Teaching Machining in Today’s world

I am just completing my 4th year of full-time instruction in Precision and CNC Machining here at Suncoast Technical College – formerly know as Sarasota County Technical Institute.  It has been more work that I thought but I do enjoy a lot of the outcomes and effect I have on our community.  I do spend too much time at work but maybe its the nature of me or being a machinist.

I did not come from a family of machinists. My dad was the fruit and vegetable guy at local supermarket.   I attended college level classes in high school but never took my SAT’s. I did ok in high school but I had no plan in 1972.  I then worked menial jobs , like forklift operator, auto parts sales and delivery, dishwasher at the mall.  Then one day I ran into someone at the auto parts store – a friend.  He said that he was not driving truck anymore. He got training to be a machinist and told me …. “you should check it out “.  Well I did.  It was called Boston Tooling and Machining Institute – a NTMA school in an industrial park.  I took a small test and passed. Plus it was a free school sponsored by Boston Tooling Association. So I left my auto parts job in 1983.


We learned some math, blueprint reading and manual machining on donated equipment, Mill and lathe. Taught the basics for 4 months and then put in the field. I ended up at a machine tool dealer – Methods Machine Tools , Sudbury, Mass. in the special projects dept. for 2 years. After that I worked at a job shop called Dyko Tool and Die in Waltham, Mass. I was thrust into the new world of machining – Computerized machining or otherwise called CNC.

Since then I have always been a machinist – it fit me like a glove.  I never knew I had the talent for it. The CNC machining was perfect for me. I learned to write code for the CNC machine and use my manual machining skills to make parts in the late 80’s.  First shop that I was lead CNC man in 1987 in Woburn, Mass. I had to figure how to run and program a converted Mill with an Allen Bradley control. I figured I needed to have a part by the end of the week and I did. No one else at that shop knew how to run those CNC machines.

I moved to NH and worked at a 5 axis CNC shop in 1990. It was cutting edge technology. 27 years ago at a place called TurboCam running Boston Digital CNC machinery. They had 2 engineers writing software to run these machines.  One of my jobs was making a prototype torpedo propeller.

I have worked at many places making brain surgery equipment, Hip implants, Race car parts, custom motorcycle equipment, Defense department pieces and some things I had no idea. Secret stuff I guess.  I worked at a large metal fabrication shop running the Mori-Seiki CNC and learning about precision sheet metal work.  Worked at a Rockwell plant in mold department running the Okuma and Milltronics CNC Mill and learned about moldmaking We were making plastic proximity switches and also did tool room work to support the plant.  Plus many more jobs.

I always worked , always had a job good times and bad. Last place I worked was at Lockheed- Martin in Orlando, Florida right next to SeaWorld. 3000 people at a secure defense facility on CNC equipment that costs $950,000. I look back to 1972 when I left high school and can’t believe I have done all this and people trusted me.  Best compliment I had was from a former boss, Bill Lobdell from Sanders Associates, Manchester, NH.   I would report to him on what I was doing as a CNC lead man.  Asking permission for changes or updates. He told me “just tell me at the end of the night as I trust you. You do a good job”.  Bill is gone now but I still remember. I worked with many great people and machinists. Learned a lot.

In 2013 I had a chance to teach near my home in Sarasota, Florida.  We had moved to Florida in 2005.  I was to teach a brand new Precision Machining program to help workforce development for needs in manufacturing.  I met with the head of the local manufacturing association – SAMA – Jennifer Behrens Schmidt – president.  I had written a paper about teaching in the modern world of machining years before when I taught part time at another vocational school.  My thoughts were how we needed more CNC training and less high level manual traditional teaching.   She totally agreed so I knew it would be a good fit.  I became a teacher for Sarasota county at SCTI.

Now I am ending my 4th year and will have trained about 85 apprentices in a one year 1200 hour program called Precision Machining and CNC Automation – under the frameworks of Florida Dept. of Education. I had to develop the program myself with help with advisory guidance from SAMA – Sarasota and Manatee Manufacturing Association – so that what I taught aligned with what companies needed.

