CAD/CAM "Rocks" at Macomb Community College

When Gary Walters, Professor of Applied Technology at Macomb Community College, rocks out on his beautiful electric guitar, he has the satisfaction of knowing it is one of many created by his talented students. Walters is part of the Applied Technology & Apprenticeship department and runs the advanced manufacturing program, known as ATAP (Applied Technology Advanced Processes). “I developed this program in 2004,” says Walters, “after meeting Bob Skodzinsky from Haas who said if we updated our curriculum, Haas would provide the CNC machines. We became a Haas Technical Education Center (HTEC) and never looked back. This put us on the map with regard to hiring interest from manufacturing companies in the region.” Macomb offers fourteen courses related to CNC, including basic G and M code programming, machine setup and operation, and Computer Assisted Machining (CAM) programming. Students can earn an Associate of Applied Science degree, as well as two coveted certificates, CNC Machinist (entry-level operator), and CAM Technologist (entry-level programmer). Their 4,000-square-foot shop area contains manual mills, lathes and surface grinders for teaching the basics, in addition to five Haas CNC machining centers, three Haas CNC turning centers, two EDM machines, two 3D rapid prototyping printers (Fused Deposition Modeling), an Epilog laser engraver, a Zoller offline tool pre-setter, and a hand-held scanner for reverse engineering. “In addition to the machines we own,” says Walters, “Haas entrusts machines to us, currently a machining center and a live tooling turning center.”

Two separate CAD/CAM labs look out over the shop area. They have 45 Mastercam® stations (CNC Software, Inc., Tolland, CT) kept busy by the 150 students going through the program. “I selected Mastercam,” says Walters, “because I knew it was very much accepted by industry in our Southeast Michigan area. There are thousands of companies in this region and most use Mastercam programming software. When the automotive industry went down, many of the companies diversified into aerospace, defense, wind and energy, medical, and a host of other categories requiring precision components made through CNC and automated manufacturing methods. Now that the auto industry is back stronger than ever, all these companies are having major problems finding qualified CNC programmers and machinists. Employers were caught off guard in the face of this manufacturing rebound.”
Walters finds that he has to begin with the basics for new students coming into the program. “Ten years ago,” he says, “our beginning students already had tool and die experience, having worked in metalworking shops before. Now, they’re coming in from other fields as far removed as bartending and truck driving. They lack the fundamental concepts learned from the shop, so I have to teach them from the ground up.”
During the first semester, he gets them started on manual machine tools, from setup to how-to-cut simple parts. He also has them take a sprinkling of other courses, such as math and blueprint reading, to get them a little “well-rounded” before they jump into CAD/CAM. “In the second semester,” says Walters, “I begin teaching them CNC machining essentials, starting with an introduction to Mastercam toolpath programming. The students find it easy to learn and there are lots of books and training videos available to help them. I used camInstructor™ online to customize my classes. It made it very easy for me as a teacher to have my students go from the basics to more complex programming steps. It’s during this semester that we get into 2D geometry and 2D toolpaths for milling. I have them program and machine simple clamping vises, Geneva wheels and square gears that they can take home and show off their emerging skills.”
In their next two semesters, students get into some really interesting 3D modeling and 3D toolpath programming. There’s an emphasis on high-speed machining, up to 1,400 IPM and up to 12,000RPM spindle speeds. “Some of the area’s manufacturers can’t believe we’re doing this in steel,” says Walters, “so I send them a video of our work and win the argument. We use solid carbide tooling for all our CNC operations. I tell my students that quality is everything. You just cannot do what we do with cheap tooling, such as drill holes at forty inches per minute. There’s also a big difference over what you can do with high-speed steel versus solid carbide cutting tools. Iscar has donated a lot of our tooling,” he says, “and helps me decide what I need to purchase for some of our projects, which can be a maze in itself. Seco has also donated tooling beyond my budget and a training instructor, Don Graham, from Seco tooling comes into our shop and teaches a detailed class in Feedrate and Spindle speeds.”
Now, getting back to those guitars. It seems that an Iscar representative cut a guitar body out of aluminum to show off his company’s tooling during the opening session of Macomb’s Haas Technical Education Center. “I’m a guitar player,” says Walters. “This demo really got me excited. I went ahead and developed it as a project for our advanced students. It requires a lot of sophisticated 3D programming in Mastercam.   There’s a wide variety of components to design, program and cut. Instead of metal, I went with wood for the bodies and necks and the students have produced some beautiful guitars that look and sound amazing.”
Another big winner with the students has been a 300 horsepower, 1923 T-bucket roadster that turns heads on the open road. “It required a lot of reverse engineering,” he says, “and was a joint effort with the Design, Welding and Auto Lab departments along with my own students. The Auto Lab students put together the engine and transmission, while my class produced a lot of the components, such as cross members, shock brackets and front axle. They all had to learn how to communicate with one another and talk intelligently, just as they would in an outside manufacturing environment.”
According to Walters, his Macomb graduates are highly sought after. “The trouble for prospective employers,” he says, “is that our students are usually employed long before they graduate. As I said, there is a huge demand right now for CNC operators and programmers that can outstrip the supply of graduating students.”
Macomb has long supported its industrial and manufacturing related programs providing skills-related training and education that are sought after by industry.
 “The governor of our state,” says Walters, “just approved a fifty million dollar skilled trades equipment fund for qualified technical centers to purchase more equipment. We’ve been working on a proposal and hope this will be an opportunity to expand and update our capabilities.” In addition to smokin’ cars and rockin’ guitars, Gary Walters is creating a lot of hot futures for Macomb Community College’s ATAP students. After all, they know how to make CAD/CAM “rock.”