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     www.create-a-ring.net

INDUSTRIES in Utah that use any form of machining are screaming for help; they can't find trainable labor, let alone skilled technicians. From out of the West-West Jordan, UT-come a pair of high school juniors, riding to the rescue with drawn weapons: gold and silver rings.
Sound like something out of Harry Potter? Hardly. But the story is an almost magical, heroic tale that began in the minds of a few people dedicated to helping students find their place in the world of CAD/CAM/CNC-the first people to venture along a new curricular path to machining literacy.
The story begins many years ago with a young student teacher, Ken McLaughlin, and his mentor, Mike Sorich, then a technology teacher at Kearns (UT) High School. They worked their separate ways until Sorich, now retired after 27 years in the classroom, began contributing to the development of an idea he hoped would fill the tech-ed gap that he recognized existed across the state. 
"There are probably only 15 high
school machine shops still open in the state of Utah," observes Sorich. "Half are machining/welding combinations, but the machining side has been dwindling rapidly. Part of the reason is the cost of upkeep, replacement, and operation of industrial-sized equipment. Also, it's become difficult to replace retiring teachers.

Wireframe of the Create-a-Ring  
                                                                                                             tutorial Project              

"And while professional machine shops are crying fo people, most high school kids don't even know what machining is. They know, in general, what an engineer does; they know what a draftsman does, but they have no idea how a product gets from the plans into the real world. We needed to interest students in machining in a way that was affordable and would give them near-instant success to reinforce further interest in the field."
A ring's the thing. Sorich completed some rough examples of finger rings, the molds for which he cut on a DaVinci desktop vertical mill. With Bob Hendricks, owner of Hendricks Manufacturing in Kearns, he worked out a rough set of fixtures to machine jeweler's wax into blanks for rings that could be customized by technology students and cast by Hendricks in gold
or silver.
A few schools in the area began experimenting with different programs and machines to try to further the concept along. Hendricks completed a ring bearing and passed it along to Sorich, who, in turn, brought it to the attention of Mastercam's educational division (www.mastercamedu.com), where he has
worked since retiring.

The desktop mill is ready to run
   Hendricks sought a more universally obtainable,
with the fixturing and a wax ring   better-finished fixturing system and located an
blank on the mandrel.                   
indexing head that readily fit the DaVinci mill's table.   Bringing the entire project together in an easily usable, readily duplicable form, Hendricks engaged three technician/ writers to produce an operating manual-a step-by-step classroom curriculum.

Where to begin? Meanwhile, Sorich contacted his former student teacher Ken McLaughlin to help combine the newly developed ring concept, DaVinci mill, Mastercam software, and standardized fixture into a developmental classroom run of the project.

As he received directions from Hendricks, McLaughlin printed them out and distributed them to his students. With Hendricks advising on cutting the wax blanks and Sorich coaching on using the mill, the students learned to convert clip art to DXF and bring the images into CNC software. They overlaid the design onto the already-programmed stock ring blank file, created the toolpath, posted the file, and cut the custom design into the wax, now ready for casting. Interest ran high.

After Sorich described the concept and early progress to them, the educational gurus were fully on board, They asked McLaughlin to present the                     progress of the mill as the first 
project in its formative stages to the ITEA              
tutorial toolpath, setup by Chris 
Conference in April 2000, that he did by coaching     
and Nathan, begins to cut the 
four students as they repeated the process they      
first ring blank.
learned in class.

To the point. Jump to September 2000 in the technical education classroom at Copper Hills High School in West Jordan, UT. Focus on a challenging undertaking for McLaughlin and two of his incoming students, Chris Hayes and Nathan vanRij.

Chris had used a lathe in a tech class the previous school year. This was his first experience with milling. Nathan was completely new to CAD/CAM. Nathan was predisposed to "think tech," though: His brother was part of the three-student Copper Hills team that won second place in the state's VICA competition two years earlier.

The question: Can two CAD/CAM programming newbies and their teacher test the completed, hot-off-the press, step-by-step Create-a-Ring curriculum so close to the beginning of the school year. . . and turn out quality product under the pressure of a magazine deadline?

A credit to their confidence was their response: "Sure."

A supreme test of the broad classroom potential of the ring curriculum, the product rolled out ahead of schedule, and their story can serve as a beacon for teachers who wish they could help their students get a foot in the technical employment door without a major startup budget, using a CAD/CAM program/curriculum unit that even those with no experience - teachers and students - can hit the tech-ed-to-work track running.

"I had every confidence in the success of the curriculum/software/equipment combination," McLaughlin says. "Students just pick-and-click their way through the steps of creating a 2" x 6" plastic nameplate. It's easy, fast, and gives them a guaranteed first success."

"They think it's cool to see the intricacy they can achieve," he says with ,a chuckle. "Kids over the entire range of learning ability all get it right. What's really valuable is that a teacher who's never run a mill or used CAD/CAM/CNC before can learn the software by him- or herself, getting 'out-of-the-box' instant success, and teach students within a few days."

