate and engrave more sophisticated parts for the prototype.
When he transferred to UC Davis, Raymond landed a research gig in the Intelligent Manufacturing Systems & Mechatronics lab, in part because he had a CNC milling machine in his apartment and experience programming and learning G code.
Overnight, he went from using his mini mill at home to operating and programming traditional and nontraditional machine tools using CAM software.
During his senior year, he led a team of fellow mechanical engineering students as they designed, built and tested a full-scale prototype of a 100-watt wave energy converter that could harness energy from ocean waves. The team posted construction plans for the wave energy converter online (https://oceanpowerproject.wordpress.com/) so others could improve the technology, he said.
“As a result, I’ve had about 30 inquiries from people in six different countries but haven’t yet seen someone building the exact same thing,” he said.
Raymond has a clear ethos: lower the barrier to entry.
While he is interested in prototyping and developing new tools and hardware with the latest machine tool technology, he is even more interested in integrating simple sensors and microcontrollers with existing components to make inventions that hobbyists and tinkers can replicate:
“I love the concept of taking something off the shelf and making something new out of it,” he said. “That was the idea with the wave energy project: You don’t need to spend all this time making custom parts and components. You can just take hydraulic components that go into tractors and springs from a car, and you can combine them to make a new device that can harvest energy from the ocean.
“It’s really hard to manufacture things precisely and accurately, and to make them smooth and have perfect 90-degree angles,” he said. “So I’m really interested in finding ways to share information with people who don’t have CNC machines and finding ways to get them excited and making it so things are accessible and open sourced.”
This article was first published in the July 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Read all of the 2016 30 Under 30 Profiles as a PDF.