The Wood Technology program at Pittsburg State University is acknowledged as one of the leading wood processing programs in the United States. Housed in the vast quarter-million square foot Kansas Technology Center at the University, the program prepares students for a career in the secondary wood products industry that ranges from the design and production of furniture and cabinetry to window and door frames, moulding, and just about everything made of wood in the consumer, commercial and industrial markets.
About 60 students are currently enrolled in the school’s 4-year Bachelor of Science Technology course of study, majoring in Wood Technology. While most of the students are the traditional 18-24 year olds, there are now quite a few returning Armed Forces veterans going for post-service education, and even a few folks in their 50s looking to establish a better paying career for the benefit of their families. Graduates go on to employment as CNC programmers/operators, project managers, project engineers and supervisor/craftsmen in the field of architectural millwork.
Doug Hague has been the Program Coordinator for Wood Tech for the past seven years and is proud of the support received from the administration and from the wood processing industry to keep the program on the cutting edge. Equipment in their classroom shop includes state-of-the-art 4-axis and 5-axis C.R. Onsrud CNC routers and a Weinig 6-head molder. His students can achieve just about any configuration possible in wood working production. Some of the equipment has been donated, others discounted, and others placed on “loan” by machinery manufacturers.
To back up the CNC equipment, his facility has a CAD/CAM lab loaded with AutoCad software for designing the work and Mastercam (CNC Software, Inc., Tolland, CT) software for creating the tool path programs for the machinery. “We have thirty seats of Mastercam and are currently operating the new X7 software,” says Hague. “It’s important that we stay current with upgrades as they become available. Dustin Spieth is our go-to guy at Mastercam and he is always available for support and training.”
Students in the program begin their freshman year by getting up close and personal with wood, to the point of using a microscope to understand the medium. They get into the basics of woodworking, including machinery familiarization and safety.
Going out into the field, literally, they learn to identify trees and return to grade and dry boards and get their hands on gang ripsaws and shapers. Sophomores learn to read engineering drawings and begin getting their feet wet with CAD/CAM, drawing with Autocad, and learning the theory of G code, both principle and language for routers, in the Mastercam lab.
This dovetails with a course in tool technology, learning the basics of repair, maintenance and setups. The second semester concentrates on veneering, pattern layups and millwork for windows, doors and a variety of millwork components.
“We teach our junior class how to manage people and projects and introduce them to mass production techniques and work flow management,” says Hague. “This is also when we introduce them to computer applications in cabinet making, using Mastercam to design and complete CNC programs for making frameless cabinetry. In the Spring semester they get into estimating, blueprint reading, theories of time and materials, and the advanced practices of 3D CAD/CAM.”
In the Fall semester of their senior year, students take a “capstone” class in which they design two pieces of furniture, ready for fabrication. This is also when they are helped in preparing a portfolio they will use to help them “get a job” upon graduation. In the Spring semester, the students take a furniture manufacturing course and actually fabricate the pieces of furniture they had designed in the Fall.
“In our Wood Tech program, learning automated production is very important,” says Hague. “We introduce Mastercam early and reinforce it a lot as students progress. It’s the software they use to produce the code for all our CNC equipment. It’s versatile because they can draw a very complex 3D configuration that they will then machine precisely on a plane or surface in fine cabinetry using that software.
This past semester, sophomores used Mastercam beginning with simple drilling and contour routing and ended up using an aggregate head for interesting 4th axis work, showing them how it reduces material handling and speeds up production.”
In the Cabinets and Fixtures class, each project includes the programming of tool paths in Mastercam, while a select two or three will use Mastercam in the Production Techniques class and then the entire class will study the steps in the CNC program and review the actual results. In the Furniture Manufacturing course, every student must do the CAD/CAM programming on their own, with 100% of each project requiring Mastercam to program tool paths for the CNC machines.
“What’s really encouraging,” says Hague, “is that I have several students come to me each semester, outside of regular class, and tell me they want to learn more, above and beyond the regular course material. So, I’ll turn over my 5-axis books and the shop’s 5-axis machine and let them have at it. They’ll learn the 5-axis programming in Mastercam and start producing some terrific work on the machine and this is where I really want them as an instructor. They’re having ‘fun’, because it’s outside the regular classroom, but their skill set is expanding.”
Another aspect of learning beyond the classroom is seen in the SAW club at Pittsburg State. Standing for Society of Architectural Woodworkers, the club has been in existence since the 1970’s and is comprised of students in the Wood Tech program. “They take on wood working jobs for companies or individuals in the community, and beyond,” says Hague, “in order to generate funds to attend the industry shows, IWF International Woodworking Fair) in Atlanta and AWSF (Association of Woodworking & Furnishings Suppliers) in Las Vegas.
"In the process of generating funds they’re gaining very valuable experience producing a variety of projects and they have a customer, outside of a teacher, to satisfy by fulfilling their contract to receive payment. An interesting footnote to the more traditional consumer-based and commercial outside manufacturing projects, they produce the awards given out at the Woodworking Industry Conference held by the WMIA (Woodworking Machinery Industry Association).
"As the governing association of the machinery manufacturers, they are well known and respected in the industry. The awards are presented to honor the Educator of the Year, Innovator of the Year, and Commitment to Excellence in Technology and are represented by a scooped-out half circle containing a globe engraved with the maps of North and South America. It takes quite a decent amount of 5-axis programming to produce. Not only has Pittsburg State University won this award in the past, but now we make them for presentation each year.”
In addition to the educator’s award, the students themselves have made a very good showing, exhibiting furniture they have designed and manufactured, at both the IWF and AWFS shows. “It’s an honor to be accepted and chosen to send your piece to one of these competitions,” says Hague. “In past showings our students have won both first and second place in their categories, which is icing on the cake for the time and effort they have spent learning the design and tool path programming software and then honing their skills on the CNC machinery. The real reward, of course, is landing a good job with a promising career path in the woodworking industry.”
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