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While larger companies tend to be in need of new personnel who can operate sophisticated machinery, small shops tend to search for well-rounded employees who can do a bit of everything. Support in the CAM and machine tool industries has helped Northern Maine Community College’s (NMCC) Precision Machining Program teach the next generation of manufacturers the skills needed to set up and operate machine tools, CNC programming, process planning, blueprint reading, measurement, inspection, custom workholding design and more.
Before last year, when NMCC made the switch to Edgecam from Vero Software, getting students CNC experience all four semesters of the program was a challenge due to the amount of time it took to learn the former CAM system. The learning curve is not as steep with Edgecam, and students in Presque Isle, Maine, are generating code in their first or second class and fulfilling orders placed by real customers—many of whom struggle with staffing and have a very real need for parts.
“It’s difficult to recruit because there’s still this misconception of manufacturing—that it’s greasy, grimy, difficult and unpleasant work,” says Dean Duplessis, program instructor. “Manufacturing isn’t what it was years ago. Succeeding in manufacturing is partly about getting young adults to recognize the many opportunities for success in the field.”
Students who successfully complete the Precision Machining Program walk away with practical knowledge, as well as credentials from the National Institute of Metalworking Skills. While the program’s two-year students earn an associate degree in applied science, those who complete the one-year program earn a certificate. The pinnacle of the program is the live work experience, Mr. Duplessis says. “Students are clocking in and out, customers are waiting for parts, and there are work orders (job travelers) on the shop floor.” They are also continually challenged, which builds their confidence and trade knowledge, he says.
Students at NMCC receive 32 weeks of Edgecam training in both milling and turning, as well as instruction with solid modeling software. The 30-student class size (half of which are first-year students) ensures that there is enough time for one-on-one instruction with the software as well as with the school’s Haas machines.
The students produce lot sizes of 100 pieces or fewer for customers from all over the country; customers pay tooling, materials and shipping costs in return for labor at no charge. While some of the student parts are simple, the required fixturing and tooling can be complex. Each unique order provides challenges. Mr. Duplessis says that for each order, he sits down with the students to come up with a strategy on how to best proceed in order to best serve the program, customer and part quality.
Graduates, like Ryan Cullins, CNC machinist at Fiber Materials, often comment about the valuable real-world experience of the program. “I think the education I received at NMCC went a long way to prepare me for work,” he says. “Mr. Duplessis did an awesome job imparting as much knowledge as he could in the limited time we were students, and, through multi-part runs and complex parts, let us experience and learn how to fix the problems that might arise. He also instilled in us the desire to continue to learn our trade—and I’m still learning every day.”
Mr. Cullins says his Edgecam training helped him land his current position, which requires using Edgecam for virtually every program he runs.
NMCC works closely with members of the manufacturing industry to determine its foremost needs to help companies recruit new talent. In return, the program helps these companies fill open positions.