MCAM Northwest

The Machining Program at Chemeketa Community College

A Conversation with Sheldon Schnider, Machining Technologies at Chemeketa Community College, and John Stauffer, MCAM Northwest Sales Engineer.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got into teaching?

John: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into teaching?

Sheldon: I went through the program at Chemeketa in the late eighties and completed my degree in 1990. I immediately went out to work for a small company in Salem running CNCs and manual equipment. Our primary product was roll-forming equipment. So immediately I got thrown into the tool and die type work, fresh out of school. It was a good learning experience.

After a few years there, building production-type equipment, I wanted to get some job shop experience. So, I went to work for a job shop in Salem for about two years.

At the end of that, a company down in Corvallis called Automated Tooling Systems, a robotics manufacturer, reached out to me. They had learned about me through a couple of mutual machining friends and they wanted to interview me. The position I was interviewing for was basically the CNC floor manager and parts building. I was with ATS for probably about seven years.

During that time I happened to stop by the college for some other business. I went in just to talk to the instructors and see the shop again. I hadn’t been in in a long time. And they suggested that I look at possibly teaching part-time. So I went ahead and did that and Chemeketa hired me as an adjunct instructor.

I taught off and on as needed for about five years. Then in 2001, I was told that there was a position available. I was strongly encouraged to apply for it. So I applied for the college job and I ended up getting hired. I’ve been there ever since.

John: So you’ve got you got a little bit of a mix of different kinds of experiences, being a machinist and also in management before getting into teaching. That’s pretty cool.

Sheldon: It’s been a very good career. Yeah, it was life-changing, I have to say that. I tell my students that every year. I was that thinking I was just going to be a machinist my entire life. And once I got into teaching, I didn’t realize until that point what this career could splinter off into, and the different directions I could take it.

John: Yeah, absolutely.

Sheldon: Yeah, it’s really cool. It’s given me lots of opportunities.

John: You never know what’s going to happen.

Sheldon: You know, you don’t know what opportunities are there. And then all of a sudden they’re in your face.

John: Even if you never do that kind of stuff, if you stay in just doing machining your whole career, there are so many different ways you can do it and it’s so rewarding.

Sheldon: It is. I’ve had the opportunity in my career to run a horizontal cell unit, run surface grinders, manual mills, vertical mills with fourth axis, wire EDM. So it’s been across the board. I’ve learned two different kinds of programming software. It’s been rewarding.

What are the goals of the program/what challenges are they hoping to overcome?

John: So the next question I have for you would be what are the goals of the program and what kind of challenges are you hoping to overcome, you know, with the industry or with your students with that program?

Sheldon: So the goals of the program really ideally, and I know this is shared by myself and all the staff within the program, we really want to see machinists come in or students come in to become machinists, but at the end, achieve that two-year degree. Achieve that Associates of Applied Science of Manufacturing and Machining. Personally, I want to see students have that extra education so that they’re well-grounded for advancement once they leave us and they get placed in a shop. Maybe they’re not fluent in everything, but they have an understanding of what could be coming up and take advantage of that.

Now, on the other hand, and it’s a difficult road for education, we have an industry to serve and to try to help. And as we all know, there’s a serious shortage of machinists. Baby boomers, such as myself, are retiring and there’s a huge vacuum of need. The one-year certificates are a great option for rapid and rapid out. There’s a need for those as well. And it’s difficult to try to find that balance and get enough people in and interested in our industry.

The other thing is just the innate lack of knowledge about our industry to younger people. We’re starting to see a trend, in the last handful of years, of younger adults coming out of high school and discovering hands-on trades such as ours. And talking to people who actually know the value and also the potential of salary. So I think we’re working in that direction in education.

John: Yeah. I think that education’s been tough, right? I mean, over the last probably 30 years or so, really, there’s been such a hard push for college. For these four-year degrees or more. And it moves so far away from the trades that are so important and such a base structure to the American economy and American society, too.

And getting that back, it’s tough. But, it’s something we really need to work towards. And we’re always happy to see guys like you working on that. That’s really awesome.

Sheldon: Well, I appreciate that. There’s a lot of dedicated folks out there trying to make that happen.

How is Mastercam used to reach those goals?

John: So with those goals in mind, how do you see Mastercam being used to reach those goals in your program?