Step by step. With Sorich and Hendricks, standing by to observe the students' interface with their curriculum package, and under McLaughlin's tutorial eye, Chris and Nathan began from scratch, first preparing to cut the wax blank. Following the illustrated step-by-step instructions, they locked the rotor mounting bracket 1-3/4" above the bottom of the Z-axis mounting frame, homed the mill, and with the power off, measured, aligned, and secured the indexing attachment.

They installed the 0.010" wax cutting tool into the router chuck and manually aligned it to the tail stock center, then moved the table back to align the indexing head to meet the tip of the cutting stock, setting the x-axis to zero.

Having threaded the wax ring mandrel onto the indexing head, Chris and Nathan set the indexing dial to zero, locked it in place, and installed a 1/8" flat-end mill on the router motor chuck. They set a "sacrificial mandrel" - a disposable base onto which the uncut wax blank material is clipped in order to avoid tool-to-fixture contact if students miscalculate the setup - into the indexing head, lowered the end mill to the surface of the sacrificial mandrel and moved the table to place the mill at the center of the wax, completing the X0 Y0 ZO initial setting.

Using the Davinci/PC interface, they set the Z at 1.125", installed the wax ring blank and ran the toolpaths, which cut the ring blank from the preprogrammed geometry. Each command and toolpath verification step is documented in the curriculum booklet, along with the details necessary for the initial setup and subsequent manipulation of the indexing head. The ring blank was then rotated to 180o.

After checking the configuration settings, Chris and Nathan ran the program to cut the ring shank, preparing it for its part in the casting process. The index was returned to 0 and the ring top was 
trimmed, leaving the blank ready for customization.
Chris admires the final product   After powering down, they raised the router head
of his and Nathan's first-ever      to allow for insertion of the 0.010" wax cutting tool,
run through the customizing       
and reset to ZO at the wax surface.
section of the curriculum.
    

Have it your way. After following the tutorial curriculum to acquaint themselves with the CAD/CAM menu format and the mill-and-fixture operations, Chris and Nathan chose the Copper Hills grizzly bear mascot for their prototype customization run. Importing the graphic with DXF, they reduced the design to a 3/8" overall size and followed the steps for creating, verifying, and programming the toolpath.

"The neat part," McLaughlin says, "is that a student can go into the software's toolpath operations manager and get both a solid model verification of his or her toolpath as well as go step by-step to see each operation - even in the preprogrammed toolpaths - and can modify the file at any point in the process,"

Chris and Nathan set the mill to work cutting their mold on September 21. Cast over the weekend, the ring was finished for the following Monday's photo shoot of Chris admiring his new Copper Hills Grizzly ring.

The real test. Chris and Nathan had opted for a technical career focus in their sophomore year. Now, McLaughlin would learn if the Create-a-Ring curriculum could excite them - and other young men and women - enough to pursue machining as a career option.

"This was my first time with milling. I thought it was neat working with a machine I'd never used before," says Chris, "I can see there are lots of things I can do with the mill that I haven't even gotten into yet. I'm undecided about a technical career, but I'm involved in VICA and TSA and I plan to compete this year. So the experiences I'm going to have with machining will give me a better idea of what I might like to pursue later on."

Nathan says he's already "looking into a technical career, but I'm not sure if it's going to be machining. This project has given me a lot of food for thought."

After watching them work, Bob Hendricks says he has all the proof he needs that his curriculum can energize students to succeed in machining. "Everything went together smoothly," he says, "as they read the curriculum step by step. In six hours they designed and finished the wax - having never seen the curriculum before."

Making a deposit on interest. Ken McLaughlin envisions a ripple effect from this prototype run of Create-a-Ring. "Chris and Nathan have started showing other students their rings and are getting a lot of interest. They want to be able to make their own ring designs, too. It's really great to have students in the very beginning classes know that they can look forward to doing their `ring thing.'"

They may be learning about CAD/CAM but won't be cutting anything yet; the excitement will carry them over to that next level. Plans are afoot for achieving four-axis machining capability by incorporating an NC rotating fixture that would allow students to customize the sides of their rings as well, creating even more enthusiasm for the project.

"There is an expense up front to begin the program," McLaughlin says, "but it's doable. Once they get it going, they'll be turning out kids with marketable industry skills. All a manufacturer has to know is that a graduate has been able to learn CNC-programming basics; they're more than willing to train them from there, while the young person is earning a much-better-than-average starting salary."

So the ring quest comes full circle: from need; through invention, testing, and success; to a powerful force with the potential to support industrial and career growth in an entire state - led in the charge by two enthusiastic students and inspired by the most magical forces of all: the enthusiasm, confidence, and commitment of their teacher.

    _____________________________________________________
    David Millson is editorial consultant for CNC Software/Mastercam.

      

 

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