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South Texas College Success Story

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Cleaning Up Manufacturing’s Image

The challenge for schools with manufacturing technology programs is that to recruit more students they need to effectively erase the concept of a dirty, soot-filled factory and educate kids and parents alike about clean modern machine shops filled with high-tech equipment costing as much as a luxury car. The Advanced Manufacturing Technology Department at South Texas College’s McAllen, Texas, campus interacts directly with public school administrators, counselors, teachers, and other stakeholders, educating them on the realities of 21st century manufacturing by showing them a high tech, high precision, clean manufacturing environment. Subsequently, many districts invest more in their programs, graduating successful students who are prepared for the working world.

Quick Facts

  • Product Used: Education, SOLIDWORKS
  • Industry: Education

Project Details

  • The Challenge: Develop a course of hands-on study that will promote manufacturing as an attractive and achievable career choice by focusing on modern technology.
  • The Solution: Mastercam CAD/CAM Software
  • Benefits:
    • Easy to teach and learn
    • Simplified programming of toolpaths
    • Allows 3D machining of metal parts
    • Takes part from design to production for easy visualization

South Texas College offers several certificates and degrees tailored toward the individual needs of its student. According to Daniel Morales, one of the pioneers of this program and a former precision manufacturing instructor, the college has a large dual enrollment program through its affiliation with roughly nine local high schools. In order to keep everything consistent so that the same degree or certificate is awarded to all students, each school is required to purchase the same CNC machines (Haas from Haas Automation, Oxnard, CA) and CAD/CAM software (Mastercam® software from CNC Software, Inc., Tolland, CT) that are found in the college’s own shop.

“We have had to go to school board meetings and petition members with what we are doing with this $50,000 for CNC machines and Mastercam licensing,” said Morales. “You need to have a plan to integrate students to graduate with a certificate in manufacturing technology.” The Early College program is one such option. Unlike the traditional manufacturing program that begins during a student’s junior or senior year, the Early College trajectory is open to accepted freshmen who continue to work throughout their four high school years to earn the associate degree.

There is no set national or state-wide curriculum for South Texas College’s program. “We get to set the rules for what is best for our students – the software, programs, and the equipment that best suits the industrial environment and the learning environment,” said Morales. The team relies heavily on its advisory board which is made up of seven local manufacturing companies to ensure that the kids are learning the skills they will need to get jobs and retain them. Plant managers review and audit the programs once per semester and provide suggestions if necessary.

When deciding which software to use to teach the CAM portion of the program, the faculty wanted a strong, established software product that was standard in most shops, had good tech support, was easy to learn, and came with a sound curriculum behind it. They chose Mastercam because it ultimately exceeded their basic criteria. “The curriculum that is available is very strong and so is the tech support,” said Morales. The program uses not only general Caminstructor books but also relies heavily on the Mastercam University library of materials, hands-on projects and courses, and the In-House Solutions textbooks.

Each participating high school has between three and 12 seats of Mastercam. This particular CAM software fits the South Texas College program in that it is easy to use and, despite improvements and updates that are introduced periodically, it is not disruptive to learning. The software’s Dynamic Motion technology takes the hands-on lessons to a whole new level. Proprietary algorithms programmed into the software allow it to detect material changes in the part rather than just following the geometry, allowing the tool to remain constantly engaged with the part, decreasing air cutting time and tool breakage, and resulting in a constant chip load. Morales said that when they take a 0.00125” step over a 3/4” depth and machine through a piece of aluminum – and then the chips start flying – it blows the kids away. “It’s an eye-opening experience,” he said. “You have to get the kids used to the noises that the machines make because the CAM programs are really good at showing you what’s going to happen in a virtual environment but as far as showing you, that’s a whole experience that we have to be able to provide as well.”

Students learn how to draw a part in a CAD environment using SOLIDWORKS and the Mastercam for SOLIDWORKS add-in and then need to answer the questions:  How would you machine this? What kind of cutter is appropriate? Is this part going to be turned and then milled? Is this part going to be straight milled? How many setups will it require? “They need to draw upon all of their previous two to three semesters of experience to make the piece,” said Morales.

The program’s successes are measurable by the real world accomplishments of its students.

Located in Hidalgo County, across the Rio Grande from the Mexican city of Reynoso, McAllen and the surrounding area has a vibrant migrant population that works primarily in low-income or agricultural jobs. The certificate and early college programs have been instrumental in providing these kids with opportunities they otherwise would never have known existed. Morales has seen his students graduate, make a living wage, buy houses, finish bachelor degrees, and move on to some pretty high-tech jobs such as making race car components or components for joint strike fighter jets.

Editor’s Note:  Daniel Morales recently entrusted the program he helped build to his colleagues in order to start his own manufacturing business, showing his students another one of the great things about a career in manufacturing – the ability to start your own business and be your own boss.