Tri-County School Construction class students—five total— are picking up a new task on a machine new to their classroom this fall. Through this new machine, their teacher, Brad Thompson has seen a group of self-motivated individuals, using many videos to aid them in learning how to use it.
“They’re ahead of me on my knowledge of how this works,” Thompson said. “because once school started I’ve been just holding things together to keep all my classes going with the distance learners and you name it. But, I can say, ‘Okay, this is the kind of thing I was thinking. Go figure it out.”
What machine are they doing this figuring out on?
The Tri-County Industrial Arts Department started using a CNC (computer numerical control) router machine this school year, using it to design signs and blocked initials out of wood. This machine is not only allowing students to more easily and precisely create projects such as these, but is also better providing a longer lasting impact.
Since the school received this CNC machine just prior to this school year, only the Construction class has had the opportunity to use it so far. Next semester, the Drafting class, Thompson said, is going to “pretty much exclusively work with” this machine. This Drafting class designs on the computer and, from a practical standpoint, will get to see the physical results of those designs thanks to the CNC machine.
Such opportunities have and will come thanks to the Tri-County School receiving a grant for this machine through the joint work of the Pine-to-Prairie Consortium— a group Tri-County is part of— and another area consortium. These consortiums together wrote a grant for about $3 million, according to Thompson, helping to put machines such as the CNC router, into every public school within the consortiums.
This funding specifically went towards a ShopSabre 23 CNC Router—an American-designed machine made in Iowa. The funding also covered the laptops and the tooling that goes with the machine. These high-end laptops, Thompson explained, are programmed to the CNC router machine and possess strong graphic capabilities— comparable to gamer laptops.
“You have to have those kind of graphics to do all the rendering when they’re doing their 3D rendering and simulations,” Thompson said, “because before they put it on the machine, they can run a simulation and that shows a picture of what the finished product will be before they ever run it.”
If they don’t like what the finished product looks like on the screen, they can change it before running it on an actual physical product on the CNC router.
As for the tooling mentioned earlier, these are the small cylindrical-shaped cutting tools put in the CNC router machine, each one serving a specific purpose. For example, some pull chips upward, some round the edges of wood or drill holes in wood, and others have v-pointed tips for carving and engraving.
“The choices are limitless,” Thompson said.
To learn about what a CNC router is, visit the following link: www.rockler.com/learn/what-is-cnc-router
The machine itself cost $14,000. Including the additional equipment that went with it, the total price came out to between $20,000 and $25,000, Thompson estimated— a cost the school didn’t have to cover one cent for thanks to the grant.
Before this machine, the class would create projects such as these with a handheld router. This tool would work fine, but the CNC router allows for more, including cleaner edges. More importantly, Thompson explained, it’s teaching students a new skill— programming.
“It’s a lot easier than what we used last year. It was just handheld routers last year,” Tri-County senior Construction class senior Jackson Spilde said. “So (with) this (CNC router), you can just program it to do whatever and it’s so accurate… it’s pretty cool what it can do and how 3D stuff it can do too.”
Thompson explained how companies such as Mattracks, Central Boiler, Polaris and Marvin Windows are all using CNC router machines. As he understood, programming with a CNC router, whether using it on metal or wood, provides one with basic principles.
“If you understand that (how to use a CNC machine), that becomes a very marketable skill,” Thompson said.
Getting a chance to work on a machine such as this one, Thompson explained, helps students start to think about pursuing trade type careers.
“That’s what my job is, to try and prepare kids for the careers that are needed now,” Thompson said. “… I want kids, if they want to stay around here and work, I want them to find a job and a well-paying job that they can do in this area.”
To see the complete story, read the October 15 issue of the North Star News in print or online.