Sheridan College Machining Department, Practical methods meet modern tools
Sheridan — The Sheridan College Machining department provides students with a cutting edge, practical education that can be tailored to personal interests and talents.
“You can’t put your hands on anything that a machinist didn’t have something to do with,” explains instructor Randy Whyte. “Everything on a welding machine a machinist made and any tool a mechanic uses is made by machinists. I’ve had students make everything from fly-fishing reels to steam engines.”
The program begins with Technology One (Tech 1) classes where students learn the manual side of machining. This includes learning how to run manual lathes, mills and surface grinders. “All projects they make in Tech 1 are tools they put back in their toolbox for future use. Tech 1 is designed to capture a student’s interest and show where they can take their skills. Once they get in the shop they figure out the machines and get comfortable and often decide to pursue machining. If they continue and take Technology Two (Tech 2), it gets a little more technical,” says Whyte.
Tech 2 is entirely project-based and everything students make goes in their toolbox for use in the industry. “Technology Three (Tech 3) is where I really incorporate the job shop. Students are given a project where they have to conduct research. They are given a part and have to draw it up and figure out the tolerances on their own. They gather all the information they can, then I take the part away because that’s relevant to the rancher who has to feed 500 cows. He needs his part back until a new one is made. In Tech 3 students are incorporating strict tolerance levels, print reading classes and everything they learned in Tech 1 and 2,” explains Whyte
A tolerance level is a measurement that has to be within certain parameters. “In Tech 1 it’s plus or minus ten thousandths, which if you stack three pieces of paper together you might get that. In Tech 2 it’s plus or minus five thousandths. To relate that to something, the hair on your head it about two or three thousandths thick,” says Whyte.
“In the end, when you go to engineer something all parts have a relationship. If we build a mechanical part and it’s 95 degrees here and we want to send it to the moon where it is well below zero, the part still has to function. We have to know what parts will go through and put down tolerances so that if one swells or shrinks the other can still operate. That’s what tolerances are based on,” explains Whyte.
In the print reading class students draw parts from a variety of angles. “They end up drawing 24 different parts showing different views. It develops their hand skills. Toward the middle of the class I give them a print and list of questions and they have to find information from the print,” states Whyte.
Students learn to operate multiple machines including the lathe, which is primarily used on round surfaces to turn, thread, taper and cut parts. Nurling, which is the gripping surface for fingers put on tools, is also done with the lathe. “Students learn how to turn a part within a couple thousandths,” says Whyte.
The mill is another machine that is generally used on square surfaces. The surface grinder is considered a precision tool and isn’t used a lot in Wyoming, but students are introduced to it because of it’s relevance in parts of the industry.
Students are taught machine layout skills and how to sharpen tool bits, drill bits and router bits in addition to just about anything else they can think of. “They can even sharpen a pair of scissors if they want to,” comments Whyte.
After mastering the manual side of machining, students are introduced to Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining. “CNC started out with a scenario similar to if I asked you to make me 1,000 writing pens. By the time you got the to the 50th one you would be pretty sick of it. That’s where manufacturing was going in the late 1800s and early 1900s because people needed more parts.
“The computer controls it all. You basically program it, put it into the computer, proof it, set your part up, tell the machine where your part is and hit cycle start. It comes down and does all the machining. You can make just about anything with one,” says Whyte.
There are CNC lathes and mills. Students are taught the manual machines first because they cost $10,000 to $15,000 and a CNC machine is worth around $85,000. “They learn all the basics in the Tech 1, 2 and 3. Then they go into the CNC side and they already know the machining operations, they just have to learn the programming, setup and technical stuff,” explains Whyte.
CNC machines are operated using G-Code. According to Whyte if you understand G-Code you can run any CNC machine. “There are probably 30 to 35 different G-Codes and each one makes the CNC machine do something different. It responds differently to each code. There are CNC sewing machines and CNC plasma cutters and people don’t know how to run them, but machinists who understand G-Code do,” he adds.
“Sheridan College is pretty special in the state of Wyoming. We have some availability to funding that is of great value to our program. We are able to have both state of the art machines and those from the 1940s, so the students are well rounded. They aren’t too spoiled with state of the art stuff but still have access to those machines. It’s also a big, bright shop,” comments Whyte.
In addition to classes, students can participate in the Machine Tool Club and Skills USA. Whyte promotes both to his students and feels Skills USA prepares them for life after college. “It’s competition-based and participants must be dressed in a black tie, white shirt and black pants during the awards portion. They have to bring a resume, take written tests and compete on the floor. It combines all their skills and really exposes them to future employers. You never know when an employer is going to walk up, hand you a card and say, ‘Give me a call,’” comments Whyte.
The college also offers co-ops where students can get an industry job and also get college credits. “My advisors I used to work for said to get the resumes in for the co-ops. They don’t have any jobs currently open, but are confident this economy is going to turn around and when it does they want these students prepared to work in their shop. Even today employers are interested in people with this kind of education,” says Whyte.
Students with a machining education can be found operating manual or CNC machine shops, working in hydraulic shops or large industrial shops. Others return to the family farm or ranch and contribute there, or opt to start their own business. They can also further their education in specialized areas such as gunsmithing or machining for high performance racing engines.
Sheridan College works hard to help students find their niche in the machining industry and has a job placement rating in the high 90 percentile.