HANFORD — While some may think trade skills taught in high schools are waning, Hanford students continue to advance in career technical education through investments from the district.
Just before school began last month, Hanford West High School received a CNC (computer numerical control) Mill.
This $70,000 machine uses multiple tools to cut metal or other material into custom-designed products or parts.
“This is a major investment for Hanford Joint Union High School District,” said Bill Chambers, a career technical education teacher at Hanford West High School. He said HWHS is one of the few Central Valley schools that has one of these industry machines.
It will be Chambers’ job to teach his students how to use the machine, which essentially involves students learning how to program the computerized controls.
The machine works on a graph system and a “G code”, which tells the machine what tool to use, where to go, what to do and how to do it, Chambers said.
“There’s a lot of math involved,” he said.
Chambers said what would take hours to do by hand on a Bridgeport Mill — using one tool at a time and then switching them out — takes only minutes on a super-accurate CNC Mill.
“In manufacturing, it’s all about production time,” Chambers said.
Chambers said this type of machinery is where manufacturing is heading in the future. He said manual machines are still used for single parts, but a lot of production parts like engine parts and mag wheels are now made on CNC Mills.
“It’s phenomenal what it will do,” Chambers said. “This is 21st Century technology.”
Chambers said he has already started working on the program with students in his intermediate and advanced manufacturing, and welding and materials classes.
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He said they will start with the older methods and transition into this newer one, where they will learn safety, how to set up their tools and how to maneuver G Code. He said he doesn’t just want to teach the students how to operate the machine, he wants them to understand the program.
From there, Chambers said he will give the students small projects to help them memorize what to do and what codes to use.
Last year, the school also got a CNC Plasma Cutter.
This $25,000 machine is a little more common and also uses a graph system, a computer-generated code and different settings based on the thickness of the metal it’s cutting.
Chambers teaches his students how the graphics work and how to run this machine as well.
Most fabrication shops have these types of machines and Chambers said students can hone their skills at local community colleges, which he said have great manufacturing and welding programs.
Chambers realizes that not all students go to college after high school, so some need skills they can use to get good-paying jobs to support themselves or their families.
He said the people who know how to program and run these types of machines are the ones who will be hired and get paid well. He said there are a lot of jobs locally where these skills are in demand.
“This is the future for a lot of these kids,” Chambers said. “They can get any job they want.”
Chambers said he believes it’s great that the school district is making investments in state-of-the-art technology that kids can get jobs in, sometimes even right out of high school.
“A lot of people aren’t realizing that in our area, we are offering skill-based education in trade, where a lot of areas have taken that away,” he said. “We should be thankful for it.”