Online Manufacturing Training
By going online, manufacturers save in training the skilled workers of tomorrow
By Patrick Waurzyniak
"We have made a major commitment to this technology, as an overall educational strategy," Jones adds. "What makes us different than probably the other builders is that Mori Seiki University is a corporate university, rather than just a technical training center. In addition to technical skills, we also provide online and classroom courses in employee, sales and management skills. We have a 9000 ft2 [837 m2] brick-and-mortar presence one block from our US headquarters in the suburbs of Chicago. Since opening, we have trained over 4000 employees, distributors, and customers in a 24/7 nonstop environment."
In a complex manufacturing world, hiring knowledgeable, skilled workers remains a very difficult assignment for most manufacturing operations. Exorbitant costs for traditional training of new manufacturing employees have led in recent years to the creation of online manufacturing training systems that allow users to master a digital curriculum online, at their own pace, at any time.
The latest online manufacturing programs provide students with an interactive, visually appealing learning experience, with some displaying life-like simulations with CNC emulators that mimic the machine controls used in the real world. While the online training sessions simulate metalcutting, most online educators readily say these virtual manufacturing training programs teach more of the theoretical side of metalcutting, and thus the systems are meant to be used as an adjunct to existing technical programs taught at community colleges and technical programs that include extensive hands-on work.
Online manufacturing educator Tooling University LLC (Tooling U, Cleveland) began offering its first online training courses in 2001, concentrating on metalcutting basics, cutting tools, and CNC classes, notes Chad Schron, Tooling U vice president. Today, the curriculum of Tooling U (www.toolingu.com) offers more than 400 classes, including multiple-language offerings in English, Spanish, and most recently, Chinese.
"Our content ranges from the basic, fundamental-type stuff like shop math, blueprint reading, and GD&T, the core skills that somebody would have to have before they go into any type of shop," Schron notes, "and then it goes into workholding, metalcutting, and CNC. We offer control-specific content, so if you're running a Mazak or a Haas machine, or if you're running a Fanuc control, we have classes for all of those." Tooling U has courses on maintenance, hydraulics, pneumatics, PLCs, welding, forming and fabricating, safety, and much more, Schron notes. "We're also getting ready to launch 'soft skills' classes—leadership and communications—that teach people how to be a better communicator, geared toward people that are on the shop floor.
"We target anything from small job shops that have a couple of employees up to the Caterpillars and General Electrics of the world," Schron adds. "The industries that we serve are really varied—typically it's automotive, aerospace/ defense, medical, and the energy fields—we go into a lot of different areas. When we first started Tooling U, we had envisioned it would be really be used by the guys and the girls on the shop floor, who run the equipment. We've since realized that's a huge portion of our market, but we also have a tremendous number of manufacturing engineers, production supervisors, purchasing people, anybody who has any exposure to the manufacturing industry. All are targets for our products. We also have about 150 schools that use our curriculum."
The schools that use Tooling U include vocational high schools and community colleges, as well as a program added in June to provide Continuing Education Units (CEU) for students attending Ohio State University (Columbus, OH), Schron adds. "Vocational high schools and community colleges use our program almost like a replacement for the textbook that was written in the '70s or '80s and is completely out of date," he says. "Now they can go home and take a class that's extremely interactive, with CNC simulators, streaming video, and it's more like a videogame; then the teachers can log in and document who's doing the program."
During a quick tour, Tooling U's curriculum proves to be well organized, with wide use of graphical illustrations, videos, and animations that supplement audio narrations of each lesson within each class. The curriculum includes preassessment tests that students can take prior to starting a class, interactive popup exercises during lessons, and final exams after coursework is completed. The system allows students to stop at any time and automatically return to the last lesson viewed the next time they log onto the system.
"Our classes are extremely interactive," Schron says. "There are pictures, videos, illustrations, audio, and all sorts of interactive exercises, where students have to label a machine, or if it's a CNC control class, they actually have to push the buttons to use a machine tool controller, just as if they were in front of a Haas or a Mazak machine. If they hit the right button, it works just as if they were at the machine—if they hit the wrong button, it comes up, 'Oops, that wasn't the right button. Try again.' Or it will say, 'Click here and we'll show you what button you should've hit.' It's obviously a heck of a lot cheaper when you break one of our online machines, versus running a spindle into a table, or something like that."
Learn at your own pace. The self-paced instruction available from online classes also helps in teaching students of varied skill levels, notes Schron. "All of our customers really like the fact that it's at your own pace," he says. "When you're doing a training seminar at a company, or you're in the classroom, there's always somebody in that room that's lost; there's somebody in that room that's ahead of the game—they're all over the board. With the online learning, that allows you to really differentiate what each person needs."
With Tooling U's skill assessments, instructors also can tell if students need more basic courses, like a basic shop math or blueprint reading class, says Schron, or if they instead may be ready for more advanced training that could help them with the job they're doing on the shop floor. "It's really important to note that what we're teaching online, probably about half of it is the theory, the book portion of it," Schron adds. "The other portion is the hands-on portion, or what we refer to in the whole process as blended learning. So you're doing some theory and some hands-on.
"Almost all of our successful customers are using our program in conjunction with on-the-job training, with an apprenticeship program, or with a community college, some kind of hands-on training, because until you've actually gone out to run that machine, you don't really know how to do it," Schron states. "We can teach you about tolerancing, about blueprints, and how to read a micrometer, show you examples of how to do it, but until you actually pick up a block of steel and pick up a micrometer, you haven't actually done it."
Pricing for Tooling U classes started on a per student basis, Schron says, and in general it ranges from $300–$800 per person annually. Quantity discounts are available, and the company offers customers site licenses with what is called an enterprise license.
