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Photo of Daryl Crawmer
May 16, 2018

Thermal spray class prepares students to excel

Written By: Sam Million-Weaver

Future engineers in professor Daryl Crawmer’s special topics in materials science and engineering class learn much more than the thermal spraying techniques described in the catalogue—the upper-division course charges students to become familiar with multiple disciplines, including electronics, robotics, and environmental control.

“The purpose has never been to teach only thermal spray,” says Crawmer. “I want to give the students tools for an integrated engineering approach.”

Thermal spraying is a versatile coating technique that can be applied to everything from patio furniture to sensitive electronics in microprocessors to space-station components. Spraying is relatively quick compared to other coating approaches like electroplating or vapor deposition, but the process is anything but simple.

“Thermal spray is really complicated, and that’s what makes it so fun,” says Crawmer. “You get to play in everyone else’s sandbox.”

Giving an object the thermal spray treatment involves propelling millions of microscopic molten droplets toward its surface to lay down a protective coating bit by bit. While students in the class don’t actually do any spraying, they do work out example problems drawn from Crawmer’s career.

It’s a career rich with experience: Crawmer holds multiple patents, pioneered several technologies and applications for thermal spraying, and even helped change the course of the industry during the early 1990s by helping develop safer equipment.

Fundamentals are central to Crawmer’s curriculum, which calls on students to apply basic engineering concepts to solve complex quandaries like how droplets of coating materials will interact with specific surfaces.

The 21 students in his course have proven to be quick studies. Although the group was quiet during the first few meetings of the semester, students quickly built camaraderie and started to fill class-time with lively and engaged discussions.

After completing the class, students have a foundational skillset they can contribute to their first full-time jobs. That goal—preparing new graduates to enter the job market—motivated Crawmer to work with Paul Voyles, the Beckwith-Bascom Professor and department chair of materials science and engineering to create the course after retiring from The Fisher Barton Group in June 2017.

“It’s tremendously exciting for us to have someone with Daryl’s expertise in thermal spray and breadth of experience in industry working with our students,” says Voyles. “He brings real-world problems and solutions into the classroom, which is one of the hallmarks of an excellent engineering education.”


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