Teaching the Next Generation
Central Lakes College of Minnesota uses Edgecam in its machine-tool technologies program to shape new generations of programmers
Problem solving is the crux of every manufacturer’s job, which is why tackling challenges is at the heart of the machine-tool technologies curriculum at Minnesota’s Central Lakes College.
“Manufacturers are probem solvers, and that’s what we do in class each and every day,” says Ronn Redemske, who has taught in the machine tool technologies program since 1995. “A lot of the students will be backed into a corner trying to solve a problem — and I let them get there because that’s how they learn.”
With two campuses, in Staples and Brainerd, the college offers coursework for students who will ultimately transfer to universities, as well as career-based vocational training that readies students for the workforce.
Flexible as well as practical, the machine-tool technologies program offers three options: a nine-month curriculum designed for future machine-tool operators, an 18-month program that offers more comprehensive training, and a two-year program that yields a diploma in machine-tool technologies, an Associate of Science degree in the discipline, or both.
“What I like about this trade is that there’s a spot for everybody, regardless of what they’re good at,” says Redemske, explaining that the school’s curriculum is designed for everyone from future operators and machinists to programmers and engineers. “We do a lot of tours of different shops, so that they are able to see real-world environments. We also always talk about what went wrong with different projects and also practical topics — like how to make things more inexpensively.”
Since 2008, Central Lakes College has used the Edgecam computer-aided-manufacturing (CAM) solution, by Vero Software, to teach its students how to program parts to be cut on the department’s CNC machinery. Today, the school’s machine-tool lineup includes 16 CNC vertical machining centers and four 2-axis lathes.
“If they reverse draw for me in Edgecam, what we’re really talking about is the process: What would we do first, second and third — and why. Those questions are just as important when you are in a manufacturing position as they are when you’re a student.”For Redemske, the full-machine simulation capabilities of Edgecam serve as an ideal teaching tool because they enable students to receive the best possible and most accurate picture of cutting conditions before machinists start making chips. While Edgecam’s silumation reduces error in manufacturing environments, in the clasroom it provides students with comprehensive overviews of various vital elements of production.
Ronn Redemske, machine trades instructor
“For us, the simulation gives us a really good picture of what to expect before it goes out to the machine, and they need to be able to see how CAM works and how it plays into the trade,” Redemske says. “Simulation is actually teaching them something because it lets them see what is going to be happening, as well as the different things that could go wrong.”
Redemske’s students tackle a combination of challenges, including the reverse engineering of prints, importing solid models into Edgecam, and programming parts than range from the simple to the complex.
“They start with primitive shapes when they start, and then I add a tool here or there,” Redemske says. “They’re also given CAD files, and so we simulate dealing with CAD data in the real world — which often entails changing designs so that they can actually be machined.”
Having software that helps programmers manage all aspects of their jobs — from materials and machinery to fixtures, specialized cyles and NC code — is a handy tool when it comes to teaching students the intricacies of manufacturing.
“If they reverse draw for me in Edgecam, what we’re really talking about is the process: What would we do first, second and third — and why. Those questions are just as important when you are in a manufacturing position as they are when you’re a student,” Redemske says. “We’re here in a learning atmosphere, and they’re going to crash things – and I let them. Afterward, they say, ‘I wish I had listened,’ and that’s how they learn.”
Mechanical parts and assemblies are among the projects assigned to students, who are also given “ugly parts,” or complicated, challenging blueprints — to deconstruct. “Almost all of them will say, ‘I didn’t think I could do it when I started.’ I tell them to just start with the arc and keep on going.”
In addition to learning how all of the moving parts of manufacturing come together, Redemske’s students use Edgecam to learn to be programmers that companies want to hire —programmers that know how to increase efficiency and, ultimately, profits.
“Engineers can make parts very expensive, or they can add a radius and make the part a lot cheaper,” Redemske explains. “I’ll have them program something and then they have to take the cycle time down as far as they can within certain parameters, like not exceeding the feeds and speeds that were set.”
Much of what Redemske refers to as “cycle clean up” involves common-sense programming.
“They’re usually cleaning up the cycles, like finishing a pocket before you go to the next pocket, eliminating air cutting, et cetera,” he says. “Programming is no different from anything else: It’s the details that make the difference.”
Redemske’s students also spend a significant amount of time learning to how to create part setups, and are tasked with creating and tearing down setups each day.
For Redemske and the machine-tool technologies team at Central Lakes College, challenging students to think creatively is the kep to capturing the untapped potential of future manufacturers.
“We’re always trying to get their minds to think differently because the only limits we have are our machines, our tooling, and our imaginations,” Redemske says.
Another challenge faced by the team at Central Lakes is the attitude that many would-be students, their families and society at large have about the manufacturing profession. Redemske believes that greater visibility and education are key when it comes to teaching others that there is opportunity and reward in the manufacturing industry.
“I always challenge the students to tell me one thing that man made that didn’t start in a machine shop,” he says. “Visibility is the issue, and I really believe that 100 percent. Manufacturers are doing well. People just don’t undertsand that, or know what it is that we do.”
Name: Central Lakes College
Information: Comprehensive community and technical college
- Assistance in helping students learn how to problem-solve in a realistic manufacturing environment
- Simulation capabilities help students envision entire machine setups and potential challenges
- Students gain greater understanding of how to manage toolpath
“If they reverse draw for me in Edgecam, what we’re really talking about is the process: What would we do first, second and third — and why. Those questions are just as important when you are in a manufacturing position as they are when you’re a student.”
Ronn Redemske, machine trades instructor