Edited by Leslie Gordon,
I have been involved with machining since 1988 and began working as an entry-level machine operator for my current employer (an aerospace manufacturer) in 2007. Since then, I worked my way up to operating a wide range of mills and lathes and using G and M code to do some basic program modifications at the machine.
The NC programs the company uses for cutting most parts are created in Mastercam CAM software, so my next logical step was to get trained in Mastercam. Typically, this would entail taking a class at the software developer’s facility, or at a nearby Mastercam reseller. But these options were not feasible because our demanding delivery schedules make it almost impossible to take successive days off for training. Also, I had had almost no computer training in the past, so it seemed I would benefit more from a learning experience I could pursue at my own rate, on my own time.
While looking at Mastercam’s Web site, I discovered Mastercam University (MastercamU), which seemed to provide exactly what I needed. With the company willing to pay the course fees, our Mastercam reseller sent me a code that let me take the classes from my computer at home.
My shift starts at 10 a.m., so I generally do MastercamU work in the morning before my shift. However, I can structure my time any way I want, as long as I get my course work done within the time allotted for each learning module.
I never had formal training in computers or CAD/CAM, so the course pushed me outside of my comfort zone. But, it was never so difficult that I could not master the task in front of me. The course provided access to a fully functional seat of Mastercam. The difference between it and a commercial seat is that users cannot output programs they create to a machine tool.
Courses started with the basics: how to draw a line and a circle, and how to connect and trim them. Working with the geometry was the most difficult part because I had never done anything like it. Once I had drawn a number of parts, I learned how to lay down various kinds of machining toolpaths and use program functions such as “verify” and “backplot” to simulate material removal and tool movement. It also taught me how to convert Mastercam programs to machine code using a postprocessor.
At the beginning of each course module I took a pretest to determine how much I already knew. And during courses, instructional videos and exercises let users practice the skills they were just shown. At the end of a section, I was given a multiple choice test to confirm I understood the concepts and had mastered the skills for that level. After passing the test, my certificate was posted online to certify the training levels I had mastered, along with my test scores.
After six months, I went from knowing next to nothing to being able to write programs to make my own machining fixtures. Then I moved on to advanced milling and design modules.
Although I have learned a lot, my progress did not always go steadily uphill. When I consistently spent time weekday mornings and weekends, I made good progress. But near the end of the lathe-training module, I was busy at work and started falling behind. I explained the situation to my Mastercam reseller, and it arranged for me to have an extra month to complete the work. That was all I needed.
Overall, the material was easy to understand and presented logically. New assignments were always built on information that had already been taught. It was a minor frustration that the files I created for MastercamU could not actually be used on real machine tools. It would have been better if I could have machined some of the parts I programmed. And although there was no person I could talk to, I could get answers to my questions via e-mail.
Before I took the courses, whenever I had a little downtime at work, I would open Mastercam and play with it. It meant nothing to me. Now, I have already written several useful programs on the job and can make simple, practical adjustments to existing programs at the machine and make them run more efficiently. In the past, I would have had to ask someone else to do these things for me.
I look forward to taking other courses from MastercamU. At this point, I feel I would benefit most from a live a classroom opportunity at my local Mastercam dealer. The instructor could answer questions about actual manufacturing problems I run into on the job. Fortunately, my employer is open to these possibilities.