Building Tomorrow's Machinists

Building Tomorrow's Machinists

Partnerships between a large U.S. machine-tool builder and learning institutions shape manufacturing education for the next generation.

Partnerships between a large U.S. machine-tool builder and learning institutions shape manufacturing education for the next generation.

Fritz Smydra (left), professor Machine Trade Program, Lansing Community College, and Kenneth Wright, Manufacturing Productivity Systems/CNC, Henry Ford Community College, believe in keeping manufacturing education firmly anchored in the real world.

At Henry Ford Community College's HTEC, students learn the trade on Haas CNC machine tools.

Students at Henry Ford Community College's HTEC must first learn the trigonometry and math for calculating cutter compensation. Once they know this, they put data directly into the machine's control, which automatically performs necessary compensation.

Once the newest HTEC located at Lansing Community College is completed, students will work with eight Haas CNC machine tools.

In the future, HTECs plan on purchasing software from Immersive Engineering that lets a student press buttons on the desktop virtual controller with his mouse to jog the virtual machine tool or enter code into the controller, which then "runs" the machine.

Lansing's HTEC is having a DNC system installed that will let the center's lab computers talk directly to its shop-floor machine tools.

Manufacturing education must be anchored in the real world, even as it encompasses the latest in technology and virtual reality. But a problem has been that students often don't get the hands-on experience they need before hitting the shop floor. That's why CNC machine tool manufacturer Haas Automation Inc., Oxnard, Calif., has stepped in to shape the future of manufacturing education through its Haas Technical Education Centers (HTECs). These centers combine the resources of Haas Automation, local Haas Factory Outlets (HFOs), technical career centers, and schools including technical, community, and four-year colleges.

At the HTECs, students enrolled in manufacturing technology curriculums such as those taught by Kenneth Wright at Henry Ford Community College (HFCC), Dearborn, Mich., and by Fritz Smydra at Lansing Community College (LCC), Lansing, Mich., receive advanced, hands-on technical training on the latest Haas CNC machine tools. Students go from "art to part," learning how to estimate job costs, design parts in CAD/CAM software, write G and M code, set up and run the CNC machine tools, and implement machine-maintenance schedules. They also learn to use in-process monitoring probes and about ISO quality standards.

In addition, HFCC's center "teaches the teachers," hosting seminars for high school and community college instructors to learn effective teaching methods and the latest machine tool technologies, while earning required continuing-education credits. LCC's center also provides ongoing training for customers who purchase Haas machines.

And soon, LCC's center will boost manufacturing education to next-generation levels with the addition of special emulation software that will make for dynamic " on demand" or "just-in-time" training. The center also plans to install a direct numerical control (DNC) system that will let students input CAD/CAM files they have designed on the lab computers directly into the shop's machine tools.

Michigan has become one of the most active states in the national program, now boasting four HTECs overseen by a state Haas Technical Education Council — a group of educators, Haas personnel, and industry members that promotes quality manufacturing education. In conjunction with Wright, recently elected council chair, the council is also implementing a national certification program to standardize measurement of CNC operator and programmer competency.

The prototype HTEC in Michigan was established at HFCC in 1999 and the next one at Kalamazoo Community College, Kalamazoo, Mich. The latter had a tiny budget, only letting the school buy one machine a year, so Haas devised a method of "entrusting" machines. For each machine a school buys, the company entrusts it with one at no cost, replacing the machines every two years. This ensures that worthy schools have the latest technology.

The newest HTEC will be located in a technology center nearing completion at LCC. Bob Skodzinsky, president of the Flat Rock, Mich. HFO, a division of Gerotech Inc., explains, "We started the state council in 2000, with only six of us at the first meeting. Recently, we had 45 people attending the latest meeting at the new $ 50 - million technology center."

Shaping the path
Wright is CNC instructor for the Manufacturing Productivity Systems program at HFCC, which houses the local HTEC. He explains, "A community college should serve the community. For example, young people today don't always want an associate degree. Rather, they might just need three or four CNC courses. So we've structured the curriculum in modules — students can enter or leave the program at any time."

He contends, "People today are very mobile. In some areas of the country, milling is big and in others turning is — so we need to cover both. When I was coming up in a jobshop, workers were just surfacegrinder or jig-bore hands. Today, they have to multitask. And in many universities, young engineering students don't get the hands-on experience they should have before they hit the shop floor. HTECs give students needed experience."

