Barry Van Name 2018-01-05 00:01:35
STUDENTS graduating from the machine tooling technics program at Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) start out with more than a two-year technical diploma. They have also earned a position or internship with one of the many manufacturing shops and plants in the surrounding Eau Claire, WI, community. Unique to the program is that it is year-long, with five entry dates during the year—August, October, January, March, and June—with a class graduating every eight weeks. There are sixty students in the program, twelve in each class. To assure plenty of CNC machine time for each student, the 13,000 square-foot shop area has 13 Haas CNC turning centers, all of which have a Y-axis and live tooling, and 20 Haas CNC vertical mills, four of which have 12,000 rpm spindles and can be fitted with rotary-trunnion tables for 5-axis milling. “We’re a Haas Tech Center,” says instructor Dave Thompson. “To keep pace with the advancements in automated manufacturing, we have 60 seats of Mastercam software in our CAD/ CAM labs, so each student has his or her own station. “We’re very grateful for the support both Haas and Mastercam have given us. The equipment, software, and even advancements in the program itself are due, in great part, to our local industry. We have an advisory committee comprised of shop owners and managers who tell us what our students will need to know to compete for jobs in the manufacturing community. They say that the features of the Haas machines will make them comfortable with what they’ll find in most plants, while Mastercam programming software is what is in place throughout Wisconsin’s industrial sector. Our intent is to prepare students to get jobs, and we use the software and hardware that will give them the best preparation for success.” After being exposed to an overview of manual machining in their first semester, learning the processes of milling, drilling, and turning, students are introduced to CAD/CAM. “One of our claims to fame is that we go really deep into understanding G and M codes in programming,” says Thompson. “When the software gives students a code, they can read that code easily, and understand what’s going on in the program. As machinists, they may have to manually edit the program, adding or deleting certain information. Understanding the codes gives them confidence in achieving a good result.” The next step in the course is to introduce 2D CAM with some drafting software. “Once they understand the drafting aspect,” says Thompson, “they’ll learn how to program basic toolpaths for what they have drawn, primarily facing and contouring. Then, we’ll get into 3D CAM, learning about 3-dimensional surfaces and importing their designs from Solid- Works CAD programs. “One of the projects they have to do at this stage is to design and build an injection mold body and cavity out of aluminum and then, using the shop’s molding machine, produce a plastic product. The students will design a 3D part within certain size restraints. We’ll walk them through basic designs and then allow them to be creative. Our injection molding equipment is pretty basic, but is very sufficient for our needs.” At this point in the course, students will start getting into some of the advanced machining processes, such as Mastercam’s Dynamic Motion technology, including dynamic milling and turning. The technology lets the students experience fast cycle times when machining their projects, while giving the college the benefits of extended life for their tooling with less wear on the mills and turning centers. Mastercam generates toolpaths in a manner that is different from traditional CAM toolpath generation. The software takes into consideration not only the area from which metal is to be removed, but also the changing condition of the material throughout the various stages of machining. “This gives the students the advantage of faster machining times,” says Thompson, “with smooth, precise cutting operations that give their projects a professional look.” Once they get into 5-axis machining, the projects become more complex. “Students are given a blueprint for each 5-axis part,” says Thompson. “For a milling project, I’ll introduce them to swarf milling, where the side of a cutter is used to mill a part as the X, Y, Z, B (rotary) and A (tilt) axes all move in a continuous path that has been programmed. A neat thing here is that the entire operation has been performed in simulation before the toolpath program is loaded into the mill, which builds confidence and is a terrific time saver. “For a turning project, they’ll machine a hammer handle out of 1018 steel, and then create a head cap out of aluminum, using the live tooling to inscribe their name or design around the edge. Again, simulation graphics proves the program and allows them to make corrections before downloading the program. Students are given a blueprint for the 5-axis parts.” All students in the program must take a course in precision measurement. “We have a full complement of measuring equipment,” says Thompson. “In addition to conventional calipers, micrometers, and height gages, for instance, we have state-of-the-art CMMs (coordinate measuring machines). First, the students spend eight weeks learning how to use the manual equipment and devices, followed by eight weeks learning the software for the CMMs. “Students must learn how to measure the parts they produce on the machine tools to assure accuracy of their work. They spend 16 hours a week in the lab, and 4 hours online. Everything they do, in the lab and online, directly relates to their projects.” Measurement is important because some of their milling and turning operations must be held to 0.0005" and some grinding operations to 0.0003". The college’s relationship with local industry extends well beyond having several individuals serving on the advisory committee. Because of the reputation gained through the thoroughness of the machine tooling technics program, manufacturing companies in the region look to the college to fill an ever-growing need for qualified programmers and machine operators. “Right now,” says Thompson, “there are seven jobs available for each graduate. We concentrate on both mold work and precision components because most of the industry in our region is comprised of mold builders and contract manufacturers. “Our students are usually working in local companies by their second semester, with the companies accommodating each student with a work schedule that does not interfere with their college schedule. It is understood that the students will not be offered full-time employment, or receive advancements within the company, until they complete our program. There are also several internship programs available at firms in the region for students in their fourth semester.” Not all students in the program go directly into the job market. Some continue their education toward a four-year degree. “A popular school for those continuing on,” says Thompson, “is University of Wisconsin– Stout. Here, students can have credits earned at CVTC applied toward a degree in, for instance, Industrial Management.” Whether at the end of their education at CVTC, or beyond, Mr. Thompson’s graduates have stepped out onto an interesting and very productive career path. Barry Van Name is an editorial associate with Lynn Gorman Communications LLC, specializing in technology education and industry topics.
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