Corona High School - Best Practices in STEM Education

Eric Lee has been teaching Design Manufacturing Technology to his students at Corona High School for over twenty years. With a background in plastics and metalworking, he incorporated his passion for creativity into the curriculum and developed a program that has encouraged and delighted students from inquisitive freshmen to career-bent seniors. When he began at Corona, the technology course was only a few years old and depended on one CNC lathe and one CNC mill running off antiquated DOS software to bring students’ projects from design to manufacture.

Today, his classroom facility boasts a range of CNC equipment that includes two lathes, two mills, a router, a laser engraver and a state-of-the-art 3D printer to demonstrate additive manufacturing, all working off the latest software programs. Thirty-seven seats of Mastercam® (CNC Software, Inc., Tolland, CT) software systems in his CAD/CAM lab allow students to program the tool paths for all the CNC machines.
Mr. Lee begins the first semester with a 3-week safety course on the proper use of the equipment his students will be using during the yearlong program that is open to all, from grades 9 to 12. “The focus of our Design Manufacturing Technology program is to teach problem solving,” says Mr. Lee. “For example, I’ll begin by giving each student a sheet of paper and six inches of tape and tell them to make a little pallet that will support weight. It must appear as though a scale fork -lift can pick it up when completed. Then, we start placing 500-sheet reams of paper on the pallet. They are amazed how much weight a properly constructed pallet will hold. In one instance, a student’s pallet held over twenty reams of paper before it collapsed. I also have them design paper airplanes with an eye toward solving problems related to lift and distance. Again, they’re pleased to see what can be achieved when applying a variety of design principles.”
As the semester progresses, Mr. Lee introduces the class to the different steps of manufacture, such as forming, machining and assembly. In order to emphasize the difference between machining something manually, versus automated manufacturing, he has them design and produce a triangular tic-tac-toe game board. Usually seen with golf tees for jumping, the project starts out with a 6” square pine board. “They have to learn how to cut 45° angles, drill the golf tee holes and finish the board. They use a band saw, chop saw, drill press and sander. The process takes them a few days of shop time.”
Then, he shows them what can be achieved by automating the process. “I give them an eye-opening demo,” he says. “I take their design, program the tool paths with Mastercam and machine the part on a CNC router and mill. Instead of taking days, the board is finished in about twenty minutes. Now they really are excited to learn more.”
Mr. Lee finds that a key to holding their interest is to give them design projects that will result in items they will actually use themselves or be able to give as gifts. Creating pen and pencil sets, for example, teaches them to program for a lathe and then use a kit that comes with the metal components for the pen and pencil and two blocks of Paduk, an African hardwood. Turned on the lathe, the finish and luster of Paduk makes for an attractive set they are proud to either keep or give.  Using the laser engraver, they create Christmas tree ornaments out of a light masonry material or acrylic. A desk organizer to hold pens, paper clips, stamps and so forth is another project that grabs their interest, as well as wall clocks designed in various CAD packages such as  SolidWorks® or Mastercam and machined out of oak, walnut, maple or acrylic. Mr. Lee buys the clock “works” that they install to complete their work in a “timely” fashion.
Moving into metalworking, students enjoy learning how to design and manufacture components for cars, either theirs or their parent’s. Working in aluminum, they have produced such aftermarket items as gearshift knobs, door lock knob covers and racing pedals. Mastercam’s 3D Toolpath Refinement feature gives students unsurpassed control on surface cuts, delivering superior finishes and the best possible cycle times. Also contributing to programming speed and ease are Feature Based Machining and the new Dynamic Plane Creation, which streamline and simplify all plane creation with easy click-and-drag tools. When students show off auto parts that look as though they have come right off the shelf of their neighborhood auto supply store; it gives an extra boost of pride in their newly acquired programming and machining skills.
