Tech getting up to speed on new machines
Computer-aided design and manufacturing shop instructor Mike Therrien familiarizes himself with the new machines in the Machine Technology shop, one of three that his shop supports.
Senior Ashley Ploskonka demonstrates the use of the control panel on one of the shops new machines last week.
Recorder file photo
Henry Kapise, Brian Como, Alex Baraban and Brandan Tarbox train on the new HAAS CNC (computer numeric control) machines at the new Machine Tool Technology Lab at the Franklin County Technical School.
TURNERS FALLS — Wheeling the hulking but sophisticated machines into the Franklin County Technical School’s machine technology shop wasn’t the end of the effort to raise the program to the demands of modern machine shops, more than 10 of which banded together locally to raise the first $213,000 for the 14 new machines.
Steven Capshaw, president and CEO of Valley Steel Stamp Co. led the fundraising effort and lobbied the state Legislature for an additional $250,000, but in a recent article expressed frustration with the instructional and curriculum side of the equation now that the machines are in place.
Capshaw, also part of an advisory panel working with the school, said this week the school needs to get in line with state curriculum standards other technical schools have already achieved, but said he was optimistic the school will do so by the end of the year under new Superintendent James Laverty’s leadership.
Laverty comes to the district from Westfield Vocational-Technical High School, which Capshaw said has, by reputation, the best machine tech program in the state.
“We’d like it to be perfect right now, we need employees now, we’re hiring right now,” Capshaw said. Companies are hiring employees away from each other and training people off the streets, he said.
“It’s happened at the rest of the tech schools, here we’re just playing catch-up,” he said. “Yeah, I’m frustrated, but it doesn’t really get me anywhere.”
Jocelyn Croft, the school’s new vocational curriculum director, said the new curriculum is in development. The state frameworks the school must teach to are in transition, she said, with an update she has not yet seen to the 2007 version. She will be attending a workshop in early November on the new guidelines.
More importantly, the machines are brand new and there is a learning curve. Students are already using them, except four that remained to be brought online last week. Croft said they need to be precisely leveled by the company’s technicians before they can be switched on.
“It’s a big initiative, overhauling the machine technology program is the biggest initiative of this school in 13 years,” Croft said. “You’ve got to keep in mind those machines rolled into place in August.”
In the machine shop last week, a group of freshmen were sampling the shop through a project designing and turning aluminum-headed hammers, primarily on the manual machines.
The school has kept six of the manual mills and a number of the manual lathes and the old style of doing work will remain in the curriculum. How that will be achieved remains to be decided. Croft wants to teach manual and computer-assisted machining side-by-side, while shop instructor Thomas Tourigny prefers the current model, in which the first two years are devoted to the manual machines and the final two to the new technology.
Both agree the manual machines should be the entry point. Many of the fundamentals — such as tool selection and positioning the raw metal stock in the machine — apply to both varieties of machine and manual operation is still necessary to varying levels in the professional world.
Tourigny trained last year in the Valley Steel Stamp shop to get up to speed with the new machines in his classroom, Croft said. Tourigny said he was a toolmaker in his previous career and did not use CNC machines, but accepts them as the present and future of machining. The computer-controlled machines can turn out products 10 times faster than he could and repeat the action indefinitely with 100 percent accuracy, he said.
Two members of the senior class were working out how to log extra time with the new machines last week, possibly joining the underclassmen during their shop time.
“We’ve been doing the manual stuff for four years and now we just got all these new toys and we want to start working with them,” said senior Ashley Ploskonka of Orange.
If everything goes according to plan, the current class of seniors will be the last to graduate with just one year of exposure to the full CNC machine shop, but students have had some limited exposure for four years.
A CNC machine made by the same company as the new machines, Haas Automation, has sat in the shop for the past four years.
Senior Nicole Miller of Greenfield said the control panel for that machine is the same as that attached to each of the new machines, so students aren’t starting over from scratch. “If you can control one of these machines you can pretty much control all of them,” Miller said. The new machines do, however, open up new frontiers in the complexity of the objects that can be produced. A fifth axis to a mill, for instance, takes the machine from relatively simple parts manufacturing to objects as dimensionally complex as a dirt bike helmet, Miller said.
To supplement the newly stocked and remodeled machine room, the school has relocated the Computer Aided Design and Computer Aided Manufacturing shop to be adjacent to the machine tech shop, with a doorway connecting the two. The CAD/CAM shop is a separate program, supplementing the machine tech, welding and carpentry shops.
Instructor Mike Therrien began in the carpentry shop 14 years ago, where he found a computerized router, learned to use it, and now runs the CAD/CAM shop, where he instructs students from the three associated shop disciplines in producing designs for manual work and to feed into the computer-controlled machines.
Therrien said he just started learning to use a miniature CNC milling machine last year and is still familiarizing himself with the metal machines, which he said require a slightly different strategy. “It’s a big learning curve for us from milling wood to milling steel,” he said. “Just a lot more sophisticated.”
A wrong step with a wood mill is less serious than with one of the bigger, faster-moving and more precise machines. “You crash one of those you could be crashing $30,000,” he said.
In addition to the learning curve, the machine tech shop still has to contend with a lack of essential parts.
Tourigny said the shop is still running on a shoestring in this respect, borrowing the “teeth” of the machines — think drill bits and chisels — from the old machine.
Tourigny estimated the cost to fully equip the machines at $60,000, and said he was in the process of figuring out who is paying for what.
Capshaw said last week his company had just bought and donated $2,000 worth of tools and secured a $3,000 certificate for free tools from Sandvik, which are now on order.
Croft said education is maybe not as responsive as industry to the needs of the marketplace because industry has to be 100 percent there all the time to survive, but the school is catching up.
“My personal feeling is we’re getting stronger by the minute,” Croft said.
You can reach Chris Curtis at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257