It might take only a hot knife to cut through butter, but it takes a bit more than that to cut through metal.
Some Nichols Career Center mechatronics students are teaching fellow welding program students a new way to make the cut in more automation-involved welding careers.
Nichols recently purchased a CNC plasma cutter welding machine, using a grant from the state that held them accountable for only 25 percent of the device's roughly $25,000 price tag, welding instructor Ken Thomas said.
"This is the future of where shops are going," Thomas said.
The plasma cutter offers laser-guided precision and is faster than a human welder, at least when it comes to table-top designs like a jack-o'-lantern or Superman logo. The cutter uses an electrical arc to heat metal until it's soft enough for compressed air ejected from a nozzle at a pressure of 110 pounds per square inch to pierce metal up to three-quarters of an inch thick on simpler designs like squares and circles.
However, operating the cutter takes some computer knowledge to program designs for the automated machine to cut.
Nichols has had the cutter since the second week of school, Thomas said. Since then, some mechatronics students have been learning the necessary software skills to teach the welding students to take over full operation of the cutter.
New Bloomfield High School senior Colton Conway said his favorite part of learning the software is watching "that little program that I made" become a physical object once a design is cut.
As Conway works on a computer to perfect designs in the mechatronics lab, he makes sure the cutter will cut from the inside out. He keeps the machine from cutting too deep and ensures the cut edges will be of good quality.
"I don't know much about welding," he admitted, but he said the welding students he's worked with have caught on to the technology pretty well.
"You never really know anything until you teach someone else," mechatronics instructor Matt Yeager said.
Yeager said the opportunity to use the software gives his students a chance to work directly with a machine in the industry and with different kinds of software.
Conway said he'll go to college in Florida next year for software development, so this experience has been beneficial for him.
Fellow New Bloomfield senior Brandon Wells is in the welding program and appreciates the fine details the cutter is capable of crafting. "There's so much stuff you can do," he said.
He plans to go into active duty in the U.S. Army for a few years before continuing with more welding education and work.
Second-year welding program students like him will be the ones to primarily operate the cutter, Thomas said. He has eight such students this year and expects 13 next year.
Thomas said his welders will also use the machine to cut some auto parts that can be used in fellow Nichols instructor Dennis Bruemmer's automotive collision repair classes — parts they won't have to buy anymore.
Thomas also anticipates graphic communications students will get involved when it comes to designs.