Machining and fabrication in a computerized World
With a shop full of advanced machines and curriculum to train students in AutoCAD, SolidWORKS and MasterCAM, Palomar College aims to produce graduates who combine two powerful skill sets: design and machining.
SAN MARCOS — Inside a tidy, well-lit lab on the northern edge of campus, Dennis Lutz presides over a collection of equipment that would make most machinists blush: two three-axis mills, one five-axis mill, an advanced lathe and a machine for measuring parts and checking tolerances with a high level of precision. In the welding shop, his students also have access to a water-jet cutter and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) plasma cutter.
But it’s next door, in the computer lab, where students learn the most important steps in the process of design and manufacturing.
That’s where Lutz and his students spend hundreds of hours every semester using software like AutoCAD, SolidWORKS and MasterCAM—applications that allow machinists to draft and design parts, as well as program the finely tuned equipment in the next room.
“They’re going from design-conception to building the model, to going into MasterCAM and programming the tool paths,” said Lutz.
As of fall 2017, Palomar is one of the only places in San Diego County where students can learn on this combination of software applications and advanced equipment. And as of fall 2017, Palomar is offering as associate’s degree in Computer-Aided Design and Manufacturing (CAD/CAM).
Lutz said he aims not to produce machinists, but “people who can work in between the drafting and the machining. That’s what my students are going to end up doing.”
Evan Levy, who is currently studying CAD/CAM at Palomar, said that he has a bachelor’s degree in engineering, and enrolled here to update his skills.
“It’s wonderful,” Levy said of the program. “I’ll be looking for work as a mechanical engineer or machine designer in June. That’s why I’m here. Palomar’s awesome because I’m in welding, I’m in MasterCAM, I took Advanced SolidWORKS. My skills will be updated by next summer.”
As with the other trade programs currently offered by Palomar, job prospects are strong for those who graduate from the CAD/CAM program, said Lutz.
“There’s plenty of work,” he said. “There are a lot of small companies around here—I call them the Ma and Pa companies. They’re not going to sub out their PC boards to China; they’re going to make their own, so the more you can do, the better off you’re going to be (in the local job market).
“Toward the end of every semester, I’ll get calls: ‘Send me your best people, we’re looking for drafters.’ I get five or six of those every semester,” Lutz added. “One company has hired 15 of my students, and most of them are still working there.”