Mechanics education provides graduates with vital job skills
Solid Edge and NX CAM help prepare students for careers in the real world
Meeting the challenge of declining tech school enrollment
Technical educators face the difficult challenge of training enough tradespeople to meet rising industry demand. Yet, over the past twenty years, the number of students choosing technical education as a career has fallen by 50 percent. Like other technical education providers, Vrij Technisch Instituut Roeselare (VTI Roeselare) in Belgium has seen the number of applicants decline. The school offers courses in building, woodwork, mechanics, electricity, painting and decorating, and industrial sciences for students who have finished primary school, (typically completed at the age of 12). Attracting more students requires more engagement from teachers as well as paying a great deal of attention to transferring knowledge and skills in a practical manner.
At VTI Roeselare, the focus is on using practical work to help students develop marketplace insights and acquire real-world skills. The mechanics department offers two points of focus: automotive technology and mechanical design, and teaches mechanical engineering, sanitation and central heating, bodywork, industrial maintenance and construction. General knowledge and technical schooling are important, as are practical skill sets. The use of Solid Edge® software and NX™ software from product lifecycle management (PLM) specialist Siemens PLM Software is helping VTI Roeselare students acquire engineering experience that can be immediately employed upon graduation, whether at a university or in the work environment.
Students who plan to pursue higher education can follow a more theoretical curriculum in which much attention is paid to providing a solid scientific basis for both technical subject matter and practical testing. Options include electro mechanics and industrial sciences. Each course lasts six years. In the seventh year, students choose a specialization, and after successfully completing the final year, they can enroll at a university.
From tradespeople to future engineers
“We educate tradespeople and prepare them for higher education,” says Filiep Verpoucke, who teaches computer numerical control (CNC) milling and design in the mechanics department. “The support tools we use, especially our design and production software, must facilitate our department’s goals in this area.” One of the school’s educational goals is to make certain all courses are best-in-class, which has further implications for the chosen software tools. “At our school, which numbers 1,400 students and 200 teachers, we used a variety of CAD/CAM (computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing) applications from different vendors,” says Verpoucke. “Settling on a common platform provided us with an opportunity to select the very best options available. We chose Solid Edge for design and NX CAM for work preparation and programming complex jobs.”
Why Solid Edge
Verpoucke notes, “For us, it is vital that the software can be used by our students at home. Siemens PLM Software provided an excellent solution by providing annual licenses for Solid Edge. Our students can also use specific task-oriented toolbars we have compiled. This thoroughly prepares them for more elaborate uses of the application. By the fourth year, students have amassed so much knowledge that we allow them to use all Solid Edge functions.”
To effectively communicate knowledge of Solid Edge and assess students’ work, all teachers must be proficient in the use of Solid Edge. Training is provided by Verpoucke. “Keeping our own know-how up-to-scratch is vital to the quality of our courses,” says Verpoucke. “Because Solid Edge is used in every class, it is essential that all teachers know how to effectively work with the software and can communicate that knowledge to the students.”
NX is a particularly powerful CAM application with many options, which Verpoucke became acquainted with when he worked in private industry. “NX CAM is a top-class product and fits in with our ambition to offer top-class education,” says Verpoucke. “The program is mainly used for projects in our students’ sixth and seventh years. We take care to ensure students have obtained basic knowledge before they start working with automation. Before they start working with NX CAM, they first learn to program NC code.”
Initially, a toolbar (featuring the most useful tools) is used to help students understand the basic functionality of NX CAM. Working with the school’s 3-axis CNC machinery helps make the process more understandable. “Thanks to the toolbar feature, it takes no more than three lessons before students are able to effectively start working with NX CAM,” says Verpoucke.
Successful students earn jobs in the real world
Over the years, students functionally progress from 2D to 3D design, taking a test at the end of each year in which everything learned is applied, including developing parts/products in 3D design, generating 2D production drawings and executing manufacturing operations. In their final year, students present their projects to local industries. “Many projects are actually executed in conjunction with industry partners,” says Verpoucke. “We have a database of local company contacts and put a great deal of energy into maintaining these relationships. As a result, all of our students have a place to complete their traineeship, where they also may find jobs after completing their education.”
Forging industry relationships
To effectively promote the institution and, in particular, its technical courses, VTI Roeselare actively participates in trade shows at which student projects are displayed and industry relationships are renewed and forged. Last year, a theme night was organized for this purpose. In close cooperation with Siemens PLM Software and a cutting-equipment specialist, students presented an aluminum wheel rim they had designed using Solid Edge and produced using NX CAM. The presentation enabled the mechanics department to effectively showcase its comprehensive and compelling qualities that evening.
“In addition to promoting ourselves throughout the industry, we also focus on recruitment at primary schools,” says Verpoucke. “We inform potential students and their parents about the possibilities and value of a combined technical and general education. Thanks to our focus on practical skills and state-of-the-art educational tools, we can offer unique career opportunities. This is, in notable part, due to the high value that Solid Edge and NX CAM bring to our program.”