Flying-S and Vincennes University Are a Good Team

Flying S Inc. sits approximately 21 miles Northwest of Vincennes, Indiana, home of Vincennes University. The company is known for precision aerospace manufacturing and exceptional technical ability. For a little background, you can read about Flying S in the Modern Machine Shop article, Managing Risk Is This Shop’s Bold Strategy, by Editor Emeritus Mark Albert.

Flying S benefits from its proximity to Vincennes University. The company has a great relationship with the school and has hired graduates to fill the need for skilled talent in the shop.

Vincennes University is part of the 2,200-school Haas Technical Education Center Network (HTEC), “an amazing industry- and education-led initiative that promotes and supports excellence in education on CNC machine tools and related CNC ancillary equipment, software, and educational materials.”

Doug Bowman, HTEC Director for Vincennes University in Southwest Indiana, has been with the school’s Business and Industry HTEC center since its establishment in 2011. Prior to that, Doug spent 26 years as the lead CNC instructor in the university’s School of Technology. He oversees all programming in the department, including Right Skills Now – CNC Machining, HTEC teacher training, and incumbent worker training.

Student setting up Machine

Doug, along with five other instructors in two locations, provides hands-on and classroom training for those wishing to earn certifications in NIMS and Mastercam operations. The center’s 6,000 square-foot lab houses 16 Haas CNC machines with another three located in the ABB Robotics and Industrial Maintenance lab for Haas Service Engineer training, and an additional 13 more at the Gene Haas Training and Education Center in Lebanon, Indiana. The 15-week, 600-hour Right Skills Now – CNC Machining program is a cornerstone of the HTEC CNC curriculum, and the Gene Haas Foundation has been instrumental in providing scholarships for students and teachers.

First offered in 2013, Right Skills Now – CNC Machining was established to fill the need for skilled CNC machinists, as well as to help unemployed veterans get on their feet and back into the workforce. It is a combination of about 25 percent machining theory, and 75 percent hands-on training for eight hours per day, five days per week, over 15 weeks. Four college credits are awarded for successfully completing each of the six required NIMS credentials, for a total of 24 credit hours.

A Certificate of Graduation may be earned by adding two general education classes. Students first learn the basics of CNC mill and lathe programming, and set up and operations in order to gain immediate employment in a shop. “They really need to get on the job and get some experience first before they can really excel with Mastercam software. And so, they get on the job, they get comfortable doing a wide variety of setups and machining parts efficiently, then they can return to VU for short-term training classes, and go back and apply their new skills immediately by programming their own parts,” Doug shared.

He adds “Depending on the needs of the employer, the VU HTEC offers Mastercam Mill Design and Toolpaths, Advanced Mill Design and Toolpaths, Multiaxis Toolpaths, and Lathe Design and Toolpaths, including C- and Y-axis programming. These project-based classes correspond to the Mastercam University online curriculum, and students program and machine the projects on the CNC machines.”

Doug has been using Mastercam in his classrooms and labs since 1997 because it was the most widely used CAD/CAM system in the industry. “Students pick up the Mastercam design functions very quickly, and as they gain experience with tooling, work holding, and machining, they learn and appreciate the powerful toolpath capabilities of the Mastercam software.”

Himalayan salt block being machined on a Haas ES-5 CNC machine.
Sushi plate made from Himalayan salt as part of a short-run prototyping project.
One of 35 sushi plates made from Himalayan salt block.

“Students need to know G-code, and how to edit programs at the machine, and how the code relates back to the Mastercam program,” said Doug. “I’m finding what many companies really need are CNC machinists that can be self-sufficient. In other words, they want to provide them with a seat of Mastercam, a machine, tooling, and they want them to be able to analyze the model or the print and be able to generate the toolpaths, post the code, and to run parts through the first article correctly—pretty well on their own. Whichever Mastercam course we train them in, companies expect them to know how to perform that when they come back on the job, and within a short amount of time, to be self-sufficient in it.”

Almost all the programmers and machinists on the Flying S shop floor are graduates of either the Right Skills Now – CNC Machining, or the Precision Machining Technology program. Peter Bowman, the machine shop supervisor, knows that they are well-prepared to jump in and begin work. Sometimes, however, Flying S needs a little help from its friends at Vincennes. You can watch a great Masters of CAM video, Doing Things that Change the World, which highlights the benefit of their relationship with VU here:

Doug recalled a recent project involving the manufacture of a family of 20 different small, lightweight aluminum parts that are inserted into the wings of carbon fiber military drones. According to Doug, all of the tooling is the same. Flying S originally ran the parts on a vertical mill, requiring many operator interventions to machine all sides for each part. Flying S reached out to Doug to discuss possible solutions to the problem. They concluded they could run the parts on a lathe with live tooling and a bar feeder to automate the process because all of the parts could be machined from 3” diameter bar stock. Flying S didn’t have a Y-axis lathe, but the University did.

“We scheduled a couple of days of training and Peter and I took one of the actual parts to use as an example. We programmed it, set up the machine and ran a sample part, and it worked great,” recalled Doug. The owner of Flying S then invested in a Haas ST-30Y lathe, similar, but larger than the Vincennes machine, and a bar feeder. Immediately, they began running the parts successfully all day with no operator intervention.

Peter then sent two of his programmers back to Vincennes for the three-day Mastercam Lathe Design and Toolpaths class, and “on the third day of the class, we finished up a little early so I had those students program one of the prototype drone parts and they ran their programs on the lathe. After completing the class, now they are programming and overseeing the machining of this entire family of parts,” said Doug. “That’s an example of how we work together with innovative companies like Flying S as far as helping them to develop processes, train their people, and help them become more productive and efficient.” Flying S helps VU by serving as a registered MET-TEC NIMS part inspector, and by serving on VU’s advisory committee.

Vincennes has also partnered with others to help develop prototypes while providing students with hands-on training. Doug is not afraid to try the unusual, either. “We are currently doing a short run prototype job machining 35 Himalayan salt blocks into sushi plates. I never thought I’d be doing that. They come in blocks, so we mount them in a vice on a horizontal machining center and put a cardboard box underneath the part to catch the salt ‘chips’ as they are machined. We also use a vacuum system to suck as much of the salt dust out of the machine as possible and then thoroughly clean the machine when we’re done.”