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Universal Technical Institute, with campuses nationwide, has been instrumental in training young men and women to fill jobs as technicians for automotive, diesel, collision repair, motorcycle, marine, and motorsports shops. The campus in Mooresville, North Carolina, is a bit different.

In addition to core automotive training, it offers curriculum aimed at satisfying the region’s renowned automotive racing industry. Fittingly called NASCAR Technical Institute, or NASCAR Tech, the school recently added CNC machining technology to its coursework.

“We have several business alliance partners who help guide our training programs, outfit our labs with the latest technology and equipment, and hire our graduates,” says John Dodson, vice president, Business Alliances for the school. “While many of these companies are involved with competitive auto racing – after all, our community is known as Race City, USA – others are manufacturing everything from medical components to aerospace parts.

Instructor Ron Brittain demonstrates a Kurt Workholding workpiece fixture for NASCAR Tech students.
Photos courtesy of CNC Software Inc.

“Most of them have their own CNC machining departments and have been having trouble finding skilled technicians to program and run their machine tools,” Dodson adds. “To get a CNC program started here, Doug Yates of Roush Yates Engines partnered with us on the curriculum and brought some CNC equipment into our lab. At this point, we brought in our head instructor, Ron Brittain, who continued adjustments to the curriculum and worked closely with Mastercam to solidify our computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) program.”

The CNC program at UTI’s NASCAR Tech campus runs for 36 weeks.

“We start the students off with a thorough indoctrination in manual operations, and that includes the basics of running manual mills and lathes, operating a drill press, and so on, as well as some off-hand tool grinding,” Brittain says. “We’re not training them to be manual machinists, but we are teaching them concepts that are applicable to CNC machining.”

Brittain discusses a control system on one of NASCAR Tech’s Haas CNC machining centers.

In addition to several manual mills and lathes, students have access to three Haas CNC vertical machining centers (VMCs), a Haas CNC turning center, and a Mori Seiki CNC turning center.

“We also have 12 Haas simulators that let the students de-bug their programs in simulated graphics before they load the programs into the machine controls,” Brittain adds. “There are 24 seats of Mastercam in our CAD/CAM lab, plus one for the instructor. Our business alliance partners, who also serve as our advisory council, have provided us with a lot of our equipment, in addition to recommending other equipment and programs, such as Mastercam, for creating the tool paths for CNC machining operations.”

Dodson adds, “They would like us to duplicate what they have in their own companies, so when our graduates become their employees, they are already familiar with the equipment and software and will become productive for them right away.”

After several weeks working with the manual machines, the program progresses with two classes on CNC lathes and two classes on CNC mills. At this point, students are ready to learn programming with a class on Mastercam.

A student is led through a Mastercam program in NASCAR Tech’s CAD/CAM lab.

“Most of our students have had absolutely no experience with CAD/CAM,” Brittain says. “They are usually coming to us right from high school, or from military service on the GI Bill, or are crossing over from other industries to one they feel offers them more of a future. We’ll start teaching them 2D CAM operations with some wireframe geometry and then do some 2D machining and create several solid models. It’s important that we teach them Mastercam’s Dynamic Milling and explain why that is applicable to today’s world of CNC machining. We show them how to use the various features of the software to optimize feed rates and extend tool life. This is important to be productive in the real world.”

Rather than come up with machining projects that leave them with take-home gifts such as paperweights and pencil holders, NASCAR Tech students are taught a range of operations that may be performed in Mooresville’s surrounding companies.

“We have designed parts that our students program and machine that impress upon them a broad range of machining concepts they can take to employers waiting for them at graduation, whether used for a racecar headed for a track, a medical device headed for a hospital, or a precision component headed for outer space,” Brittain says. “Our goal is to train them to obtain an entry-level position in any field requiring CNC programming and machining skills.”

Dodson notes, “One task at NASCAR Tech is to get young people to understand what CNC machining is and what computer numerical control means to successful manufacturing across a range of today’s industries. One of the things we do is go out to the high schools and get students and their parents to realize there are great jobs available in manufacturing, whether it’s producing parts for race engines here in the Carolinas, or working over in the Honda Jet Center in Greensboro making parts for aerospace, or just down the street from us machining medical device components. As Ron Brittain mentioned, about 30% of our students are career changers, and a lot of military folks come to us because they like our program for the hands-on approach and for the technology aspects of our CAD/CAM curriculum. It’s an important mission for us to get the word out to high schools, military bases, and beyond, that there’s an exciting future for them in CNC manufacturing and Universal Technical Institute’s NASCAR Tech has the program that will get them started on that path.”

Because graduates can be employed by various industries, the program uses several materials for machining practice, including aluminum, steel, tool steel, titanium, and magnesium.

“We want the students to learn how a material wants to be cut,” Brittain says. “They have to learn the optimal feeds and speeds, what type of tooling to use, and so on, based on the composition of the material. We don’t want to send a graduate out to work in a company and have that student say, ‘Oh, I never worked with that material before.’ We want the student familiar with machining different metals on the lathe, on the mill, just about all aspects of CNC machining operations and materials, at least all we can within the time constraints of the program.”

Several of the school’s business alliance partners have made, and continue to make, substantial contributions to the program.

“We’ve been working with CEO Doug Yates and Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships Todd English at Roush Yates Engines, lining up common-interest partners to help us accomplish our goals,” Dodson says. “With Doug and Todd’s help, we were able to get our CNC machining technology program up and running only six months after initial concept.”

Adam McMaster, a NASCAR Tech graduate, works on optimizing the performance of a car at a track in Race City, U.S.A.

Business alliance partners have also been generous with materials for student machining projects.

“Roush Yates Engines and Penske Racing continue to outfit us with leftover materials, not only aluminum and steel, but exotic metals as well,” Dodson adds. “It might be a barrel or even a pallet-full of materials that they’ll drop off and we’ll have a substantial supply of aluminum, or titanium, or whatever their generosity yields for our students to machine. When they drop off materials or equipment, they will often visit for a while and watch what the students are doing. This gives them a chance to interact with students and instructors. They enjoy connecting with our students and are always on the lookout for the next CNC superstar technician.”

When it comes to jobs available to graduates, Dodson and Brittain are enthusiastic about the future of their program.

“Our CNC job board is overflowing with career opportunities,” Dodson concludes. “Right now, we have people coming from all over the United States to enroll in our program. The impact we are making in the CNC industry is nice to see. It’s equally nice to see our graduates fulfill their dreams.”

CNC Software Inc. (Mastercam)
Universal Technical Institute, NASCAR Tech