Osborne Wood Products, Inc. is a strong supporter of education in trade industries, especially in its local context. The company is always searching for innovative ways to invest in its local technical schools and to support the development of their students through meaningful and practical projects. This investment in education can sometimes be realized in the most unsuspected ways.
Projects typically cannot be accomplished without the appropriate tools. A highly useful and versatile piece of machinery is the CNC router table. Standard router tables utilize a revolving bit to carve specific notches or patters into materials—typically wood. For standard router tables, the bit is stationary and the material must be moved along a fence to make the cut. A CNC router table employs a computer-navigated bit on a mobile track. For this machine, the material is stationary and the bit performs the work according to programmed-patterns. Osborne Wood Products at one time employed the use of a massive CNC router table, but replaced it with more space-efficient machinery.
For months, the unused CNC router table sat in Osborne Wood Product’s warehouse. This piece of equipment was enormous, with a 10-foot table that made it bulky and inconvenient for the shop’s current operations.
Osborne’s leadership decided that it was time to re-commission the CNC router table. All agreed that the piece of equipment was too functional and promising to simply scrap. If not for its size, it would fit nicely into someone’s garage or personal shop. The team decided on reaching out to local schools and technical colleges in hopes of donating the equipment.
At first, North Georgia Technical College identified the CNC router table as too large for its classrooms, and turned down the donation, along with the other local schools. Most would have loved to receive the gift if not for its sheer size and their inability to accommodate the space.
After exhausting all of the local resources, Osborne leadership brought the decision to scrap the machinery back into question. Before throwing in the towel, however, Osborne CEO Leon Osborne and North Georgia Technical College Engineering Instructor Elwin Northcutt brainstormed on how to make the contribution of the router possible.
On January 24th, the AutoCAD, Engineering Graphics and Design class from North Georgia Technical College visited the Osborne Wood Products facility. During their time at Osborne, the class observed and evaluated best practices with the Osborne CAD & Drafting Team. In addition, the class was introduced to the project at hand, the refabricating and repurposing of the 10-foot CNC router table donated by Osborne Wood Products, Inc.
This idea was conceived by a desire for more meaningful projects by both Osborne and Northcutt, Leon himself being an alumnus of the local technical college and avid supporter of its engineering program. The router in its original configuration was much too large for the space available at North Georgia Technical College. Ideas had to be generated regarding the best way to reconfigure and modify the footprint for NGTC’s classroom space. The visit by the Engineering class provided an opportunity for the students to take dimensions of the machine, learn how it operated, determine what the limits were, and develop an understanding of how to best adapt it to their classroom environment.
Once a group decision was made regarding the best plan of action, the CNC router table was ready to be disassembled and relocated. Northcutt described the challenge of disassembling and transporting the equipment as a “new experience for some of the students who have never actually worked on a piece of equipment.”
One benefit of this project was the opportunity for students to put hands on the device in order to figure out how to take it apart, both mechanically and electrically. Great care during this step was crucial, as the students would then need to reassemble and reconnect every component to make it operational again. This required in-depth documentation of all of the wiring and connections.
Once the CNC router table found its way to the campus of North Georgia Technical College, the combined efforts of various departments pooled together to accomplish the project. The refabricating would involve the Engineering, Welding, and Machine Tooling departments, and would require a great deal of collaboration.
After the Engineering department disassembled and relocated all of the components, the Welding department cut down the frame with the help of the college’s plasma cutter, a device that the welding students used to make short work of the job. Welding instructor Dusty Bolman supervised this step of the process, helping square the table up and ensure that it was cut to the correct length. “Students always enjoy getting to do custom work,” Bolman commented. “It is interesting to see the finished product of these projects.” The cutting could not have gone more smoothly—within no time the CNC router table was ready for additional modification by the Machine Tooling department, all before the end of April.
Machine Tool instructor Shannon Gary will assist in the reassembly of the machine. The Machine Tool department will also help manufacture smaller components required for the newly fabricated machine, as well as the CNC programming of the router. This will allow students to get involved in engineering drawings and manufacturing these specific components.
“The benefit to the students is going to be huge,” Gary reports. “Exposure is really important to us.” According to Gary, the orientation of the CNC router table has a “vertical gantry construction” and is unlike the other machines employed by the Machine Tool and Engineering departments. These machines have limited the size of work pieces to under 12 inches. “The gantry machine will expose them to bigger work pieces as well as other materials—plastics, woods, etc.”
Engineering students will then participate in bringing all of the elements back together mechanically and electrically in order to confirm a working, newly fabricated CNC router table.
As the completion of this innovative and collaborative project approaches, significant opportunities have been provided to the current Engineering students of North Georgia Technical College through their involvement in planning the modifications. However, the project is two-fold: giving current students live experience that accurately characterizes the elements of an engineer’s role in fabrication, as well as providing future students with the chance to exercise their imagination and creativity to create designs and subsequently unique parts.
The vision for this newly adapted piece of machinery will serve as an extension to the curriculum of two CAD courses currently offered by NGTC. Elements of machining, programming, transcribing drawings into machine language, and understanding of the entire design process can be incorporated into the use of this machine, resulting in a multitude of educational applications. Other future projects include creating marketing material and signage for the college, as well as engraving polycarbonates for LED side-lighting.
The machine will help students make parts from scratch. “This opportunity completes the entire design cycle,” Northcutt remarked. Currently, students are involved primarily in the replication of existing parts—through disassembly, sketches, electronic drawings, and then a physical duplication of the object’s dimensions and tolerances. This, however, provides a limited view of reality.
“It is easy to copy something,” explains Northcutt, “but it is more of a challenge and better reflects the heart of engineering to be able to use the imagination to create something new and that hasn’t been made before.”
North Georgia Technical College appreciates Leon, Haden Smith (CAD/Drafting Department Manager), and the rest of the Osborne Team for their support of the program. Elwin Northcutt explained that “Leon Osborne has been a part of the Engineering program at NGTC since the beginning and has always been very supportive and willing to do anything he could to keep program moving forward.”
The fun part of engineering is taking that spark of creativity and making a part that at one time did not exist. Even more so, making it move and perform the intended function. Osborne Wood Products appreciates the opportunity it has to invest in technical and trade education, pushing the limits of the classroom into real-life applications for the benefit of its students.