I already had several projects I was working on at the time so I thought about the idea for a couple of months before I actually sat down with a box of paperclips and started trying to make a machine. During those months I figured out the design and process for making the machine parts and a way to assemble them. I found that I only needed a few items and tools to get started. I found the process to be easy. Paperclip machines are interesting to design and build, and fun to operate when finished. I think the sculptural form of these machines take on an artistic element as well.
For educators this project is a great way to teach students the physics of mechanical machines including cranks, levers, fulcrum points, rotary and linear motion all while stirring their curiosity and developing their mechanical aptitude. In PLTW: this could go under Modeling and Design as a miniature working model or as a machine prototype in manufacturing or structural systems. It could also go under the Power/Energy section. In STEM: it could go under nearly all of the categories. Many thanks to dauphin 1974 who shared a link to a project called FAT Friday at MIT. http://web.mit.edu/museum/programs/fat.html) In that program groups and individuals build machines and then link them together in a row to create a chain reaction. I would think it would be pretty simple to come up with a way to do something similar with paperclip machines. That would allow a whole class of students to each build their own paperclip machine and then link them all together to create a chain reaction.
PS - If I win the Grand Prize in the Shop Bot Contest - and I sure hope I do - I will use it to make proto boards for this project and others for middle and high school students in the STEM program.
Here is a video of the paperclip machine I built.