At Temescal Canyon High School in Lake Elsinore, Calif., I’m fortunate to work in a district that is supportive of career-oriented programs. With its support, and some generous state grants, we have expanded our Engineering Design program to include a first-class machine shop, with four Haas CNC mills, 32 seats in our CAD/CAM lab loaded with SOLIDWORKS and Mastercam software, as well as several 3D printers and the tooling, measuring, and other equipment needed for a range of projects. We are also advancing into an “academy” model STEM curriculum, where students are grouped together in a program of engineering, math, and science, plus an OSHA safety class.
The students learn all their engineering from me, with other instructors teaching the math and science courses. Our projects are jointly coordinated and answer the students’ question, “When will I ever need to use this stuff?” As a bonus, students earn college credit every year they are in the program. This year’s freshmen, for example, will earn five units of college credit—three are in engineering and two are for an OSHA class. Students also earn four industry certifications: SOLIDWORKS, CPR, First Aid, and a 30-hour OSHA workplace certification. From year one, they learn skills that will help them get a job.
As freshmen and sophomores, students learn Mastercam for SOLIDWORKS, and then stand-alone Mastercam. This curriculum lets them hit the ground running when creating toolpaths in Mastercam for more complex CAD/CAM projects. This way, they learn about toolpaths, speeds and feeds, cycle times, and the rest of the basics that give them a foundation for what’s to come in the rest of our four-year program.
As freshmen in the shop, they learn to be CNC machine operators, loading parts and running the machine. As sophomores, they learn how to do tooling offsets, how to set origins, and how to monitor Mastercam programs. As juniors, they learn how to create machine setups, fixture parts, make soft jaws, and complete their projects. Seniors “run” the shop. Each machine has a plaque that states, for instance, “Haas Mill #1” and “Principal Engineer” with the name of a senior. That senior is in charge of the machine, does all the tooling and work offsets, and maintains the machine. This gives seniors the sense of responsibility important to prospective employers.
The seniors also help me supervise younger students working on various machining projects. One of those projects evolved from another school activity. My wife, Kathy, and I started and still coach our school’s mountain bike racing team. Six years ago, our team of 20 kids raced mountain bikes against teams from other schools in very difficult events. To recognize that effort, we thought it would be great if every finisher could get a medal made by my students. Today, we are still making medals for every kid who finishes the races. My students design the medals, program them in Mastercam, and produce them on our CNC machines.
However, the mountain bike team has grown and manufacturing cycle times have become an issue, with 40-50 medals given out after a race. Today, even though all students design the aluminum medals, the seniors program the medals in Mastercam for the shortest, most efficient cycle times, including the use of Mastercam’s Dynamic Milling feature to ensure fast, accurate toolpaths. This is a good example of “real world” manufacturing, where time is money.
Another project is also tied into mountain biking. There’s an A-frame that the bikes are hung on by the seat—sort of glorified sawhorses—that includes a joint where everything comes together at the top of the “A.” Our students designed and machined a cool-looking connector for that joint out of a solid block of aluminum.
In addition to the medals and belt buckles featuring the logos of colleges for students continuing on with their education, I take various projects from Titans of CNC and CNC Instructor and have the students put them into SOLIDWORKS and Mastercam. As “building blocks,” they give the kids a good background in more complex CAD/CAM work.
We’re fortunate in that we have a lot of machine shops in our area. They’ve taken a big interest in our program because they hire a lot of our students, both as interns during the school year and as employees after graduation. I listen to the shops when they tell me I should be teaching a specific program or skill because that’s what they really need in their shop. They are my advisory board when we decide on purchasing new software programs and CNC equipment. Some also host field trips for my students. In addition to these advisors, Peter Mancini, education product manager for Mastercam, is also a dependable “go-to” source when it comes to assistance with a wide range of CAD/CAM projects.
We also work with our district maintenance department and they love us. I can’t count the number of things they’ve brought to us, saying “This thing is broken and there aren’t any more available. Can you make us another one?” It could be anything from a desk bracket to a lighting fixture part. The students put it into SOLIDWORKS and Mastercam, make a 3D printed model to make sure it’s right, and then machine it on one of the Haas CNC mills. It’s a great lesson in 100 percent reverse engineering.
Many of our graduates, if not going directly into a job at one of our area shops, continue their education at nearby Norco Community College (NCC). They have an outstanding pre-manufacturing engineering program and happen to be a Haas Technical Education Center. They are the next step up from my curriculum and students there learn a lot of four- and five-axis work. Many of their graduates have great careers as CNC programmers. Several NCC graduates continue their education at Cal Poly Pomona, a terrific university about an hour away. Cal Poly is known for its manufacturing engineering program. I encourage our college-bound graduates to get part-time jobs in machine shops while in college. Our machine shops love the idea and the combination helps the students get “killer” jobs in the end.
Kathy is also on the faculty at our school, teaching Health in the Workplace OSHA courses. Together, we started a new club on campus, the Society of Women Engineers and Scientists. This past semester, we had 38 members. People visiting our shop area were surprised to see so many young women running the Haas CNC machines and programming parts in Mastercam. Members of the group also mentor third graders in the local elementary school’s STEM program. When these third graders finish a STEM project, they are given a medal that our Society members have programmed and machined in our shop.
The young men and women in our Engineering Design program graduate with a good basic knowledge of CAD/CAM, along with machining skills and an introduction to the real industrial world around them. They are well prepared to take advantage of the many opportunities available to them through a career in manufacturing.