Viewpoints: Fast Tracking the Path for CNC Programmers
By Michael Freimann
Mastercam University, Certification Coordinator
CNC Software Inc.
Today, with orders on the rise, manufacturers are looking toward multiaxis CNC machines like never before to get more done with less. Good for us. Technology could allow North America to be the global manufacturing powerhouse it once was. This, however, leads us to a burning question: "Who is going to do all of this sophisticated CNC programming?"
Obviously, the programmers of the future must be young adults. Unfortunately, many have never touched a CNC machine before and there is no "right of passage" pipeline (apprenticeship programs) filled with hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic, skilled aspirants ready to become advanced CNC programmers. But we need young CNC programmers fast.
Today’s CNC programming depends on skills substantially different from those required for the operation of traditional metalworking equipment. For example, students who train on conventional milling machines are totally unprepared for such things as high-speed machining, live tooling, or multiaxis work. Other skills that don’t come into play with conventional machining include the management and integration of numerous CAD files, machining strategies, new cutting tools with amazing feeds and speeds, simulation and in-process verification.
Therefore, we should consider moving some of the multiaxis CNC related learning modules taught in schools and colleges up toward the front of the curriculum so students with the talents needed to fill these jobs can be identified sooner. This is not to say that they should avoid getting hands-on experience operating the equipment. It’s just that they shouldn’t wait years to get an opportunity to use these important computer-related talents.
There are many students in community colleges and even high schools who have already obtained CNC programming skills. Top performers deserve to be hired and moved into entry-level positions that provide a fast track into progressively higher levels of programming work. If this practice became the norm, even more talented students would choose to enter this promising career path.
With appropriate mentoring, many will quickly become valuable assets to the companies that employ them. And who could be better equipped to mentor this new generation of CNC programmers than the veteran Baby Boomer programmers who have agreed to stay around a little bit longer?
Another way to advance the skill set of young programmers on the job is to team them with machinists so that they can rely on each other’s expertise and learn from each other. By working in this way, they make each other better programmers and machinists. What’s more, some of these machinists have demonstrated an interest and aptitude for programming and are now being trained in those skills.
Fortunately, there are numerous resources for improving the skills of CNC programmers on the job. Software application specialists have become very adept at providing training, both general and need-specific. Several companies produce excellent on-line learning materials that are a perfect companion to hands-on training and can be pursued on the user’s own schedule. Mastercam users, for example, can take advantage of Streaming Teacher, eApprentice, CamInstructor, and Mastercam University.
No one approach is best for all companies. But there are many educational approaches available, and just like many advanced metalworking products, these learning solutions are modular and can be combined in many ways to provide a company with its best fit of custom and off-the-shelf educational resources.
Mastercam itself provides a good example of the effectiveness of on-line CNC programming education. For years, Mastercam applications specialists have been hired from within the ranks of resellers or customers who were experienced users of the product. Today, our applications specialists are largely recruited from community colleges and universities and then directed to hone their skills with a combination of on-line course work via Mastercam University and in-house mentoring.
Just like many of our innovative customers, we are using all of the educational resources at our disposal to find a way to grow our skilled workforce and ensure our future in the new CNC manufacturing economy. With sufficient determination, we can innovate our way out of this crisis. We have to. ME
This article was first published in the December 2012 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.