Henry Ford is considered a mechanical genius, but he was once publicly humiliated in court for his lack of knowledge. When asked by an opposing attorney who the first president of the US was, he couldn’t come up with the answer. Many teaching experts believe a major reason was because he was the type of person who learned by doing.
There are many individuals who, like Ford, absorb and retain information more efficiently through hands-on instruction. These people often excel at careers in manufacturing. With that said, today’s truly effective training programs aimed at improving manufacturing skills and techniques are those combining classroom and hands-on instruction in a way that maximizes the amount of information learned and the amount retained.
Classroom techniques must include the use of word pictures, well-chosen analogies and the Socratic method. These techniques make whiteboard learning more of an active process for students.
In the Socratic method, instructors ask carefully constructed questions to engage students at a deep level. Students are forced to actively think rather than listen passively. As a result, their focus is heightened. The questions help students organize their thoughts and knowledge, allowing them to discover exactly what they do and don’t know.
The questions must include analogies or other mental illustrations. For instance, in teaching chip control while machining high-temp alloys, we also teach the strain rate effect, the principle that the faster materials move—all else remaining constant—the more brittle they behave. Thus we ask students to imagine being in the woods, picking up a stick and breaking it. Do they bend it slowly or quickly snap it? We ask why and how that relates to the machining process, workpiece material and the resulting chip formation. Then we ask them to actually machine high-temp materials at various speeds, keeping feed rate and depth of cut constant.
Since these alloys don’t soften significantly with increasing temperature, the chips get shorter with increasing cutting speed. Their personal experience—most people have broken a stick—combined with the hands-on reinforcement cements the concept of the strain rate effect without ever using that term. Since most people usually notice contrasts, we have them run steels—which do soften with increasing temperature—as well. In this case, the hotter the chip gets the longer it gets.
Video examples and software-driven simulations also are used to make classroom learning more interactive. We also use "thought experiments," asking students to construct an imaginary metalcutting situation, then asking them to imagine what problems they might encounter.
In our Seco Technical Education Program, we typically spend a lot of time on troubleshooting, failure analysis and critical decision making. Students examine the evidence—sound of the cutting process, chips produced by the process and the resulting surface finishes. But most important, they study the cutting tool’s edge under a microscope. After collecting the data, students then present their findings, explaining why the edge looked the way it did and how the process might be improved.
According to many education specialists, an hour of carefully structured hands-on learning is worth two hours of classroom instruction. This is why hands-on training is critical in a metalworking-training program.
A key factor of hands-on learning is natural discovery. When students make discoveries on their own, they are more likely to retain the information. This is why it is imperative that students approach an actual working machine tool, set speeds, feeds and other parameters of a cut and push the start button. If a tool crash results, so be it, as long as they diagnose the outcome and determine what changes or corrections should be made.
Students need to be free to make mistakes—just not those that would create unsafe conditions. It is better to crash a tool in a controlled learning environment than at the shop when running a customer’s part.
Unfortunately, many programs don’t offer hands-on, natural discovery instruction. Instead they emphasize only classroom instruction. Or, they are product demonstrations masked as training programs, where the instructor may use a machine to demonstrate a tool, but students are never allowed to work with the tool themselves. Seco believes that training must be non-commercial in nature, taught by expert trainers and combine classroom and hands-on instruction to effectively teach those who think like Henry Ford. ME
This article was first published in the August 2012 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.