Skills Training and Confidence Building

Aug. 5, 2020
The Advanced Manufacturing Center at Stark State College gives students the information and ability they will need for careers in CNC programming and machine-tool operating, along with a love of the work they do.

As an assistant professor at Stark State College in Canton, Ohio, and chairman of the Industrial Technologies Department there, Steve Tornero has seen students struggling to earn a living wage. The multi-accredited manufacturing programs that the public university offers give those students the knowledge and skills they need to pull themselves out of that situation.

“Primarily, our student population might be right out of high school, veterans, or someone working at a minimum-wage job wanting to learn a new skill,” Tornero said. "We’re all about trying to give them the skills to get into an entry-level machining job or into some type of apprenticeship or training program."

The manufacturing programs at Stark State follow criteria established by the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), which sets skills standards for the manufacturing workforce and certifies individuals who meet those standards.

Currently, Stark State offers four blocks of NIMS Level One testing: two in manual machining and two in CNC machining. Tornero keeps all the course outlines the same among the program's instructors, so that all the students learn the same skills.

The school’s state-of-the-art Advanced Manufacturing Center has three components:
- a conventional machining section with manual lathes and manual mills;
- a CNC machining section with four Haas turning centers (one has live tooling capability) and five Haas milling machines (one is a five-axis unit);
- and a digital classroom for each student to follow along with his or her instructor.

The AMC also has two 3D printers, but Tornero explained that most of the courses focus on subtractive machining. He is proud that the shop gives every student a chance to run his or her own projects, rather than requiring them to huddle around one machine to watch someone else work.

Part of ensuring hands-on learning is standardizing the programming and machining process. “We purposefully bought Haas equipment for multiple reasons," Tornero recalled. "One is that the controllers are basically identical between the turning center and the milling center. Both instruction and learning would be very difficult with different brands of machines and controllers, because in our courses we don’t just teach students how to push buttons.

"We get into G and M code and EIA format programming," he added. "We’re teaching the students how to edit and actually create programs using G and M code.”

The Stark State program works closely with local business to develop a curriculum that prepares students for real-world manufacturing. About 50 companies regularly consult with instructors to discuss what students need to know to be successful.

“We communicate on a continual basis with area companies, asking them which competencies they want us to instruct,” Tornero said. Many of their skills suggestions have been obvious to him — milling, drilling, reaming, threading, tapping, turning, facing, and grooving — but he noted that many manufacturers requested students learn how to run CNC Software Inc.'s Mastercam CAD/CAM software.

Recognizing that students need to be trained in the most widely used CAD/CAM software, Steve and (his brother and fellow instructor) Mike Tornero gained certification to teach it. “All of our courses are what we would call project-based, where the students actually machine the parts here," he explained.

"A lot of hands-on learning takes place,” he added, noting that the course follows the parts outlined in the instructor book as they become increasingly difficult.

Mike Tornero appreciates that the Stark State program offers MasterCAM training. “It’s so prevalent,” he explained. “What I find valuable is the resources on the internet. You can get on YouTube and there’s pretty much a video for just about anything you want to do.” When the questions are more specific, he calls the reseller, FASTech Inc.

“I’ve used other software in the past, and this seems to have the best solid-modeling capabilities," Mike Tornero continued. "It seems like other software makes it more difficult to get you the same part that I get pretty quickly, and a lot more easily, with this software.”

His students were happy to describe their own favorite features. One said he enjoys the Mirror operation, one of the transform functions that allows users to rotate planes quickly and easily. Another endorsed Solid Sweep operations because they simplify creating organic shapes.

Mike spent decades in the machining industry before becoming an instructor, and firmly believes in simulating each part before running it on a machine. He added that verification is doubly important to students who are still learning.

“It takes a lot of the guesswork out of it," he explained. "There’s also Backplot, and that’s an even quicker way to simulate.” He instructs students to use Backplot as they proceed in their programs because the feature will recognize and highlight any potential problems. At the end of programming, he instructs students to run Verify, so that they will see the entire machining process onscreen and check again for possible mistakes.

In addition programming and machining techniques, students also learn the basics of quality control in the college’s dimensional metrology classroom. “We cover semi-precise measurement in here all the way up to showing students how to use an optical comparator in CMM,” Steve said. He expects program graduates to be able to handle almost any facet in the machining process, because he understands how valuable this skill is to future employers.

Part of addressing the industry’s demands is going beyond hard skills. Most of the businesses that visit Stark State's Advanced Manufacturing Center and discuss their needs with Steve are looking for candidates with soft skills, too.

“I try to create an atmosphere that’s very similar to the workplace," he said. "Companies really care about attitude nowadays. A good positive attitude and the ability to learn are more important than experience sometimes. They’d like to hire folks that pick up things rather quickly, and show up on time every day.” His curriculum incorporates details from housekeeping tips to team-building exercises.

Steve also encourages enthusiasm. A student that finishes the required projects ahead of schedule can propose his or her own project ideas. Steve recalled a student who designed and built an entire miniature air engine in his spare time.

“We hardly ever say no,” he said of the instructors’ dedication to encouraging students’ passions. He knows the Advanced Manufacturing Center program has succeeded when he sees students light up once they realize how much they can do.

The program's true goal is to impart machine-tool operating and programming skill – and to encourage programmers and operators to take pride in their work and their accomplishments.