machining school

i returned Friday night from a 2-day trip deep into Virginia. i stopped in Charlottesville to visit family and a few favorite bars, then toured Central Virginia Community College Friday morning.
I had thought of getting an Associate's in Machine Tool Technology or somesuch from CVCC before transferring for an Industrial Design BFA degree, and i wanted to tour it before deciding. i'm glad i went, but now i'm leaning toward transferring directly to RISD. CVCC's grads seem to come from and/or go directly into industry, and i guess i want a more flexible degree and varied experience. i would like to take some classes at a purely technical school, maybe this spring. Applied Technical Math, Heat Treating, that typea stuff.
this is, again, only tangentally related. and some people reading this see this sort of thing every day, while some will barely know what i'm talking about.

Frank Stewart runs the program. he showed me around the shop and gave me a demo of their Hass Mini Mill by making a set of T-nuts.
Frank's been at CVCC since the early 70s. he's turning 62 next month and plans to retire soon, when he'll start working on his pet project, a motorcycle frame. he had a jig set up on I-beams in a corner of the shop; i regret not taking pictures of it.

here's one of their older mills, a manual machine with 2-axis CNC added--that is, the machinist controls the Z axis, the up-down of the cutting tool.
on a newer 3-axis mill he showed me how it's possible to program the tool graphically on-screen, with touchscreen controls and an animated "dry run" of the program.

here Frank's double-checking something on the Haas. Frank double-checked a lot. he also had to reposition the coolant hose (blue and orange thingy) a lot to keep it pointed at the tool.
they have just one Haas. it's about the size of a couple refrigerators and almost totally self-contained--there's a full guard so Frank stays clean and the chips just fall down into a big bucket; coolant gets recycled constantly. it's not a big stretch to imagine one in a garage, like any other household appliance. in fact he mentioned a guy who works nearby at a big manufacturer, then goes home and makes parts on his Mini Mill on the side.

Frank, lending some perspective, about to start the program, which is transferred to the mill from a PC via 3.5" diskette.

the tool spinning, about to make another pass. it took down the sides in several passes; Frank said cutting away that much at once wouldn't work.

now it's midway through a pass.
after cutting the sides away, the machine autmatically switched tools, drilled 3 holes, switched tools again, and finally tapped the holes. Frank paused the program often to reach in and make adjustments or add tapping fluid.

the finished part. this would be cut into thirds to make three individual T-nuts.

i thought this was about the coolest thing i had ever seen, and when i said so, Frank said, "You know, some folks come in here and see this and just like you they say it's cool. One time I had an English teacher in here and showed him this and he told me he would just hate to stand in front of a machine and do that all day."

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