Sheldon: So to actually get that full two-year experience, students not only need machine time to get well versed with how to manipulate the machine and build good quality parts, but they also need the software side.

One of the advantages I have noticed, with the last couple of generations, they’re more in tune to computers, they’re more in tune to software. It’s almost second nature, and they pick it up so quickly. And then the application of that, taking it to post, posting the code, and then being able to read the code.

One of the things that I am extremely proud of in our program, I started out handwriting code. And the first shop, I referred to earlier, while we had the software in the shop for almost six years, the shop culture was, you would get your print pack and you cut your own material.

The thing that was really challenging at the time, but what I didn’t realize would help, I had to handwrite every program that I ever ran at that shop. And so after I discovered handwriting code more fluently, I discovered loops, subroutines, how to apply them, how to jump in and out of absolute and incremental, and make things work in a very efficient fashion.

Taking that into our program, the first year of our program in CNC, we do handwrite all our code. So all the projects are handwritten the first year. Second year, it’s a mix. But in the second year, we focus on Mastercam and we use that to design projects to drive code, and assign tool paths and posts.

I have found that approach with the students produces a good, well-rounded machinist in my mind because they’re able to take the post, load it, and run it. If there is editing that needs to be done, they have a basic understanding of what they’re looking for and how to go about manipulating it. Especially with arcs. They discover the nuances of sometimes difficulties with our arc sweeps and things like that.

But as far as the software, it’s perfect. It’s a good blend with the current young folks that are coming out.

John: I agree with you that understanding code is a great idea.

Sheldon: In one of my classes, I demo to the students helical interpolation with a 1-inch endmill, insert endmill. And we went out to the machine and I just started to program. And I know you’re aware of what helical interpolation looks like, it can be very aggressive. And it can be pretty impressive when it’s ran correctly. And I did. I spiraled down about an inch and a half and the students were in shock. A few of them were like, how did you do that? And it’s like it’s simple. It’s a little bit of math and you have to know your ramp angles. But once you’ve done this several times, you’ll know.

Now I’ve taken it one step further because those are my current second years who got to see that last year as first-year students. When we got into Mastercam in the fall term, we were in 2D Mill and dynamic milling. And I think, based on what they saw in the previous terms, they were able to better relate what was happening in the model. We talked specifically about ramp angles and how to calculate those properly and not go too deep, not run too shallow in the ramp. So it was fun.

What Mastercam programs are taught?

John: That sounds awesome. All right. So with your programs there, what Mastercam programs are taught? Do you have Mastercam specific classes or is it part of the bigger picture? Do you have a mix of those things? How do you work that?

Sheldon: So the fall term is Mastercam Mill. At the same time, the same group of students takes an advanced second-year CNC mill machining class from me on a different day. And so what we’re able to do after we kind of get into the term and they get a basic understanding, then I have them start applying that skill set that they’re learning in the programming class, they take it directly over to the advanced CNC mill class and apply those techniques and that programming skill. So they’re not just doing Mastercam one day a week in the software class, but it’s getting spread out throughout the week.

The same thing applies to the winter term. In winter term we teach lathe, and also in that same term I have an advanced second-year lathe class, so we’re out on like the NLX. We have an NLX 2500 SY Machine. So we have primary spindle, sub spindle, live tooling in both directions and perpendicular to Z. So they’re able to do transfers and things like that, not only by hand, but they’re also able to apply that within their coursework for the software class.

So I have them do specific projects in the software class that incorporate all of these things that we’re directly doing a couple of days later.

What are the benefits of teaching students using Mastercam?

John: What would you say the benefits are of using Mastercam in your class versus a different cam software?

Sheldon: Probably the first thing is the ability to transfer that learned skill set at the college directly into an industry setting. Many of our industry partners that call on us to hire students and interview, they already have Mastercam in place at their shops. So it’s immediate. That student’s walking into that new job with 12 months of software experience behind them from the school.

And so they have a great knowledge base and then they can start from there and even expand it more. That’s a huge benefit right there that I see. There are other software out there. I’m always reluctant to look at other software. My thing is, I would rather see the students focus on one, possibly two, and call it at that.

What can students expect after graduation?

John: So just a couple more quick questions for you. What can students expect after graduation from your program?

Sheldon: You know, over the years, what I’ve discovered is, is that we’re not like a classic general ed program where an instructor sees a student for 11 weeks, gives them a grade and never sees them again. We are literally with our students for two years and we develop relationships with them and they develop relationships with us.