In September, Tooling U expanded its controls-specific offerings, adding classes on programming the Mazatrol control from Mazak Corp. (Florence, KY) to its curriculum that already offered classes on CNCs from Haas Automation Inc. (Oxnard, CA) and from GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms (Charlottesville, VA). In addition to forming a partnership with the online trainer, Mazak has used Tooling U for its own personnel, and for customers, supplementing the extensive on-site training programs at the builder's technology centers in its national headquarters and regional locations.
"We're really using it on pretty much a broad scale, where we have new junior people starting with blueprint reading," notes Rick Ware, Mazak vice president. "We have some guys that are just out of college and it gives them a lot of benefits, not only for our systems, but for the basics in machining technology. From a philosophical standpoint, we're using it as an introductory tool. It gives them a preliminary or beginner's class in manufacturing for our type of machinery, what the controls look like, going over the real basics.
"Even before they would come to a programming class at Mazak, they need to know the basics, because one of the hardest things to do with training is to get into a situation where you have people of unequal capability in the same class. We instituted a program back at IMTS where we're providing a free subscription for two months to any customer that buys a machine we build at our Florence plant."
Advanced machine simulation. Combining online manufacturing training with the extensive classroom instruction and on-site customer training, Mori Seiki USA Inc. (Rolling Meadows, IL) first started its Mori Seiki University in 2006. Using cutting-edge virtual modeling of machine tools and machine controls programmed in Macromedia Flash, in September 2007 Mori Seiki added its MSU Education On Demand (www.msuondemand.com) system that features functional machines in online training emulations that can recreate real-world experiences in the shop.
"Our development partner is Oxygen Education LLC [Indianapolis]," says Rod Jones, Mori Seiki chief learning officer. "MSU provides two levels of Education On Demand. First are the programs that are put together to teach operation of our specific machine models, content owned by Mori Seiki. We worked with Oxygen Education, which provided the instructional design framework, creative graphics, and Flash programming. Second is our manufacturing skill courses.
This approach is designed to help alleviate the difficulty of finding skilled machine operators. "The key is how we are putting all the pieces together," Jones states. "The challenge we face is that the skill gap is widening. The machine technology is getting more complex. At the same time, the skill levels that the shops are able to acquire when hiring new people is falling, creating a big gap in the middle, and our job is to help fill that gap.
"For example, when a Mori Seiki machine is installed in a shop, our goal is to make that machine more productive than any competitive machine in the shop. And that means we have five major skill areas to maximize. We must improve the skills of the sales engineers that sell the equipment; the engineers who design applications and processes; the people who program it; the people who operate it; and the people who maintain and repair it."
Online manufacturing classes currently offered on MSU Education On Demand include several suites of courses including five manufacturing skills classes: Blueprint Reading, Principles of Metrology, Statistical Process Control (SPC), Lean Manufacturing/5S, and Manufacturing Math. "These five courses represent about 25 hr of online training and are available for purchase," Jones notes. "These courses are provided through Mori Seiki University in partnership with Oxygen Education, with its new brand AME 21 (Advanced Manufacturing Education for the 21st century). They are the content providers and we are an educational delivery partner."
In addition, Mori Seiki and Oxygen Education will expand its online manufacturing skill courses to 30 classes, representing about 70 hr of online content, Jones explains, by the end of 2008. "Through the next year, we'll be constantly expanding that to more than 200 hr of manufacturing skill content, using this very high-end, interactive Flash Macromedia technology," he says. Pricing varies on how many courses companies buy, Jones adds, but typically courses are sold in bundles, with first five courses priced at $625 a person for one-year access. With its expanded curriculum, the program will also begin to offer companies sitelicense types of subscriptions, based on the size of the shop.
"In our online machine-operation classes, we have developed very extensive training on eight of our machine models, and we have several more in development," Jones notes. "These courses are anywhere from 4.8 hr of online experience where students operate a virtual machine online, using all the buttons and switches on the panel. The training leads you through various processes on a machine, like re-zeroing the machine, powering it on and off, and entering tool-wear offsets. It's a great experience.
"I would call what we are offering is third-generation e-Learning," Jones states. "First generation is what most people have experienced so far—that's just simply converting the textbook and putting it on a computer screen, then clicking through it like a PowerPoint with a few static graphics, short videos, and animations. In our case, we are totally interactive with the machine. Ultimately, it's a full emulation package, where the student drives the machine, and learns about all the different operational aspects. We have some videogame theory built into the package, so the student really gets engaged as they learn to open doors, mount chuck jaws, and attach tooll preset arms. The machine actually operates when they work on it, which adds full interactivity and immerses the student in the experience of the machine."
Employing a videogame-like experience for today's students also helps boost the percentages of those that complete the online courses, Jones notes. "It's definitely adding to what we call the engagement factor. With first and second-generation e-learning, you generally have somewhere around a 15% completion rate," he says. "They easily get bored, distracted, and less engaged. We are approaching a 60% engagement or completion rate on our courses, with no incentives whatsoever. Getting a student immersed into the software is a really big part of this technology. The amount of development time behind this is significant. As you look at our more in-depth technical courses, you see the machines articulate and move. The amount of programming that goes behind that is impressive."
Upcoming courses under development at MSU Education On Demand include more in-depth training on Mori Seiki's conversational programming, with the first being CAPS-L [Conversational Automatic Programming-Lathes], and CAPS-M for mills, as well as G and M-code programming classes for operators. "We want to ultimately deliver as much high-quality online training to customers as we can," Jones says. "We're still going to have the classroom and on-site training. However, these classes are being upgraded to address more advanced concepts. We will cover the basics with the online training courses.
This article was first published in the December 2008 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.