I also had the great pleasure of meeting Bob Skodinsky from HTEC – Haas Technical Education Centers. He actually works for this national organization to promote machining education that is based in California but lived right down the street in Sarasota.  He had saw that the SCTI school was staring up a new program after the previous one had been dumped 10 years previous. So he helped guide them with purchase of 2 Haas CNC machines (TM-1P and ST-10) and a software program called Immerse 2 Learn – I2L. I had been told about the job from HFO-Tampa salesman Dave Thomas.  So I applied and got hired.

So I showed up 3 weeks later to a class of 18. Only problem was we had no equipment yet. Just 3 books and I2L software. Machines are on order. (waiting and waiting) . We waited from August 2013 until Jan 2014.  I had to purchase more equipment also. With direction from SAMA I purchased traditional machining equipment – 2 mills – 2 lathes and 2 surface grinders and a drill press, plus saws, sanders, machinist tools, bench grinders etc.   I also added a 2 axis Hybrid CNC Trak Mill plus a Haas VF2 with 4th axis. We also setup up an inspection department with necessary gauges needed.  By Jan 2014 we had power and a load of metal donated from Sun Hydraulics.

In the mean time we did constant CNC software training,  We also had 12 Haas CNC simulators and used them to hand write G code programs – the common language used by the CNC machine. We also did field trips to visit manufacturing facilities. I tried to keep the focus away from the empty shop or as educators call it ” the Lab”.  I was happy that no students left. Well we finished the year and got 100% employment.

So in 2013 wondering whats next. I added 2 seats of MasterCam for CNC programming, Then in Jan 2015 added a 300 hr Fast Track CNC night class. Companies would send us people who needed more training. This year 2017 we added MasterCam night school for associate level certification. Finally one of our original sponsors – Career Edge Funders started an internship funding program in 2015 for apprentices. We were able to get companies to take on apprentices to learn more OJT in the field. Career Edge also sponsored Soft Skill Training for the last 2 years as well.  Furthermore we produced the most NIMS certifications in the State of Florida.  (National Institute of Metalworking Skills).

I now have even more companies calling me and I cannot fill all the jobs. Word has got out about our success plus manufacturing is just very busy.  Many machinists are also retiring. We need more trained machinists.
Now what? – Well 4 years ago I had a thought on how we should teach trainees and align it with the needs of my area.  We only had one year to do this – a Career in a year – all adults.

I would follow my model of how I learned, not like what other schools used to teach. Some guys I worked with had only traditional training and showed me projects they made like a tool makers vice , hardened 1-2-3 Blocks and more.  I didn’t think we needed to teach using the older system but I did think it was important to learn using Manual equipment along with learning about CNC , which is now the primary source of production.   The same processes applied only the CNC was faster and had much better control.  In my experience the traditional machinist as a high level job was being phased out.

But many companies still expected you to know how to run that manual equipment as needed but they would make the high production and high level stuff on CNC machines. Manual machines are now considered to be secondary equipment.  I still thought it was a good idea to learn hands on with traditional machining.  To get the feel of cutting metal,  learn good setups and techniques and then apply them when in CNC land.  I would only have them to simple projects like Bore a hole on Vertical mill and Lathe.  Single point thread using a tool they hand ground. Make a spacer using another tool they hand ground on the lathe.

They learned quickly about tooling and relief angles etc.  When you talk about an inserted tool to a student they don’t get why it cuts, it just does. When they made their own cutting tool they got it. So manual machining became a way to teach machining in its pure form.  We also had tool and die and Plastic injection mold-makers companies and they wanted students to know surface grinding as well.


On to the CNC machine.  We start here setting up jobs that are proven CNC G code programs. Setup tools, offsets and get it running safely and efficiently. Then measure the final result and read them blue prints to make sure its precise.  We also use the latest technology using wireless probing  for setting up tool coordinates but we also teach old school methods as 50% of the companies still do it that way. I want them to be employable in many situations. Some shops have a mixture of old and new CNC.  Knowing old school methods of setup will also make you more valuable (edge finder and tool touch off with gage blocks ).

