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An Automated Upgrade

Brian Hillenbrand working with Haas CNC Machine

Brian Hillenbrand, a manufacturing engineering student, demonstrates how the new Haas CNC machines work.

A fleet of newly purchased Haas CNC machines will help teach engineering students how mechanical parts are designed, manufactured, and inspected -- better preparing them for their future careers -- said Trian Georgeou, a lecturer in the Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering department. Meanwhile, a new $40,000 working scholarship will fund student lab technicians, complimenting Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing approach with an Earn by Doing incentive.   

The additions, Georgeou said, mark the completion of the first phase in a three-phase upgrade to the IME Material Removal labs. 

The six new CNC mills replaced older, open-frame manual mills that were 25 years behind today’s current CNC mill technology, Georgeou said. The older mills also posed safety concerns due to the open frame construction, he added.

“It is our job as manufacturing engineering educators to stay abreast with advanced manufacturing topics,” he said during a sneak peek Thursday. “If we don’t keep up to date with advanced manufacturing topics, it could be a threat to our nation’s security, not only in defense but commercial goods and services as well.”

ME Class listen to shop tech talk about new Haas CNC machines

Students listen to a shop tech talk in front of the new Haas CNC machines.

The official unveiling was attended by students as well as representatives from Haas and the College of Engineering.

The Ventura County-based Haas Automation is now the largest machine tool manufacturer in the U.S., having sold over 200,000 machines worldwide since it opened in 1983.

The company sold the College of Engineering the six machines at “heavily discounted” prices, said Scott Coventry, district manager at Haas Automation. CNC– short for “computer numerical control” – is a manufacturing process in which pre-programmed computer software dictates the movement of factory tools and machinery.  With CNC machining, three-dimensional cutting tasks can be accomplished in a single set of prompts.

“The code tells the machine everything it needs to do,” said Kathy Looman, director of the Gene Haas Foundation, which has donated $52 million to manufacturing education efforts. “And the machine knows exactly what tools to use.”

Learning on these machines will better prepare students for work in industry after graduation, Coventry said. “Once you learn these machines, you can go anywhere around the world and work.”

Trian Georgeou and Amy Fleischer with Haas CNC Machines

Lecturer Trian Georgeou shows College of Engineering Dean Amy Fleischer some of the parts made with new Haas CNC machines.

Georgeou worked with Coventry to not only bring new machines to Cal Poly but to also create new curriculum that would take advantage of them. Roughly 700 freshman a year are expected to go through the IME Material Removal lab. While machines also exist in the Aero Hangar and Mustang ‘60 shops, those are primarily used for club and senior projects, whereas these will be used to teach students.

“A lot of them have never touched a machine before,” said Brian Hillenbrand, a manufacturing engineering student.

Hillenbrand was one of several students hired as techs with the $40,000 in grant money provided to Cal Poly manufacturing and mechanical engineering students by the Gene Haas Foundation. The techs were trained to use the new machines over the summer and will now  help other students with their machining lab projects.

Hillenbrand said working as a teacher helps him learn even more about machining – while providing extra incentive with the so-called Earn by Doing money.

“It’s very rewarding to teach,” he said. “But when you have the incentive of getting paid, you put in a little more.”

Haas Automation and the Gene Haas Foundation have been frequent university supporters.  Gene Haas, who founded the company, might be better known for founding both formula one and NASCAR race teams.  But he’s also still involved in manufacturing and philanthropy related to the field.

“Gene is passionate about the manufacturing industry,” Looman said.

And he knows that in order to remain competitive globally, U.S. students have to work with current technology.

“If you want to win a race, you don’t drive a 1950s pickup – you drive a current Ferrari,” Coventry said. “And these machines are race cars.”

Future upgrades to the lab will entail eventually replacing the twelve outdated manual engine lathes with six new state-of-the-art Haas CNC versions as well as adding two new Omax Protomax waterjet cutters, two polymer laser cutters, and two small scale injection molding machines, Georgeou said.

“This will allow us to teach the freshman engineering students about the advanced material removal processes and some of the polymer processing processes that are heavily utilized in industry.”

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