“Mastercam’s customer service sets them apart from all other software companies,” says Mr. Lee. When you purchase Mastercam software, you find they have a dedicated staff for teachers. All they do is field calls from instructors and help us through the learning curves with our students. They’ve spent as much time as we need with us on the phone to solve a particular problem a student was having with a project. And, it’s all free. I believe the quality and generosity of their support help is unequalled in the industry.” The local Mastercam reseller for Corona High is Paton Group, in Altadena, CA.
Another popular project Mr. Lee gives to his students is a scale model of an historic field canon. The barrel is made of aluminum and the wheeled carriage is made of wood. “Everything for the canon was designed in Mastercam,” says Mr. Lee, “and the toolpaths were created in Mastercam as well. The barrel is machined on an Emco Maier lathe, retrofitted with a PC-based controller.” Mastercam Lathe can even create a finish pass at the end of a roughing operation. It provides for finish contouring with optional multiple passes to give students a better finish on the barrel. “The wheeled carriage,” says Mr. Lee, “is machined on a Techno Isel router, as well as an Emco Maier mill, also retrofitted with a PC-based controller.” Mr. Lee also teaches moldmaking and has two plastic injection molders on site to let students make plastic key chains and other items they program in the CAD/CAM lab. “I teach 3D modeling in SolidWorks or Mastercam,” says Mr. Lee, “and split the geometry to create the mold. They’ve demonstrated some pretty clever abilities with the items they’ve produced with their molds.”
Mr. Lee speaks with pride when he discusses the achievement of Paul Araujo, one of his students. Paul won Mastercam’s 2012-2013 Wildest Parts Competition with a unique skateboard that he designed and manufactured in Mr. Lee’s class. The competition is open to all high school and college students and draws amazingly complex and detailed entries. “Paul created an all-aluminum long-board skateboard,” says Mr. Lee. “It’s thirty-four inches long and is shaped like a fish skeleton. He designed it in AutoCAD and brought it into Mastercam for all the tool paths. His design combines both 2D and 3D operations. While the board itself is 2D, he welded a grinding rail on the bottom that was machined using projection machining of a 3D Mastercam logo. This rail is an inch wide and half an inch thick aluminum bar stock. It reduces flex in the board and serves as a skid plate for stunts.”
All machining of Paul’s skateboard was done on a CNC router. When programming for the router, Mastercam’s new 2D high-speed toolpaths deliver efficient, lower-stress motion. The software allows students to choose multiple machining areas with a single selection. For Paul’s 3D work on the rail, Mastercam’s 3D projection machining created a consistent, smooth finish while following the natural curves of multiple surfaces. The skateboard not only looks great, according to Paul, it’s right at home in any skateboarding environment. He also entered the board in the Riverside County Industrial Arts Expo and it brought home the top prize.
Looking to the future of manufacturing and rapid prototyping, Mr. Lee has a Dimension® 3D printer in his classroom and his students have used it to produce intricate projects ranging from a model steam engine to a model airplane motor. 
“I teach 3D modeling in Mastercam for 3D printing,” says Mr. Lee. “The steam engine took my student about four class periods to model. The design is saved as an STL file and then Dimension’s Catalyst software for the 3D printer creates the sliced programming language for the part. As for the airplane motor, it is modeled after the .60 Titan motor. It took sixteen hours to print the ten components in the printer’s eight by eight by twelve-inch work envelope. Since additive manufacturing is the developing trend in industry, our students are learning the basics of what they’ll need to know in the real world.”
Next year, Corona High School will be among several schools in California to receive an i3 (Investing in Innovation Fund) grant that will provide more computers and machinery needed to create an expanded engineering program. Mr. Lee says that the Computer Integrated Manufacturing part of the new program will be “like my Design Manufacturing Technology course on steroids.” 
Corona students who enjoy CAD/CAM and want to explore a career in manufacturing usually continue on at nearby Norco Community College. Those who make a certain grade in Mr. Lee’s Design Manufacturing Technology course can receive three college credits.