Established 70+ years ago in north Alabama, Calhoun Community College serves more than 10,000 students. The college offers 49 associate degree options, as well as 52 certificate programs. The college’s Machine Tool Technology program continues to gain in popularity with career and technical education (CTE) stakeholders as the region needs to fill high-paying jobs in its manufacturing sector.
Filling a need for machine tool technologists
Tad Montgomery is the lead instructor for the program. “We have developed the program,” he said, “to the point where there are more than 100 young men and women in the day and night programs working toward their associate degrees and various certificates of proficiency.
“Of great importance to our Machine Tool Technology program has been the efforts and collaboration of our advisory board. This board, made up of local manufacturing business leaders, shares their expertise with us in the development of high-quality manufacturing curriculum along guidelines established by the Nation- al Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS),” continued Montgomery. “They know what they need in the way of skilled employees. And they help guide us in establishing the CAD/CAM and CNC machining operations in our classroom and lab that will result in good jobs for our graduates.”
Calhoun Community College’s Machine Tool Technology program provides students with the knowledge and experience to satisfy the manufacturing industry’s need for three-axis skills. But, Montgomery realized, the aerospace and medical device manufacturers in North Alabama and surrounding areas needed employees who could handle common five-axis work.
Advancing operations in Alabama with Project MFG
“An early solution,” said Montgomery, “was to get involved with Project MFG,” a collaborative endeavor among industry, academic and defense partners in the United States working to equip the next generation of skilled trades workers. Participants in Project MFG includes the Alabama Community College System, as well as such manufacturing industry leaders as machine tool builder Haas and CAD/CAM software developer Mastercam.
Project MFG hosts a series of competitions highlighting the technology and skills needed to succeed in today’s advanced manufacturing workplace.
“We picked several students from our Machine Tool Technology program,” he continued. “And we came in after hours to teach beyond our standard curriculum regarding multi-axis CAD/CAM and CNC machining operations. We did pretty well in the competitions, taking first- and second-place awards, and realized where manufacturing was heading and what we needed to teach to compete in the job market.”
In order to transfer higher-level skills to more manufacturing students, Calhoun Community College formed the Alliance for Machining Professionals (AMP) in 2020. The college established partnerships with local companies:
- Brown Precision, Inc.
- Dynetics Technical Solutions
- In’Tech Medical SAS
- M&J Precision Machining and Fabrication
Working closely with industry and education partners, Montgomery established a curriculum and co-op work program that provides an opportunity for students to achieve success in manufacturing.
“Because of the difficulty in understanding complex programming and machining,” said Montgomery, “we established strict application requirements for students considering our AMP program.
- “They must be at least 18 years old by June 1 of the application.
- “We look for candidates who have participated in STEM coursework, such as STEM BEST (Businesses Engaging Students and Teachers), Project Lead the Way, or robotics.
- “We also look at their ACT and other test scores, and they must be eligible to take Math 100 and English 101 at our college. ”
Students must also sign a commitment that holds them to high standards. They are allowed only three excused absences for the school year, and only two late arrivals to class. Students wear work shirts for class. And they dress in business casual attire for such functions as Haas Demo Days, advisory board meetings and recruiting sessions.
“We expect professional behavior from our students,” said Montgomery.
“On the days they are here, they must clock in on arrival. They clock out and in for lunch, and then they clock out at the end of the day. We keep everything very business-like. For those days working at our partner businesses, they earn a salary and that makes our AMP program very attractive to serious students.”
AMP students become immersed in manual machining their first semester. This helps give them a feel for cutting metals in a variety of hands-on milling and turning operations. The second semester concentrates on CNC turning, with CNC milling in the third semester, while teaching students the basics of Mastercam, downloading designs they completed in SolidWorks, and programming toolpaths.
During the fourth and fifth semesters, they use the Mastercam curriculum and materials for advanced CNC milling and turning. “Mastercam is extremely user friendly,” said Montgomery. “A real advantage, considering the complexity of multi-axis work. It’s also the industry standard. So it’s of benefit to teach the students the programming software they’ll probably be using in the workforce.”
At the end of the fifth semester, students earn an associate degree in advanced manufacturing. During the sixth semester, AMP students explore Mastercam five-axis programming and Haas five-axis machining operations in depth. They then earn a certificate proclaiming their skills in five-axis advanced manufacturing.
Building a promotable workforce
“This is our inaugural year for the AMP program,” said Montgomery. “We had hoped to have about a dozen students sponsored by local industry. But, because of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, only eight could be afforded co-op positions. We’ve been able to go full speed ahead with the program, however, with everyone wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. This hasn’t been a problem because we have many available Mastercam seats in our lab, and many CNC machines. All students are well separated.”
Calhoun Community College supports 24 Mastercam workstations in their CAD/ CAM lab. For project work, students program and machine things they can take with them and use, such as:
- 1-2-3 blocks
- Vice stops
- Screw jack sets
- Collets and speed wrenches
- Drill gauges
- Trailer balls
- Machinist hammers with a storage compartment in the handle to accommodate a variety of tips
Further, the department has grinding and heat-treating capabilities for projects in steel.
“It’s important to note,” added Montgomery, “that we spend about an hour each day integrating employability skills, such as problem solving and lean manufacturing processes, into the AMP program. This adds to CTE students’ value as promotable employees among their co-op sponsors.
“Although this is just our first year of AMP, our advisory board has expressed pleasure at the results so far. They look forward to having their workforces enriched by the quality of our graduates heading their way.”
Barry Van Name is an editorial associate with Lynn Gorman Communications. They specialize in industrial technology topics including manufacturing skills education and training.