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News | June 30, 2021

Congressional Staffers Observe ACE CNC Machining Training Now Underway in East Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (June 14, 2021) District staff members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation were among the first in the country to observe America’s Cutting Edge (ACE) computer numerical controlled (CNC) machining training in action on June 11, 2021.  Six, in-person boot camps are being piloted this summer in Knoxville.

A national initiative for machine tool technology development, advancement, and workforce development, ACE was established by the U.S. Department of Defense Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment (IBAS) Program in the Office of Industrial Policy.  ACE is designed to revitalize U.S. manufacturing and ramp up the machine tool industry in support of national security.

“ACE is intended to help the United States recover the technical and manufacturing leadership position and enable our ability to design and make the machine tools required to produce so many of the products that are used in modern society,” Adele Ratcliff, IBAS program director, said.

Hosted jointly by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT), Pellissippi State Community College (PSCC) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the week-long boot camps started in May and will run through August.  Participants come from across the U.S. and have diverse backgrounds, ranging from high school, community college and university students to professional machinists and manufacturing engineers.

The ACE boot camps are teaching essential manufacturing skills that will address the Nation’s growing manufacturing workforce gap through combining the scientific expertise of collaborative public and private enterprises who are working to restore and stabilize U.S. manufacturing.  The machine tool research and development for ACE is based at ORNL, whose Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) is a global leader in developing and validating systems and processes that leverage digital frameworks for manufacturing innovation.

The ACE CNC machining training program is a two-part, no-cost course.  It combines in-person learning with online, virtual training, and machining simulation to teach essential manufacturing skills and introduce the newly developed technology that accelerates competency and optimizes the machine’s performance. In December 2020, the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) launched the online machining component developed by UT Professor of Mechanical Engineering and ORNL Joint Faculty Member Dr. Tony Schmitz.

So far, more than 1,450 people from across the nation—including machinists, machine tool designers, future manufacturing engineers, entrepreneurs, students (high school to college), and more—have been engaged with the online course.  It includes a modular online curriculum that walks users through the steps necessary to design a part, defining tool paths in computer aided manufacturing (CAM) software, and selecting CNC machining parameters in the software, up to the point of engaging with the machine.

Similar to using a flight simulator to provide a safe learning environment for pilots to experience trial and error, Schmitz designed the online component along with an app called CAM+ that simulates machining performance so participants can experience CNC machining virtually on a screen, to see what works and doesn’t work — all without the danger of damaging tools or wasting materials.  The CAM+ app is distributed at no cost with the program.

The in-person training now underway this summer corresponds with the online component at the point of the on-machine setup.  It is divided into CAM sessions and machining sessions, with only two participants on a machine at any time, to allow for optimal instructor-participant communication and provide a low-pressure environment for learning and questioning.

More than 50 boot camp participants will learn the digital manufacturing steps from part design, to CAM, to on-machine setup and machining, ultimately producing the components necessary to create an oscillating air engine by machining and assembling four parts: base (aluminum), piston block (aluminum), valve block (3D printed polymer), and wheel (steel).