Landon Williams, a fourth-year aerospace engineering student at UC Irvine (UCI), couldn’t have started his own company, Quinta, without the help of three things: the UCI Beall Applied Innovation Student Startup Fund, guidance from a colleague, and some tough love from a former supervisor.
Last summer, Williams realized his limited experience wasn’t going to land him any of the internships he wanted. So, he decided to take on a project of his own: building a wind tunnel.
Excited, Williams knew he would not only gain the experience he needed to jump-start his career, but he would also be able to conduct aerodynamic testing with cars – something he had wanted to do for a while.
But when Williams told his manager at UCI’s Anteater Recreation Center (ARC) about his summer plans, his boss encouraged him to do something better.
That’s how Quinta was born.
Quinta, meaning “fifth” in Spanish, is named after the five axes Williams’ computer numerical control (CNC) machine operates on. A CNC machine is a subtractive manufacturing tool that cuts and etches away at a material – wax, foam, metal or plastic – to make accurate molds and parts. While the average consumer-grade CNC machines only use three axes, Williams added two more to Quinta, which allows users to achieve greater precision and accuracy.
Williams used what he received from the Student Startup Fund to purchase the equipment and software he needed to complete his five-axis CNC machine.
“I probably wouldn’t have been able to move forward without the Student Startup Fund,” Williams said. “So that was really a blessing.”
Williams’ engineering partner, Akash Dighe, a fourth-year mechanical engineering major at UCI and former prototyping intern at the Cove Prototyping Lab located at UCI Beall Applied Innovation, shared his experiences working with the lab’s three-axis CNC machine. After discovering Williams had created his own upgraded CNC machine, Dighe helped him land his current internship at the Cove Prototyping Lab.
“Landon, you’re the CNC guy,” Dighe told Williams.
Williams is grateful for Dighe’s support in his CNC machining endeavors. He also enjoys putting his knowledge into further practice at his in-person internship at the Cove Prototyping Lab.
“I have a good time going to work every day,” said Williams. “I’m [always] learning something new and building something, which is what I like to do.”
Williams’ vlogs about using and building the Quinta machine amass thousands of views on YouTube. He plans to attract creatives and artists who can use the Quinta five-axis CNC machine to make sculptures and other works of art.
Typical CNC machines, made from metal, are bulky and difficult to work; they often take up an entire room and require years of experience and a lot of software knowledge, according to Dighe. However, all the parts to the Quinta five-axis CNC machine are 3D printable, making it more accessible to those less familiar with its complicated technology.
Still, Williams admits that if it hadn’t been for his former manager at the ARC telling him to aim higher, he wouldn’t be where he is today.
“One of my personal philosophies now is ‘don’t go after low-hanging fruit,’” said Williams. “If I just settled for something easier, none of this would’ve happened.”
Main Photo: Ryan Mahar, UCI Beall Applied Innovation