GTRI Machine Shop Moving to New Location

Machine shop moves out of historic location

On March 25, the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) Machine Shop, located in the Hinman Building since its inception, will close down for an intense three or four days of moving the heavy machinery across campus to its new location.

Georgia Tech Machine Shop 2
Click image to enlarge

A plaque over the door in the Hinman Building highlights the advent of the Engineering Experiment Station machine shop.

The shop was established in 1939 as part of the Engineering Experiment Station, the original incarnation of GTRI. “We’ve given support not only to the state, but to the military across the board,” shop manager Dennis Brown said. “I’ve been in this building for over 31 years. It will be strange to move out of this area into another location. I’ll definitely take some pictures before I go.”

Capital Planning and Space Management is renovating the Hinman Building to house design studios for the College of Architecture. The new location will be at 676 Marietta St. While not centrally located on campus, Brown says the new location will allow better access for materials delivery. The shop reopens April 9.

Open from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., the shop supports more than just GTRI. According to Brown, only half of the shop’s workload is attributed to GTRI. “The other half is from Georgia Tech and other universities, including Emory [University], Georgia State [University], the University of Georgia and even Wake Forest [University]. We also support Georgia Tech-Savannah, and NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration].”

In past years, the shop has constructed a large aircraft radar array for the Sierra Project, as well as satellite parts for the Department of Defense. Perhaps the tallest order was a wind tunnel constructed for Eglin Air Force Base nearly three years ago. “It was nearly as tall as the [three-story] ceiling, and we used 40-foot I-beams to build it,” he said. “The whole frame had to be accurate down to an eighth of a an inch. It took three semi trucks to haul it out in several pieces.”

In support of Georgia Tech, the shop works with faculty and students, often helping move ideas from sketches into a fully realized physical object. “In a year, we’ll maybe work with 300 projects [brought to us] by students and professors,” Brown said. He said the shop supports Aerospace Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, as well as Biomedical Engineering and the College of Sciences.

It’s always rewarding, Brown says, when students or researchers come back and let him know that something fabricated in the shop helped bring in more research grants to the university or to GTRI. “If we help boost research, then we’ve done our jobs.”

With about 10,000 square feet in Hinman, the shop will move into a space of about 7,000 square feet. A 10-ton crane bought used from a steel mill in 1946 will not be making the move. But, Brown says, the crane may be incorporated in the renovation, possibly to support a walkway to connect two interior mezzanine sides of the building. The new location has a five-ton crane, and one very important amenity: conditioned air.

The three-story bay in the Hinman Building has no air conditioning, which makes more of a difference than just comfort, as it can affect object construction. “It’s not only uncomfortable, but those really hot days require additional calculations so a piece built in 100-degree heat will fit into the tolerances required in a 70-degree room,” Brown said.

When Brown started in 1978, the shop had 22 employees in it. With improved efficiency, including computer-aided design and programmable machines, the shop employs five people. “We pride ourselves on our speed,” he said. “Some of the smaller jobs we can turn around and have it ready after lunch after people drop them off.”

Much of this efficiency and speed is attributable to the electrical discharge machines. Through the use of an electrified brass wire or a brass electrode, the machines can cut metal to an extremely fine tolerance of .0002 inches. “We have the only four-axis machine on campus,” he said.

Another, the water jet machine, is only about three years old. As the name implies, the machine uses high-pressured water jets to make extremely fine cuts into metal—some less than a millimeter wide. Many of the older milling and lathing machines have been upgraded to use computer numerical control (CNC).

A cost center, the shop charges an hourly rate for its work, both a labor rate and machine rate. In some cases, the CNC machines can work without anyone in the office. “If we have a project that needs eight hours in the machine, we can program it, put the material in and let it run overnight,” Brown said. “That way we can save clients some money by charging only the machine rate for that time.”

Moving operations begin March 22, which Brown says will allow the shop to provide limited support through March 24. From April 8 to 16, the shop will be able to provide limited support at the Marietta Street location.

To initiate jobs, contact Jimmy Ross at 770-528-7008 or by e-mail at jimmy.ross@gtri.gatech.edu.