CNC manufacturing in high school: Teaching tomorrow's workforce
Sep 24, 2022
KENT, Ohio – Since 2014, the Manufacturing Technology Program at Theodore Roosevelt High School, Kent, Ohio, has prepared hundreds of aspiring CNC programmers, machinists, and engineers for successful careers in manufacturing. Troy Spear, Instructor of CAD & Engineering Technologies, Advanced Cabinetry, and Fundamentals of Wood & Metal Manufacturing at Theodore Roosevelt High School – also known as Kent Roosevelt High School – has been with the career program for the last 13 of his 24 years in education. Just as technology and industry have changed over the decades, so have Spear’s teaching responsibilities.
“I’ve grown into this position,” he said. “I started off teaching basic woodworking classes, and then I brought them into the 21st century.”
In 2009, with the support of the superintendent at the time and his previous co-teacher, Spear asked the district to invest in a CNC router. The request was granted, and the investment continues to pay off. Over the next several years, with instructor-led guidance, students manufactured everything from complete custom kitchens for community members to computer storage cabinetry for the district, to child-size chairs and furniture for the district’s preschool.
Focused on architectural millwork, molding, and cabinetry, Kent Roosevelt’s program was the only one like it in the state of Ohio. Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, the Ohio Department of Education eliminated the program. Though the industry-supported CTE woodworking program closed in 2013, Spear soon found a silver lining.
“The end of the woodworking program helped me transition to teaching manufacturing,” he said. “What I am doing now is an outgrowth of that woodwork manufacturing. Now, it’s all things manufacturing – much more than what I was previously doing.”
Troy Spear, Kent Roosevelt High instructor of CAD & Engineering Technologies, Advanced Cabinetry, and Fundamentals of Wood & Metal Manufacturing, walks his students through the fundamentals of Mastercam CAD/CAM software.
Launched in 2014, Kent Roosevelt High’s Manufacturing Technology Program is comprised of juniors and seniors from five other local school districts as well as Kent’s. In the Computer-Aided Design and Engineering Technologies program, students use software and equipment to produce working drawings, 3D solid model designs, parts, and assemblies. A laser engraver, 3D printers, and manual and CNC machinery enable them to manufacture parts from metal, wood, and plastic.
Juniors are first introduced to manufacturing by studying measurement and metrology. Equipped with micrometers and steel rulers, they learn about measurement systems and decimal equivalencies which coincide with lessons in drafting parts. Building on these basic skills leads to well-rounded students who succeed in a hands-on curriculum.
“As a graduate, a student can go to any state-run public institution in Ohio for college or post-secondary education and bring with them a three-credit course that fulfills a CAD-related course requirement,” said Spear. “There’s a second course that covers manufacturing operations.”
From machine basics to CAD/CAM
Early in the program, Spear focuses on measurement and drawing, combining those disciplines to help teens understand how to calculate decimal equivalents and transfer that knowledge to a machine or a CNC control. Though CNC technology is the prime focus of Kent Roosevelt’s manufacturing program, students must be well versed in machining basics.
“Many local employers say they have hired adults straight from CNC schools who do not understand the correlation between decimals and movement,” said Spear. “All of our industrial partners ask us to teach manual machining, even though they are doing more CNC than anything else. All still have some sort of manual-type machining for various components.”
After manual machining basics, Spear presents an introduction to CNC, showcasing controls and helping students get comfortable using them. They learn machine setup, part loading, vice indicating, and how to run machining programs. This is where Mastercam CAD/CAM software (CNC Software, LLC) comes in.
Throughout a series of lessons, students work on drawings, beginning with 2D drawings created in CAD software. They transition to 3D drawings and begin to develop their visualization abilities. Next, they learn 3D solid modeling and Solidworks.
“At this point, students are able to highlight the power of Mastercam and all its functionality,” said Spear. “They can take that 3D solid model, put a toolpath to it, create the G-code, take it into our lab, load the vice with material, and touch off tools. They load in the G-code that was generated in CAD/CAM. Through this process, they know, understand, and can translate the code while it is running on the machine, executing parts.”
Kent Roosevelt High School Manufacturing Technology student assembles a remote control droid. The class project was designed and machined with help from Mastercam CAD/CAM software.
Kent Roosevelt’s manual machines include a Clausing 13” engine lathe and a manual Bridgeport. The manufacturing center also houses band saws; a Haas TM1 CNC mill; a Haas TL1 toolroom lathe; a Haas ST10 turning center; a Wardjet waterjet; a Lincoln Electric RealWeld trainer; and an Omnitech Selexx Pal CNC router.
“We made a commitment early on to always go with industry-duty tools as opposed to educational versions,” said Spear. “Not that there’s anything wrong with those types of machines, but our goal is to get students familiar with industry-duty machinery and be comfortable using it.”
Adjacent to the machine shop and woodworking shop, a computer lab houses 18 computers plus instructor stations, all outfitted with Mastercam software. Here, students learn the powerful and exciting connection between software, design, programming, and machining. To prototype their designs, students have access to 10 3D printers of various makes.
