Students Machine parts for the International Space Station

Students Machine parts for the International Space Station

Ogemaw Heights High School machine shop program students and instructor Kyle Sysco (front row, center) get a visit from Stacy Hale (front row, far right), founder and NASA Project Manager HUNCH, Houston, Texas. Hale congratulated the class on successfully making 200 parts for the International Space Station. (All photos courtesy of Ogemaw Heights High School)

Kyle Sisco started his career as a stagehand, a role he really enjoyed. But the part of his job he enjoyed the most was teaching his colleagues how to solve problems and choose toolpaths themselves. In 2007, the former Sisco machining instructor at Ogemaw Heights High School in West Branch, Michigan, selected him as his successor while he held an administrative position.

Sisco’s aptitude for machining and teaching made him a natural candidate for the role.

Sisco believes that familiarizing students with software and CNC machines as early as possible motivates them and keeps them engaged in the program. Its program is centered on use and action. Then, as students progress through the program, Sisco finds real jobs for them to do. “They need to know the whole process,” Sisco said. “I want them to know the reality of parts manufacturing, from planning to inspection.”

For example, her class recently made exit signs for their school doors and room number signs for all the buildings in their district. These and other projects allow students to produce things they can see every day and are proud of, but the real goal of the program is to ensure that every student can step into any workshop in which they live. machining ready to start once graduated. To do this, Sisco casts a wide net, doing everything from Google searches to working with an advisory board of local machine shop owners to help find class projects, cooperative learning opportunities and jobs. Everything to excite students’ imaginations and give them hands-on experience.

More than a feeling

Sisco eventually discovered NASA’s HUNCH (High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware) program, which was founded 17 years ago to provide students with new educational experiences by producing training and research items for the Station. international space (ISS). Although Sisco immediately began the application process, it took a few years of working with NASA and his local school administration to win a project in the program. In 2019, with the help of school and district administrators, Sisco’s class won a HUNCH project to create a piece similar to a locking nut for experiments on the ISS.

Once the school reached a Space Act agreement with NASA, the agency sent the students an order of 50 pieces along with the prints and materials they would need to produce them. Sisco handed it all over to their students, letting them work out the processes and toolpaths they would need to complete the part, offering guidance only when requested.

Knowing that they would have to make parts on at least two different machines, the students created a few processes that would accomplish what they wanted to do using Mastercam software from CNC Software LLC. The students narrowed down their choices to three optimized toolpaths and processes, then tried short batches of all three to see which worked best. The only stipulation made by Sisco was that the parts had to be produced in a continuous cycle. He wanted them to do the job as if they were in a real store.

“They (the students) programmed it, installed it and inspected it,” enthused Sisco. “They did everything. My role was basically to liaise between my students and the people at NASA.

The students machined their own flexible jaws and inspected the parts at every stage, including working on the milling machine. They produced 62 parts in the first cycle, using just one of the four bars of material given to them. Sisco contacted HUNCH to see if he should flip the other three bars or keep running plays. The program manager, pleasantly surprised, told him to run additional pieces with the remaining material.

When the students were finished, they washed the parts, packed them up, and sent them back to NASA. In the end, the Ogemaw students made 200 pieces, all of which passed inspection and were delivered to the International Space Station for in-flight assembly of the storage lockers.

NASA was so impressed that it sent a program director from Houston to meet the students and see firsthand how they accomplished the task. Naturally, the students were delighted. They were used to visits from teachers and local machine shop owners, but a NASA engineer was beyond their dreams.

“The kids loved showing off what they were doing,” Sisco noted.

Custom oil filter socket, programmed in Mastercam and machined by Ogemaw Heights High School students.

Turnkey graduates

Projects such as NASA HUNCH give students exciting insight into how they can use their skills after graduation. Sisco’s goal is to ensure that its students are “turnkey graduates”, able to walk out of school and into the next phase of their lives, ready to go. He adopts a hands-off approach himself, so that his students can be involved.

From day one to graduation, every step is dedicated to learning-by-doing. The first lessons are for learning the basics – reading blueprints, basic principles of machinery and understanding the different metals. By using liberal tolerances and simple parts, Sisco allows students to become familiar with the machines.

Like similar initiatives across the country, Ogemaw’s machine shop program relies on donated and deeply discounted machines, software and hardware to educate its students.

“When companies take the time to get involved with schools like ours, it really helps,” Sisco said. “I know Mastercam offers a huge discount to get their products into schools, and so does Haas. The school equipment is not there for show,” noted the instructor. “The knocks and bumps clearly show that the students are using these machines.”

Sisco explained that as students become more familiar, they begin to visualize the different ways to program and machine a part. Additionally, course participants often come up with new parts to make, which Sisco says reinforces what they learn and gives them confidence in their abilities.

Students at the Ogemaw Heights High School machine shop, with the help of a Haas technician, update the CNC control software.

However, it is not always enough to configure a CNC machine and produce quality parts. Sisco wants its students to observe the part being machined, taking into account factors such as drilling speed and operating changes that could improve part quality and reduce cycle times. In its typical style, Sisco offers minimal instructions on programming and checking parts; once the students get to the point where they are familiar with toolpath generation, he gives them parts and projects and the rest is up to them.

“It’s really cool to see these students and their creativity in how they make things,” he said.

Producing the most parts with the least amount of materials is the goal of shops of all sizes, and it’s essential for a school with limited funds. The Ogemaw Heights High School program had another incentive, as the students weren’t just making old coins – their creations literally took flight.

Many advanced students work on cooperative projects offered by machine shop owners who are members of the Ogemaw Advisory Board. To give them a good idea of ​​their earning potential, Sisco makes sure co-ops are paid positions, averaging $15 to $20 per hour, more than typical after-school work.

Co-op or not, all Sisco students graduate with the skills they need to be turnkey employees: how to program parts using CAD/CAM software, how to configure and produce those parts and, perhaps most importantly, how to use software. to experiment with new tool paths and parameters to find more efficient processes, saving time and money. And, in this case, NASA has given them an experience they won’t soon forget.

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