At CNCCookbook, we have a LOT of educational customers, and we give them a nice educational discount on our software.
I got a note from a school wanting to know how they can maximize their CNC Training the other day. The problem is that they have 1 CNC Mill and 1 CNC Lathe (plus 6 manual lathes and 3 manual mills). That meant the students were having a hard time getting much CNC Time in on the program. Here are the ideas I came up with to help them:
#1 – Consider Some Cheaper Machines
A less expensive CNC machine means more CNC for the classroom…
I know, it’s nice to have the Haas machines and they do offer excellent programs for educators. Plus, for vocational programs, the students are getting hands on experience with the type of machines they’ll be using in the field. I also know it is hard to raise money for more machines once you’ve made your investment. But, when you consider that you could have 3x – 4x as many machines if you had gotten something like a Tormach instead, you’ll find your students get a lot more hands on time. Maybe save the Haas for later courses after they get the basics down on the cheaper machine.
#2 – Use a Simulator Like Our G-Wizard Editor
The more you can do to check out your student’s g-code BEFORE it goes on the machine, the better for everyone. It should be a requirement that your program be checked out by a labbie or the instructor in a simulator before it goes on the machine, in fact. There’s a lot that can be checked on. For example, are the any obvious odd moves going on that could lead to crashes? What’s the lowest Z excursion? What’s the predicted run time? What’s the time in cut for each tool (from that you’ll have an idea of whether feeds and speeds are correct!)?
The instructor will know from past experience what all that should look like for the normal class exercises and a lot of problems can be caught in advance as a result. You don’t need an expensive g-code simulator for this purpose.
Software like our G-Wizard Editor can help instructors make sure their student’s g-code is ready for the machine. Plus, it has loads of features that will help the students learn. For example, the screen shot above shows its “Hints” feature that explains each line of g-code in simple English.
#3 – Teach the Fixture Setup on the Manual Machines and do the Setup for them on the CNC.
Show students fixture setup on the manual machines if they’re more plentiful…
Tramming a vise on a Bridgeport is just not that different than doing it on a CNC (unless you want to use a probe, and even then the probe is way faster, so good idea!). Teach them everything they need to know on manual machines if you have more of them like this school did. Once they know how to do it, it’s a matter of setting up the work offsets being a little added thing for the CNC. Show the class the setup process on the CNC, including the Work Offsets. And BTW, once the instructor has set them up, consider writing some protective macros (I will have more on that below) that verify the Work Offsets are correct before running the part program.
#4 – Use the Same Tool Setup and Tooling for All the Student Jobs
Same story as #3, really. Show them how the automatic toolchanger is loaded and the tool tables set up, perhaps via Tool Setter, but if your program is challenged by not having enough machines, save the time by having the instructor or labbie set all this up with the students watching. If you really want each student to go through the exercise, have them do it for just 1 tool and standardize all the rest. It’s not uncommon for shops to have standardized tools and the students need to know how to cope with this. For example, they have to remember to match the Tool Numbers in the CAM software with what’s in the tool changer. BTW, G-Wizard Editor will generate a very nice Tool Table from your program that can be used to check whether the student has it right.
#5 – Reduce Cycle Times and Tool Wear With a Feeds and Speeds Calculator
Time is money in any commercial setting, and in an educational setting, not having enough CNC machines to go around also makes time important. The easiest way to save time and expense with little cost or effort is to use a good Feeds and Speeds Calculator like our G-Wizard Calculator.
Look, the students do need to learn to calculate Feeds and Speeds. But they also need to learn that the simplest formulas won’t always work. They need to account for lead angle, radial chip thinning, HSM tool paths, and a whole boatload of other things. If you want to make an impression on them, show them the simple stuff, and then use a tool like G-Wizard to show how easy it is to be wrong by over-simplifying.
Our customers claim G-Wizard reduces their run times by an average of 40% or so and increases tool life by an average of 50%. Whether or not you believe those numbers, any improvements here are valuable. Even a 10% increase in Tool Life can add up in a hurry in the classroom environment. Does anyone really believe you can’t do 10% better here?
What ideas do you suggest to make student access to scarce CNC time more efficient? Tell us in the comments!
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Bob is responsible for the development and implementation of the popular G-Wizard CNC Software. Bob is also the founder of CNCCookbook, the largest CNC-related blog on the Internet.