New Computer Numerical Control Machines Expand Possibilities
By Brian McMillan

It’s like trading in your penknife for a Swiss Army knife.

In his first year at NMU, instructor Cale Polkinghorne will have two new computer numerical control machines to use in teaching his students to manufacture pistons, cylinders, screws, or just about any other metal object.

Haas VF1
The new Haas VF1 mill can be programmed to cut virtually any shape out metal using 24 different cutting tools.

The new machines, a Haas VF1 mill and a Haas G10 lathe, can be programmed to cut virtually any shape out metal using 24 different cutting tools. Once programmed, the machine automatically changes the tools in mid-operation.

“Say you have to mill a slot and then drill a hole,” Polkinghorne said. “It’ll switch the tools for you. If it was by hand, you’d be manually changing that tool every time, and you can’t have the same precision by hand.”

Computer Numerical Control
Instructor Cale Polkinghorne: “Students are going
to be able to leave here with experience in the
modern technology of today.”

The machines, which cost a total of about $85,000 and were paid for by NMU's capital equipment replacement program, provide students with experience using the same technology they’ll find in local companies like Pioneer Surgical Technologies and Engineering Machine Products.

“Students are going to be able to leave here with experience in the modern technology of today,” Polkinghorne said.

The new machines will also make student work in the labs much more efficient. To make a threaded shaft or a wheel hub, Polkinghorne said, could take four or five hours by hand, and there is always the chance of human error with the tools. After programming the new machines, which is no small task, the actual production time could be cut down to five or 10 minutes. The second time that item would need to be produced, it would take another five minutes, as opposed to an additional four or five hours by hand.

The mill and lathe are about the size of a small pickup truck and a compact car, respectively. The mill cuts shapes out of metal, and the lathe turns metal to make round bars and rods. Both the mill and lathe have control panels on the side. Doors in the front open into a chamber that reveals bright blue arms that look like tentacles. The arms provide a constant flow of coolant, which enables the machine to run at a high number of revolutions per minute, further adding to the efficiency of the operation.

Because of the size of the machines, Polkinghorne said, the possibilities are virtually endless.

“I’d feel comfortable making just about anything in that machine,” he said. “The cap becomes the size of the piece of metal that you could fit in the machine. It opens up what you can engineer and create.”