Students Use CNC Software to Build Parts, Win Award
Dec. 19, 2012
The Society of Manufacturing Engineers Education Foundation has named Westfield Vocational Technical High School (WVTHS), Westfield, Massachusetts, one of nine exemplary schools that are collaborating, networking and creating partnerships with local manufacturers and community colleges. SME will provide $35,000 in funding to support post-secondary scholarships, equipment upgrades and continuing education for instructors at WVTHS through its Partnership Response in Manufacturing (PRIME) program. WVTHS has created partnerships with precision manufacturing companies in its area who provide internships for students and have formed a waiting list to hire its graduates.
A key part of the school’s curriculum is encouraging students to bring their ideas to life by using Delcam’s FeatureCAM computer numerical control (CNC) software to create programs to build parts on CNC machines. “FeatureCAM software is very intuitive to learn and the kids do amazing things with it,” said Clement “Clem” Fucci, Manufacturing Department Chair who has devoted more than 30 years to WVTHS. “We believe our program is only as good as its graduating students. Their success in manufacturing has made our program what it is today.”
Leader in occupational education
Since 1911, Westfield has recognized occupational education as an integral part of its public school system. Its support of this form of education is exemplified by its modern vocational education facility that prepares students for jobs in modern industry. Today, 32% of all employment in Westfield comes from manufacturing jobs. The school’s manufacturing technology department has been an important partner in training students for employment among the many manufacturing companies in Western Massachusetts. Small class size offers individualized instruction and attention and a co-operative education program offers students on-the-job training while still in school.
WVTHS is one of nine exemplary schools in eight states where funding is being directed to support manufacturing education. The Manufacturing Technology Department at WVTHS will use a majority of its PRIME funding to upgrade its precision manufacturing equipment, including a portion of the cost for training for a new Robotic Training Arm to give students important skill sets to enhance work opportunities. Three local manufacturers use the Robotic Arm.
PRIME, a community-based approach to manufacturing education, is part of a commitment by the SME Education Foundation to address the shortage of manufacturing and technical talent in the United States. Launched in 2011, with the selection of six schools in six different states, model schools funded by PRIME offer STEM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum and prepare young people for highly skilled jobs with lucrative potential. To date, the SME Education Foundation has provided funding of more than $285,000 through PRIME to model high schools to help manufacturing drive the economic vitality of local communities.
Moving from design to manufacturing
A key aspect of the WVTHS manufacturing technology program is that students not only design parts and view them on the computer screen, but also build the parts on the school’s machine tools. “FeatureCAM is the ideal software for this program because it is very easy to use and teach, yet is powerful enough to handle all of the latest machinery including multifunction mill-turn lathes and four and five axis machining centers,” Fucci said. “I train a group of new users every year and they usually find it very easy to get started and move into programming the latest machine tools.”
In teaching how to use FeatureCAM, Fucci begins by showing the students how to import a solid model from the computer aided design (CAD) software they used to design the part. Fucci and the other instructors teach the students about manufacturing attributes such as defining that by default all holes in the part will either be center drilled or spot drilled before they are drilled to the final diameter. Another typical manufacturing attribute is to define a rapid traverse clearance of 0.100 inch so that in generating traverses the program will automatically keep the tool at least this far from the workpiece of any part of the machine.
Next the students learn how to utilize FeatureCAM’s feature recognition capabilities to bring intelligence to the model. The software automatically recognizes features such as pockets, bosses, chamfers, hole patterns, etc. and enables students to work with them based on the design intent rather than as dumb conglomerations of lines and arcs. The students then review the list of features identified by the software and make any changes they wish such as merging, splitting, adding or deleting. This means that students don’t have to deal with each individual surface but can program a much smaller number of features instead.
After the students are satisfied with the list of features, students create machining operations by picking tools and speeds and feeds for machining particular features. The software then automatically selects appropriate tools, determines roughing and finishing passes, and calculates feeds and speeds based on its built-in machining knowledge. Often features are duplicated from the same or previous parts and the machining operation for making these features only needs to be defined once.
After finishing the program, students view the simulated machining operations on a computer screen and check that the operations are carried out as intended, the finished part matches the design intent and tools stay clear of the machine and fixtures. The school produces the parts on six CNC machines, including two three-axis and one five-axis machining centers, two conventional turning centers and one mill-turn multifunction machine. The school also has many other conventional manual machine tools.
Hands-on training at local companies
By the midterm of their freshman year, students rotate weekly between academics and a manufacturing environment for hands-on training. When students become seniors they join the co-op program while completing their studies and work at paid internships at local companies during the school year as well as during their summer vacation. The internships typically pay around $10 per hour. The manufacturing technology program culminates in a junior-senior project where seniors design parts from scratch using CAD software then produce CNC programs to build the parts using FeatureCAM. The juniors then design and build fixtures to hold the parts and upload the seniors’ CNC programs to the high school’s machine tools and build the parts.
The students have many other opportunities to create CNC programs and build parts. The school builds parts for various organizations such as the police department and nonprofits. For example, one class designed and built a cribbage board and donated it to a local Boys and Girls Club so it could be raffled off. Another class built keychains that commemorate the school’s recent 100th anniversary.
Approximately 70% of the graduating students enter college. Manufacturing technology students that choose not to go to college have employers lined up to offer them a full-time position with benefits. “FeatureCAM plays a significant role in the success of our program by providing a platform for our students to smoothly make the transition from design into manufacturing,” Fucci concluded. “I am very proud of what our students have been able to accomplish and enjoy seeing them move on to good paying jobs in the local precision manufacturing industry and to further their technical studies at the university level.”