“The first step is trying to set the hook and show them that the software is going to be very linear and methodical,” said Spear. “Then we go step by step until boom – we have something. Then we go back and work in Mastercam.”
Dynamic motion technology
Spear teaches wireframing, how to draw, and how to create geometry. Last year, the class worked on a widget made from a 2-inch by 3-inch aluminum block. The part included a hexagon with a circular pocket with holes drilled in each of the hexagon corners plus two triangular pockets. Each of the drilled holes was tapped with a 1/4-inch - 20 tap. To create the widget, students used several different tools. They drew the part in both wireframe and Solidworks and then imported the part into Mastercam and created toolpaths. Students' Solidworks drawings were used to 3D print the parts.
“The class was introduced to Dynamic Motion technology – specifically Dynamic Milling – with this little hex part,” said Spear. “I am going to give a shout-out to Mastercam Reseller, FASTech Inc. I can’t thank the guys there enough for the help we received. Kevin Richardson, Scott Hardy, Josh Chopp, and the rest of the team do a phenomenal job.
“Dynamic Motion was a lot of fun to present to students because we weren’t cutting away an inordinate amount of material. What we did cut was removed quickly and easily.”
After completion of the widget project, each student had an aluminum version of the printed part, a wireframe version that they had drawn and programmed, and a 3D solid model. Designing the same part multiple ways demonstrated the variety and creative possibilities of manufacturing.
Once students understand the basics of design, programming, and machining, Spear makes sure to stress the importance of machine simulation which displays the cutting process on a virtual replica of a machine. It ensures safe and accurate toolpath creation and prevents machine collision before parts are ever cut.
“I really like teaching students to use Backplot and Verification so they can actually simulate or see how the machine is going to cut,” he said. “We have a machine environment, thanks to FASTech, where we can see a virtual ST10 working away. We can open and close the doors and see the chuck spin around. The turret rotates. You can see if there is going to be a crash, or if the cut is going to be feasible.”
The Droid project
In addition to creating small parts like the above-mentioned widget, multiple classes in the manufacturing program collaborate to design and machine large-scale projects, including a life-size remote-control robot. Named the Droid Project, the multiclass effort was inspired by a popular science-fiction movie character and continues to be a hit with students.
Before coming up with the idea to create a droid, the students produced light sabers. Flashlight-type handles were custom designed; 3D printed sleeves covered the handles. The project was so successful – and enjoyable – that the students then decided to create their version of a famous movie droid. Powered by an electric vehicle motor from a ride-on toy, the droid was the brainchild of four different classes working over a period of four years. The last class that worked on the robot nicknamed it R5-V7.
Spear’s first class drew and designed the plywood parts in Solidworks, learned how to assemble them, nested them, and cut them out on the CNC router. By year’s end, they had assembled the droid.
Two Kent Roosevelt High School Manufacturing Technology students work on the motorized feet of their droid. The material was cut on a waterjet then welded. The aluminum ankle was machined using Mastercam Dynamic Milling on a Haas TM1.
The next year, students had seen the Droid Project during the recruitment process and were ready and willing to dig in. They drew and fabricated the skin using the Wardjet waterjet and aluminum sheet as well as 3D printed accessories. Students cut out and welded the feet that held the wheels and motors.
Jeff Bee, Spear’s co-teacher, had his seniors working on the ankle forms that connected the feet to the wooden legs. Bee was able to introduce Dynamic Milling to this class as they chose to pocket out thick aluminum to go around the bottom of the droid legs.
While the Kent Roosevelt High instructors focus on class projects and teaching software, computer, and machining skills, another group of folks play a key role in preparing students for employment opportunities. An advisory board comprised of local manufacturers provide input on what skills are important for an entry-level workforce. In addition to sharing industry knowledge, the partners invite Spears and his students on field trips to their production facilities and present them with the possibility of future employment. In the spring, company representatives are invited to Kent Roosevelt High School to participate in mock interviews with juniors.
“I tell my students that behind every mock interview, there is a potential job,” said Spear. “Last spring, we had an explosion of requests from people that we had never heard of before in the industry. They said, ‘We heard you have the program. We need workers – who do you have? We want them today.’”
During the interviews, students can inform an industrial partner that they may be interested in future employment and ask the interviewer to keep their resumes. The experience is a networking opportunity and a chance for summer employment and senior-year internships. The paid internships are coupled with course credit in the Manufacturing and Technology Program.
Theodore Roosevelt High School Computer-Aided Design and Engineering Technology students are finding success after graduation. Thanks to the school’s comprehensive curriculum, they are well prepared for manufacturing careers. One area that both Spear and Bee hope to add to the curriculum is mold design. The school already owns a plastic injection molding machine, so teaching students to use it is the next logical step. Given the location of the high school, preparing future programmers and machinists for careers in the plastics industry is a smart, forward-thinking plan.
“Our corridor of the state is a huge mold corridor,” said Spear of his school’s proximity to Akron. “With our injection molding machine, we are hoping to introduce students to mold making and design. This really gets into the Dynamic Motion technology that Mastercam is known for. That’s one area that we’re looking forward to exploring.”
Source: Mastercam. For information visit mastercam.com.