Then we progress to hand writing a couple of simple programs plus setup and run like before. We also use the 2 axis Trak Mill as a bridge to full CNC. Its a conversational machine that does not require G Code knowledge and gets the student thinking about how to cut in a CNC world.  So we eventually have students able to take a part from A-Z. Plan the process, write the CNC program, set the job up, machine a complete part, measure the finished product.

We are earning NIMS certifications along the way. They must make a part that passes a third party inspection.  Using various methods.  Some tests are on CNC operation, setup and maintenance.  The final tests are hand written CNC programs for lathe and mill per NIMS requirements.  I believe the people on the shop floor should understand G code so they can make adjustments on the fly to keep quality and production going.  No need to go reprogram all the time with Cad/Cam, even though most shops use the Cad/Cam system like MasterCam to program all. What if the boss wants to move a job to another machine?  Our guys can edit quickly what is needed because they can think in G code. They know how to calculate proper feeds and speeds. They get used to trouble shooting problems and helping the new people. Problem solving is a big deal in the real world.

When they get in the programming room and become CaM programmers they know what good code is by a quick scan. We all know they have simulation software that helps keep them crashes down but some smaller shops run on a tight budget so you work with what you have.  Its a constant learning experience. Even for me at age 62.

We also teach an evening course in MasterCam – Cad/Cam programming plus our district is teaching middle schoolers MasterCam to machine balsa wood Co2 Dragsters after they design it in Solidworks. They machine them with DaVinci Techno CNC routers.  Its not just a 3d printing world for these kids.

So here I am….. I ask our local shops and advisory is there any direction I need to change in what we teach?  No way. They are very happy and now I get too many calls looking for a good machinist.  I hope we can turn the tide with parents and counselors to show them that working in the trades is very rewarding. We need to fill the pipeline for skilled trades.


In my home town of Burlington Mass I went to school with Roger Cook. You may see him on a TV show called “This Old House”.  In my old town everyone knows that the skilled trades make a good living so the vocational schools have a waiting list like Worcester Technical High School.  I just wish everywhere in the US it was the same. We just about fill the class room a week before first day.

We host an annual event called National MFG Day in October. We also use a great program from a story teller Jeremy Bout from EDU Factor during the MFG Day event. He tells and shows great stories of just people like us – people who make things. This is one way of getting the right people.  Titan Gilroy – He has a great TV show on MAV TV called Titans of CNC. he is always out there telling his story of success and helping others through inspiration and lessons on CNC.

I also belong to a great group – HTEC. Haas Technical Education Centers. The only group totally dedicated to machining education. I have now been to 3 national conferences and our school hosted the first State of Florida HTEC conference. We get to meet other instructors and discuss different methods of teaching and help each other. Bob Skodinsky nominated me for the HTEC Council at my firs conference in Minn. to represent one year schools.


I have learned many things about the education world. Some schools are high school, some are 2 yr community college, some are training built into 4 yr universities and connected to engineering programs.  And we have schools like us who teach in one year. To retrain workers or take high schoolers who have wandered and now need career direction. Workforce development is my goal. I have to line up jobs , build relationships, internships and more.  I hope at some point we get high school graduates who comes here right after graduation on a mission.

So in July you will see me in Dallas, TX at my 4th HTEC conference. Meet new people and see some friends. My life has been a journey but I didn’t plan life like this (but not too bad.)  In 1972 I could have never imagined this path.

Yeah that’s me on the dragbike, too.  Something else I didn’t know I was good at.






About cncdude5x

Lead Instructor for Precision Machining & CNC Automation Educational Program at Suncoast Technical College -
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1 Response to Teaching Machining in Today’s world

  1. Michael L Barros says:

    Have to meet you. Grew up in burlington , worked at dyko tool.moved to nh and now in bradenton.

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