By Ana Murray
Smithville Times contributing writer
Ag Mechanics class is not what it used to be, at least not at Smithville High School. Ag Mechanics teacher Lance Hanson has a little extra pep in his step when he talks about the newest machine in his shop, a computer numeric cutting (CNC) machine from BurnTables LLC. The plasma cutter is a machine that can make intricate cuts and designs in metal sheets up to ½” thick. The plasma cutter’s torch is controlled by a computer program that enables it to make clean sharp cuts. SHS Principal, Ron Roth, is ‘excited about the possibilities this piece of technology will offer our students.’
In order to produce a finished piece on the plasma cutter, students first complete a design using CAD (2Dimensional/3Dimensional Computer Aided Design) software and transfer that design to a flash drive. Next they must complete a complex process using the plasma cutter’s computer program, CAM (computer aided manufacturing). I had an opportunity to watch SHS Junior, Sean Moyer, complete the process from beginning to end. Sean maneuvered through the design process using the classroom computer like a seasoned veteran.
Once the design was ready for production Sean loaded it on the plasma cutter’s computer system (CAM) to complete the final steps before ‘burning’ the design onto a 1/8th inch sheet of steel. Sean expertly prepared the last steps which include aligning the correct axis, checking that the torch was in position, and that all settings were correct on CAM. During the process I couldn’t help but notice the amount of math, science, art, technology, and problem solving skills necessary to operate this equipment. While the plasma cutter completed the ‘burn’, Sean kept a watchful eye on the process to make certain that all systems functioned properly. The last step in project completion required Sean to sand and polish the finished design.
The plasma cutter is also used by our Ag classes to make parts for welding projects. Sean is the student most knowledgeable in using the plasma cutter, having attended training with Mr. Hanson. Shad Scharlach, Assistant Principal at SHS, believes that the experience in using the plasma cutter will greatly enhance student’s job marketability. Sean is hoping to become a Mechanical Engineer and using the plasma cutter, along with his welding skills, gives him the confidence that he will be prepared to compete in a technology based society.
Mr. Hanson says that students have designed their own art and have burned the Tiger T with School Board member’s names on them in the past as gifts of appreciation. Mr. Hanson is now taking custom orders for metal work, such as custom gate art, and will begin working on the projects in the coming weeks.
Smithville ISD continues to add new opportunities to help prepare our students for their futures. The plasma cutter is just one example of a hands-on teaching tool that encompasses multiple areas of the educational curriculum.