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North Stars

Students in Northern States Hope to Shine at SkillsUSA Championship

Excitement is in the air as American students prepare for the upcoming 2024 SkillsUSA Championships. The stars will align June 24 through 28 at the Georgia World Conference Center in Atlanta where more than 6000 state champions compete in 115 skilled and leadership competitions.

Fierce competition is expected in all categories, including CNC programming. In the Northeast, Associate Education Consultant Larry Pomerleau of Connecticut Technical Education and Career System (CTECS) heads the organization’s Manufacturing Cluster, which includes 17 schools throughout the state. Twelve precision machining, CAD, welding, and robotics automation students are heading to the SkillsUSA national competition. Pomerleau credits Mastercam with being a key component of the CTECS precision machining program and approach to SkillsUSA.

“The more that Mastercam is involved, the more opportunities for our students,” he said. “We offer Mastercam in our precision machining and CAD design classes. This opens the door for those students to be involved in SkillsUSA in CAD, CAM, and precision machining. The software provides different options for our students.”

CTECS’s precision machining program ranges from manual to CNC multiaxis programming. A student who may have worked with only CAD may not have been inclined to pursue machining and programming classes. But once Mastercam Design is learned, learning CAM is a logical transition.

“In industry, there isn’t much manual programming, so learning Mastercam provides more industry reality for our students,” said Pomerleau, who stresses the importance of teaching CAM.

In Massachusetts, Kurt Chouinard is Department Head/Senior Teacher, Advanced Manufacturing at Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School, Fall River. A graduate of Diman Regional, Chouinard competed in 1997 and has first-hand knowledge of the demands of SkillsUSA competition.

Expectations run high in Fall River. The school is heavily involved in SkillsUSA and has been since the mid-1980s. “In this shop alone, we’ve earned close to 100 SkillsUSA medals at the state and national levels,” said Chouinard. “In 2023, we brought home three gold medals from nationals: 5-Axis Milling Programmer, 2-Axis Lathe Programmer, and CNC Programmer.”

This is the first year Massachusetts offered CNC 5-Axis Programmer at the state level. Diman Regional student Michael Mosher earned gold in the category and is heading to nationals along with the Automated Manufacturing team members, who also won gold. For the team category, the 3 students worked together to design, program, and machine a multi-sided, 3-axis mill part. The collaboration of Elizabeth Kinnane (Mastercam programmer), Haylee Nunes (draft person) and Johannelys Gonzalez Rivera (machinist) paid off big for Diman Regional, as did Mosher’s efforts.

Mosher programmed a CNC 5-axis machine using simultaneous 5-axis toolpaths and 3 + 2 toolpaths to create a bike foot peg. He used Mastercam OptiRough to rough out the entire peg for operations 1 and 2, Swarf Mill to simultaneously machine the peg teeth, and 3 + 2 positioning and contouring to finish other features.

“During the competition, I found Swarf Milling, with the help of creating wireframe geometry, extremely useful in machining the teeth of the foot peg,” said Mosher. “The use of levels made it easy to switch between different operations and setups as well as hide or expose geometry that I had created to help program my part.”

While Diman’s curriculum continues to transition to CAM and less manual coding, Mastercam remains key to the manufacturing program’s success. As the software evolves, so do competition requirements. “Our curriculum and SkillsUSA requirements have mirrored each other as they developed. I haven’t had to make any huge changes to prepare our students for the competition,” said Chouinard.

Students using the Mastercam Education Suite can access technical support through their Channel Partners, free courses through Mastercam University, and additional temporary licenses to prepare for the competition. Because Mastercam is a SkillsUSA sponsor, company experts attend local competitions to serve as advisors or judges. The benefits of the sponsorship have not gone unnoticed by educators and students.

“I think the sponsorship is important because SkillsUSA is aligning with what the majority of industry is using, ” said Pomerleau. “It’s fitting that we have a competition that lends itself to the same product line.”

“Mastercam’s sponsorship is incredibly important,” added Matt Siehl, Mastercam Content Developer. “We want to shape the future of manufacturing, and this is a great place to start. It helps get competitors familiar with Mastercam and bridges the gap between education and real-world manufacturing. SkillsUSA gives competitors scenarios they might encounter in the workforce while using Mastercam.”

One look at this year’s competitors and it’s clear that the future of skilled trades is in capable hands.

“Participating in SkillsUSA has meant a lot to me,” said Mosher. “One thing that I learned in the last three years of competing—with only two years of Mastercam experience—is that if you have the will to do something, then nothing is impossible.”

For more information on Mastercam’s SkillsUSA program, please visit https://www.mastercam.com/community/competitions/skills-usa/ or to find out more about SkillsUSA, please visit https://www.skillsusa.org/.