I inform the students when they graduate, here’s my contact info. If you guys need help down the road, please feel free to call me or text me. If you get in a situation or a job where a year or two from now, you decide that’s really not for you, don’t hesitate to reach out to me because I hear from industry contacts continually. Whether it’s through the college or I have companies that have my personal information. They’ll call me directly and they’ll ask me, hey, we need somebody that knows how to run a horizontal, do you know of anybody that might be interested? And I’ll tell them I might know of a couple, and then I try to put them together.

John: That’s cool. That’s very nice of you.

Sheldon: Yeah, well, you know, the machining community in the Willamette Valley is pretty small, really, and everybody knows everybody. It’s just being a part of that collective and trying to further manufacturing in this area.

What is something that you can see being added to your program in the future?

John: What’s something you can see being added to your program in the future?

Sheldon: My hope is that in the future, our program gets to that point where we have five-axis capability. Where we’re training on five-axis.

If there is one thing you could tell all the manufacturing businesses in the area, what would it be?

John: So last thing I have for you. If you could tell one thing to every manufacturing business within the area, what would it be?

Sheldon: If you want to grow your company in the right direction, you need to support education. You need to get actively involved. Don’t be afraid to go down and tour the shop, and make regular appearances. I started doing that with our program years ago. We had a very wise academic vice president back when I first started, and I remember one day in the quad she saw me and stopped and we chatted and I’d only been there less than a year. And she posed that question to me. She said, ‘What is it that we could do to improve this program?’ And I told her, quite honestly, you need to have closer ties with the industry, and the industry needs to have closer ties with the program. Establish that relationship and maintain it, work to maintain it.

And it’s going to be two-fold. It’s going to help both sides. It’s going to be a draw for students and it’s also going to be very beneficial for employers. It’s just something that needs to be done. And I know it’s a lot to ask sometimes, but it’s needed if we want to continue growing manufacturing.

John: Yeah, I would agree with you. That’s very important.

Sheldon: And it seems so simple to us, you know? A little side story. In the second-year program, we have a required resume writing class, in the winter term. Our resume instructor, a very awesome instructor, over the years she took a basic resume class, and she really started growing that class with career technical, changing it up a little bit.

And one of the things that she introduced was what she calls mock interviews, at the tail end of the class. At first, it started out with college employees posing as prospective employers interviewing students. A couple of years later, word kind of got out and we had some advisory committee members in machining start asking, ‘Can I participate?’

And we started bringing in some industry people. Well then, within two or three years, it morphed into an entire group of industry people, coming in, taking time out of their day, and participating in this exercise for that class.

I kind of felt I knew what was going on in the background and it came to fruition. And at first, the employers didn’t want to talk about it a whole lot. But what each employer was doing during that process of that exercise, they were actually interviewing those students and knowing who they were. And they were reaching out to those students after the event and offering them jobs.

John: That’s awesome. That’s really cool.

Sheldon: And I kind of knew it was happening because a couple of them told me, keep it quiet, but we are really interviewing today. So if we come to you with names, we want to figure out a way to get with these people. Now everybody’s pretty forward about it.

John: Yeah, it’s a real interview.

Sheldon: You are being interviewed. So it’s been a great asset to our program. One of the other assets I can speak of that’s been a good asset for our program is, that this same instructor, has the CWE program. CWE is Cooperative Work Experience, where the students during one term will sign up for a class in CWE, but they actually are in a shop working so many hours a week.

And it tentatively starts as a setting where they’re gaining experience. Some internship-type scenarios like this are paid, and some are unpaid, it depends on the employer and the situation. Most are paid. But what I’ve really seen out of this class, CWE, is that the students, upon graduation, usually go back to that shop.

I’ve got a couple now that did CWE in the winter term, and they’ve already told me that they were informed when they completed that class, that the shop told them in June, you get right back with us, you have a job.

John: Nice, very nice.

Sheldon: So that’s been a that’s been a great asset for placement.

John: That’s very neat. Very cool. Well, you know, that’s really all I had for you in terms of questions. I wanted to thank you for taking the time to chat with me. This was really great.

Sheldon: I appreciate the opportunity. It kind of pulls back to what we were talking about. The more we’re out there, the more it’s going to help everyone.