Computers Give Shop Class a High-Tech Edge

Times Staff Writer

The mechanical pencils, drafting boards and T squares in Glendale schools may soon end up sharing storage space with slide rules and other casualties of the computer age.

And the hand-turned lathe and milling machine may be added to the list of outdated tools.

Shop classes have taken a leap into the future at Glendale High School. Computers are replacing drafting tables and soon, district officials say, the manual arts will be orchestrated by programmers and performed by robots.

The school board Tuesday agreed to use a $212,500 state grant to expand Glendale High's computer-aided design and manufacturing program, which already has a state-of-the-art system.

The program, which began last fall, is the only one in the state, school officials and local industries say. It has caught the attention of college-bound students, who are signing up for practical arts classes that they once snubbed as a den of roughnecks and underachievers. The classes, students say, will give them a jump on college engineering requirements.

"The manual arts are changing," said Paul Dozois, who teaches computer-aided design and manufacturing on a similar system at Glendale Community College. "Machinists or draftsmen without this training will not have a job."

Firms are scrambling to find engineers and operators trained in the computer systems, educators say. Because of the shortage of available workers, local industry has helped provide computers and software for Glendale High and has trained teachers to use the sophisticated equipment.

Students in the program who plan to study engineering say they anticipate that the skills they are learning will pay off once they begin looking for work. Besides, students said, the class is fun.

"It's like metal shop, except we're using computers," said Robert Ritter, 17. "Once you know what you want to create and learn the commands, it's easy."

Students are learning to draw plans for houses, printed-circuit boards and machine parts using a specially designed keyboard instead of paper and pencil.

Three computer terminals in the classroom are connected to a massive computer next door. The computer, a 300-megabyte Computervision Designer, has become standard equipment for many large manufacturing firms, such as Hughes and TRW, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Parts and equipment can be designed on the computer screen with more accuracy, less cost and in a fraction of the time it would take a skilled draftsman, said Carl Derksen, a longtime shop teacher who now teaches computer-aided design and manufacturing classes.

"Theoretically, we can make anything," he said.

Students interested in the class must complete a year of algebra and geometry and must learn basic drafting the old-fashioned way, using paper and pencil.

Once the fundamentals are mastered on paper, students begin to create designs by computer, with the actual drawing done by mechanized plotters. Students can view a three-dimensional design from any angle on a computer screen.

Writing Computer Programs

Across campus is the computer-aided manufacturing class, where students learn to write computer programs that direct simple lathe and milling machines to make products. The revolution in computer design has been matched by similar innovations in manufacturing, Derksen said.

"Most new companies are going to CAM but they can't find operators," Derksen said. CAM stands for computer-aided manufacturing.

The shortage of workers trained in these computer skills prompted Carl Raggio, a Glendale city councilman and former school board member, to begin a teacher training program at JPL three years ago. At the time, Raggio was a member of the area's federally funded Private Industry Council, a consortium of local government and business that help train residents in skills needed by industry.

Raggio, manager of design engineering services at JPL, began to solicit industry support and state grant money to buy equipment and start courses in the new technology at Glendale College and local high schools.

Glendale College almost two years ago became the first community college in the state to install such a system. State grants and help from local businesses such as Lockheed and Pacific Telephone helped pay for the equipment and software.

The Glendale school district a year ago received a $266,000 grant from the state to initiate the program at Glendale High. The current $212,500 state grant brings the total spent on the high school program to nearly half a million dollars.

District officials hope to start the program at other high schools as money becomes available. In the meantime, the school district plans to create a small computer repair course at Daily High School and to start computer-aided design classes at Crescenta Valley High School.

For the Glendale High program, Computervision, a Massachusetts-based firm, sold the district its $750,000 system for $150,000, hoping to benefit from an increase in skilled workers. The remaining grant money was used to buy Apple computers that are also used in the design courses.

High school students proficient in operating machine tools by computer can expect to earn at least $10 an hour, Derksen said. Eventually, if the student can write programs for the equipment, a skill roughly equivalent to that of a tool-and-die maker, salaries can reach $35 an hour, he said.

But some day, Derksen said, robots will operate the machines.

Part of the latest grant funds received by the district will be used to begin a course in robotics, said James McGlashan, Glendale's director of secondary instruction. He hopes that the school can eventually have a system that allows students to design products on computer screens and then have the idea electronically transferred to machines that will make the product.

"If everything works out the way we hope, it will be a showcase for industry," he said.

At JPL, Raggio and others are working on computer software that will allow designers to make products "without leaving their desks," Raggio said.

Students who want to spend only two years in college can complete studies at Glendale College that will land them immediate jobs paying $16 an hour, teacher Dozois said. "If they want to work, I can guarantee them a job," he said.

The prospect of certain employment has created a high demand for the classes at the college and high school. Twelve more IBM personal computers will be purchased for the high school class, using the new grant money.

Several firms have indicated interest in using the Glendale High facility after school to train employees, McGlashan said. Rental of the room and equipment could help pay for the district's $20,000 annual maintenance contract for the system, he said.

That yearly fee has been the only cost borne directly by the district for what will soon be a $1-million system.

"We were just in the right place at the right time," McGlashan said.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World