While large-scale, industrial CNC machines power much of modern-day manufacturing, smaller CNC machines have proven surprisingly versatile in today’s economy. These small machines can be found in local machine shops and home workspaces around the country, but perhaps surprisingly, small CNC machines have also found a natural fit in the classroom setting.
CNC machines in the classroom fill two primary roles. They can be educational, introducing a new generation of high school or college students to some of the CNC technologies that underpin most modern manufacturing. Or they can be vocational, used to train new CNC operators in preparation to fill the always-growing demand for trained CNC technicians.
Real-world training remains the biggest role for CNC equipment in the classroom. As the manufacturing industry becomes increasingly automated there is growing demand for trained, experienced CNC programmers and operators. The single best way to learn CNC is to do it, which means either some sort of on-the-job training or preparation in a classroom setting with as much hands-on experience as possible.
What can you expect to learn in a vocational CNC training program? While you’ll never see the full extent of situations you’ll experience on the job – or even in your home workshop – a good training program will give you the basics in at least three areas.
What’s g-code? It’s the basic programming language for CNC machines, based on a system of Cartesian coordinates. Originally, CNC machines were programmed using a series of mechanical punch cards, but now g-code programming is almost entirely computerized. While g-code comes in different varieties depending on a particular machine’s manufacturer, the basics of the language are the same across the board.
Know your mills from your lathes? Your headstocks from tailstocks? The difference between a vertical or horizontal milling machine? Learning the function of each machine is only one of the purposes of having a fully-equipped CNC lab at your vocational school.
You’ll also need to teach the properties of different materials; how woodturning on a lathe is different from working with steel – or carbon fiber. Basic metallurgy principles are important for any vocational CNC training program.
Computer Assisted Design
The ideal educational CNC training program will also include instruction in CAD programs. These allow a designer to draw up plans on the computer and then transfer or translate them (to varying degrees) into a set of CNC instructions. Using a CAD program instead of entering a program directly into the CNC machine adds a step, but is incredibly useful for designers or people who need a bit of assistance.
Vocational CNC is just one aspect of CNC in the classroom. You’re also likely to find a number of CNC machines in schools and colleges, filling a slightly broader role.
Walking into a high school classroom to find a CNC lathe might seem a bit odd, but fits in perfectly with the recent emphasis on STEM education. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics has become a buzzword in modern education, seeking to train and equip the next generation of scientists, inventors, and innovators. CNC technology fits nicely into more than one of those areas of emphasis.
Educational CNC is more than about “how to use a lathe.” It’s about teaching broader principles. A CNC milling machine is an incredibly handy tool, at home or at work, but it also demonstrates important ideas about industrial automation and even advanced robotics.
With an educational CNC machine, teachers can provide hands-on learning that demonstrates the technological advances in industrial engineering, the mathematics involved in programming G-code, and the science behind it all; a complete STEM package in one visual and interactive lesson.
How does educational CNC work?
With a CNC lathe or milling machine, educators gain a number of ways to instruct their students.
Demonstrations allow a trained operator to show students what exactly can be done on a CNC machine. This could be a simple metal chess piece turned on a lathe, or an intricate pattern carved out by a CNC router. The point is to display just what CNC technology is capable of in the right hands.
Programming using commonly-available Computer Assisted Design programs like Solidworks or AutoCAD. With access to a school computer lab and the right software, students can actually design their own parts and create a program for the CNC machine. Over a series of lessons, educators can discuss principles of design, programming, and finally allow students to see their own programs in action.
Because CNC technology sits at the intersection of numerous disciplines from computer programming to mechanical engineering, it is an ideal tool for educators to teach more than one thing at a time. It also serves as an invaluable real-world lesson of the potential application of STEM principles.
CNC machines aren’t only for high-end, fully-automated industrial centers. They’re equally useful to teach a group of young professionals about a promising career or even to introduce a class of junior high school students to the world of engineering.
Whatever the exact need you have, whether for the home workshop or local high school, let CNC Masters find the perfect machine for you.