Bridgerland Tech Tackles Skilled Labor Shortage with Hands-On CNC Training

The United States has grappled with a skilled labor shortage for decades, particularly in CNC programming and machining. Bridgerland Technical College in Logan, Utah, is addressing this gap by engaging students before high school. Currently, 40 students are enrolled in their Machining Technology program, with another 20 high schoolers in an extension program. Bridgerland Tech is equipping future programmers and machinists for Utah’s expanding manufacturing sector, focusing on modern machine shop challenges and relevant technologies, and modernizing its appeal to prospective students.

Career Fair Insights

Trevor Hirschi, an instructor at Bridgerland Tech for six years, participated in the same machining technology program as a high school student. With industry experience under his belt, he returned to teach at Bridgerland. Located in Cache County, the school serves a significant manufacturing hub, including aerospace, medical, defense, and automotive sectors.

“There are at least 20 machine shops in this valley, all in dire need of skilled labor,” Hirschi explains. “Owners frequently ask us to send them trained machinists. We’ve seen increased demand, prompting us to collaborate with high schools and counselors to attract more students.”

Addressing negative perceptions of manufacturing is crucial. Hirschi and his colleagues realized that reaching younger students required more than just focusing on high schoolers. Thus, they started showcasing their programs at middle school career fairs and hosting open houses. However, their ability to demonstrate was limited until 2022.

“We couldn’t lug a full-size mill and lathe to high schools or conventions,” Hirschi notes. “Instead, we’d bring a laptop and some parts donated by local shops.”

For years, Bridgerland’s exhibit was simple: a laptop with a slideshow and machining videos. Hirschi admits it lacked impact compared to other exhibits.

“In a high-tech field, we had a table with finished parts and a YouTube video,” he recalls. “One local shop owner bluntly told us it was boring and advised us to find something that would engage kids better.”

Pocket-Sized Innovation

In response, Hirschi and his team sought a portable solution to demonstrate CNC machining’s power. They chose Penta Machine’s Pocket NC V2-10, a desktop five-axis CNC mill, starting in 2022.

“When kids see the machine at events, they often mistake it for a 3D printer,” says Hirschi. “We explain that it’s a subtractive manufacturing process, not additive.”

Instructors showcase parts and explain the machining process, introducing Mastercam software to illustrate the design and machining operations. This approach significantly improves engagement compared to slideshows or videos.

“Using the Pocket NC and Mastercam allows us to show real machining, which resonates better with students,” Hirschi says. “It’s exciting to demonstrate actual processes instead of running a slideshow.”

The Pocket NC and Mastercam help demystify manufacturing. Hirschi demonstrates three-axis machining before highlighting the advantages of the five-axis Pocket NC, which can handle tasks requiring multiple setups in just one.

From Desktop to Shop Floor

Bridgerland’s extension program uses the Pocket NC to teach high schoolers five-axis machining basics. High school graduates in the Machining Technology program then transition to full-scale manual and CNC machines they will encounter in the workforce. A recent $500,000 National Science Foundation grant enabled the purchase of advanced equipment like the Haas UMC-500 five-axis vertical machining centers and a Hexagon Metrology TIGO SF coordinate measuring machine (CMM).

“In our program, 75% is hands-on learning, supplemented by coursework in math, blueprint reading, and GD&T,” Hirschi explains. Students progress from operating manual lathes and mills to programming and running CNC machines with Mastercam software.

Mastercam’s Dynamic Motion technology has become integral to the curriculum, optimizing tool paths for efficiency and reducing machine wear.

Practical Projects

Bridgerland’s curriculum includes projects that result in useful tools, such as hammers and C-clamps, requiring students to apply machining principles. These projects help students understand real-world applications and prepare them for industry demands.

Local machine shops often hire Bridgerland graduates, leading to a 100% job placement rate for the program.

“Shops are eager to hire our graduates,” Hirschi laughs. “There’s a high demand for skilled machinists here, and we’re proud to help fill that need.”

Original source MMS

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