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
"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
Wireframe of the
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
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
fixturing and a wax ring better-finished fixturing
system and located an
blank on the
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
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.
described the concept and early progress to them, the educational
gurus were fully
on board, They asked McLaughlin to present
progress of the mill as
project in its formative stages to the ITEA
toolpath, setup by Chris
Conference in April 2000, that he did by
coaching and Nathan, begins to cut
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
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 -
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
"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