SHERIDAN — Ben Conklin watched last month as a new machine found its home in the Sheridan College Technical Education Center. He didn’t know exactly what to expect, but once the machine began operation, it did not disappoint.
The piece of equipment is a Zeiss Duramax Coordinate Measuring Machine, the first of its kind brought to Sheridan College. The CMM provides a unique addition to the machine tool technology department, which mainly uses computer numerical control machines.
“It was awesome,” Conklin, a second-year machine tool technology student, said of the CMM. “CNCs are super cool, but that one is almost next-level cool.”
The machine provides a rare opportunity for learning. Machine tool technology instructor Randy Whyte said Sheridan College is the only college in the state with a CMM machine.
The college secured the CMM at a cost of about $50,000 through federal funding from a Carl D. Perkins grant, which helps fund technical education programs across the country. The CMM is mainly used for final inspection on complex parts in the medical and aerospace industries. It uses a calibration tip to measure the inside diameter, outside diameter and curvature of a part.
The CMM has a similar programming process to a CNC machine, but uses different software, controls and a different platform.
The CMM has two joystick controls that allow the calibration tip to move in all directions at once, while the CNC machines can only move one direction at a time.
The CMM measures a part’s dimensions against a 3-D model created on a computer attached to the machine. Its results are precise.
The CMM provides measurements up to one-millionth of an inch. Most machines measure up to a thousandth or 10 thousandth of an inch. For reference, a human hair is about two thousandths of an inch wide.
Machine tool technology instructor Sara Spann used an example to explain how the CMM works. A student can measure the inside diameter of a coffee cup by programming the calibration tip to make a circular sweep around the inside of the cup.
“I could draw up that coffee cup on the computer and I could put it into a software program,” Spann said. “Then, I’m telling the little (calibration) tip to touch where I want it to, and the machine will come down and do it in real life and give me a nice data report.”
The medical and aerospace industries work with objects far more complex than a coffee cup, which is where the CMM comes in handy. It can measure curved objects, making the designs safer and more accurate. The CMM can also measure objects with reference to global standards, making a part in Denver interchangeable with a part in Japan, for example.
The new equipment serves two main purposes.
“We’re trying to attract employers here, then give the students an additional skill set,” Spann said. “It’s just one more tool in their tool belt.”
Before the tool can be added, Spann needs to learn how to operate the CMM.
She will have four days of on-site training in Minneapolis in February, allowing her to come back and teach students. Spann also plans to do additional CMM training with a company in Denver over the summer.
The CMM will likely be directly integrated into a second-year computer-aided machining class, but has applicability for everything students create. Instead of Spann and Whyte measuring to make sure a student’s part is up to spec, the CMM can do it.
Conklin said the machine is slightly intimidating because no one knows how to use it yet. The different moving pieces and advanced technology will challenge students, but Conklin said he’s excited to learn.
After getting his degree from Sheridan College, Conklin plans to study mechanical engineering and focus on jet engine propulsion and aerospace design, where he would likely use a CMM.
“Even if I don’t, I think it’s just a tremendous asset to know what can be measured and done,” Conklin said. “It’s amazing what can be done with all this.”
The CMM won’t be used up to its full capability for a little while, but once it is, it gives students a unique chance to work with top-notch technology.