High school students bring computer designs to life through Moraine Park's SURFCAM project

by admin9. June 2008 19:00

Imagine creating a three-dimensional design on a computer then watching a CNC (computer numerical control) machine bring it to life before your eyes.


That’s the high-tech world of manufacturing, and it’s what area high school students have been doing through the SURFCAM Project held in the Applied Manufacturing Technology Center (AMTC) at Moraine Park Technical College’s West Bend campus.


Developed by Surfware Inc., the SURFCAM computer-assisted drafting and computer-assisted machining (CAD/CAM) software enables users to design a product and tell a machine how to cut it in metal or other materials. Moraine Park also uses software like SolidWorks for tool and die design. 


During the first semester of the 2007-08 academic year, students from West Bend and Kewaskum high schools honed their high-tech skills in the AMTC, with Slinger students following suit during the second semester. Each group took three projects from computer design to finished product: a three-inch by three-inch maze, a tic-tac-toe peg game, and a cribbage board, all made from aluminum for quick machining.


“The skills the students learn through this include creating geometry on a CAD system and creating toolpaths using the CAM portion of the software,” said Jim Hokenson, Moraine Park CNC/Tool and Die Technologies instructor and a machine tool trade master. Hokenson said they also learn about bringing geometry into SURFCAM from other CAD systems; tool and workpiece dynamics, which covers set-up and cutting forces; and proper speed and feed calculation.

 Moraine Park instructor Jim Hokenson at a CNC machine control panel with a Slinger High student and instructor.

Classes are held at the participating high schools using curriculum and SURFCAM software provided by Moraine Park. After developing CAM drawings and machine tool operation code, three times each semester the students visit the AMTC to run the CAM programs on Moraine Park machining centers under the guidance of College staff. Participating high school students receive two credits for the SURFCAM course as well as valuable experience with high-tech equipment and processes used in the manufacturing industry.


“I’ve learned to use the SolidWorks software better and now I can draw almost any part or shape,” said Kurt Klink from the Town of Hartford, a senior at Slinger High School who was taking a Computer Integrated Manufacturing class taught by Technology and Engineering Instructor Russ Hermann. Klink used Solidworks to design the maze, tic-tac-toe and cribbage board, and SURFCAM to set the toolpath to make the products. He was accepted at UW Milwaukee and plans on going into architecture, where just about everything is done on computers.


Another Slinger High senior from Hermann’s class, Dan Steingraber of Slinger, has a family history in manufacturing and engineering. His grandfather was a machinist for 60 years and made parts for the Fox River locks system and the St. Lawrence Seaway. His father attended Moraine Park then transferred to Milwaukee School of Engineering to complete a bachelor’s degree in engineering. Steingraber will follow in their footsteps this fall, first pursuing an associate of applied science degree in Mechanical Design Technology at Moraine Park then transferring to MSOE. In addition to the SURFCAM project, he also competed at Moraine Park’s annual Junkyard Challenge at the Beaver Dam campus May 7, in which his Slinger High team came in second.


Projects like SURFCAM and the Junkyard Challenge, Steingraber said, “show the teachers at Moraine Park what the students can do.” The SURFCAM program helps the students get a head start toward their postsecondary education, he added, and the credits transfer to Moraine Park. Steingraber is taking summer classes at Moraine Park to boost his head start even more.


Some of Hermann’s students are interested in manufacturing careers, according to the instructor. “There are lots of jobs in manufacturing in high-tech areas,” said Hermann. When school starts in the fall, Slinger High will have a CNC mill, which will increase the number of students who can be involved in the SURFCAM project and learn more about product design and machining. Hermann encourages his students to take a closer look at technical education. The more students choose technical careers, the more qualified employees local industries can find.


Hermann credits Hokenson with making the visits to Moraine Park go smoothly for his students, guiding them through the machining process. “He spends a lot of time setting up the machines with the files,” said Hermann. “Without him we’d be in trouble.”


For more information about Tool Design Engineering Technology, Mechanical Design Technology, CNC/Tool and Die Technologies and Engineering Technologist programs at Moraine Park, visit www.morainepark.edu and click on Academics.