EC at HFCC boasts four Haas machine tools. One is a production SL-20 turning machine that features a barfeeder and a live C axis. Wright's students make parts such as one cut from 2-in.-diameter aluminum stock that they first turn on the chucker lathe, an SL 20 set up to do discreet parts. They then use the milling machine to cut the part’s shape and engrave the school’s name. But before students cut parts, they must learn trigonometry and math for calculating cutter compensation. Once they know this, students learn how to input data into the machine control, which automatically per-forms necessary compensation. Students also learn G and M code and writing macros, which let them add variables, math formulas, and if/then statements to the code. Wright does not teach conversational programming to beginning students.

He explains, "It's much better if students learn G and M code first because they are actually learning the logic behind the programming. So when they do get into conversational, they understand the flow of how things will go."

Just-in-time learning
Smydra, Lansing CNC instructor, also keeps the LCC center focused on real-world shop issues. Besides teaching students, the HTEC provides demos for potential customers and even does short part runs, ironing out any potential problems before customers machine the parts in their own shops. And ongoing training is available for people who bought Haas machines.

Smydra's students learn the trade on eight Haas machine tools, taking either a Unigraphics or a MasterCAM track. They are taught to design parts directly in the software and by putting blueprint specifications into it. Smydra also shows them how to save time by downloading from the Internet jig and fixture dimensions already in CAD programs.

Smydra continues, "Rather than using a programmer in an ivory tower, most shops are doing programming on the shop floor. Students learn to copy and paste code right on the controllers, on-the-fly."

Taking programming to the next level, the center is soon having a DNC system installed that will let the lab computers talk directly to the machine tools. This is possible because of recent advances in communication technology that have eliminated electromagnetic-interference problems previously present in wireless environments.

Smydra explains, "A student last year designed a part in MasterCAM that wound up being 7 million lines of code. The controller can't take that much information at one time, but the DNC can 'trickle feed' it complicated surfaces such as an injection mold. Last year, we had to do this by hooking a laptop to the controller through the RS-232 port, u s i n g the laptop as basically a memory bank."

The center is also purchasing a license for special emulation software, from Immersive Engineering, Bloomfield Hills, Mich., that is part of a larger learning-content management system. The software should provide "granular," just-in-time learning, giving students just what they want, when they want it. It realistically simulates the Haas controller interface and machine tool on Windows-based PCs. For example, a student can press buttons on the desktop virtual controller with his mouse to jog the virtual machine tool or enter code into the controller, which then "runs" the machine.

The software should also foster increased learning. HFCC's Wright explains, " Studies have found that many people learn better visually — they have better retention and learn more at one sitting. And because students will be able to learn on PCs at school or on the Internet at home at two in the morning, more students will learn controllers than previously possible."

Haas also expects the emulation software to have potential implications for industry, where much of going from conceptual design to debugging has been done in a serial fashion. With it, companies can more-easily control part-manufacturing processes in parallel. For example, they can ramp up the workforce at the same time they are developing the workcell.

Michigan HTEC

Bob Skodzinsky, president of the Flat Rock, Mich. HFO, a division of Gerotech Inc., says in searching for a potential school to host a HTEC, top on the Haas list is the school's commitment to CNC education.

Bob Skodzinsky, president of the Flat Rock, Mich. HFO, a division of Gerotech Inc., says, "Michigan HTECs started about five years ago, when the owner of Gerotech, a distributor of Haas machine tools, suggested there ought to be a technical-education program involving schools. In fact, California already had a similar program, and Michigan was ripe. For one, the Detroit area alone is huge with a lot of different manufacturing going on. Michigan is also number two in the country in R&D, which goes hand-in-hand with manufacturing."

In scouting potential HTEC locations, he explains, "We first did a scatter diagram and pinpointed over 6,000 shops in Michigan that cut metal. Haas wanted to put centers near these shops. But equally important are the host school's resources, commitment, and attitude toward CNC education. If a school has only 15 or 20 students, that's less important than its desire and ability to grow."

Skodzinsky continues, "Making a commitment means not only purchasing Haas machines but also participation. At least once a year, school representatives should attend the national meeting, where they can both learn and share ideas. There, Haas works with each school, helping it market its own programs. Today, manufacturers and schools alike must be out there — they have to show their products, and they have to hustle."


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