Supporting engineering apprenticeships

New CNC machines see Welsh college well under way with an ambitious expansion programme

Posted on 13 Dec 2017 and read 1880 times
Supporting engineering apprenticeshipsAs one of the largest and most successful colleges in Wales, Coleg Gwent is not ‘resting on its laurels’; it has embarked on an “ambitious expansion programme” to provide day-release and full-time apprenticeships for the
engineering sector in its catchment area.

The first phase of this plan is now complete, following the arrival of four CNC machine tools — two CT52 turning centres and two Mini Mill 560 vertical machining centres — from Burlescombe-based XYZ Machine Tools (

These will support full-time courses structured to introduce students to automation in the manufacturing process, as well as involve them in initial component design, CAD/CAM, programming and general machining.

Graham Jones, one of Coleg Gwent’s lecturers in mechanical engineering, said: “With the arrival of the XYZ machines, we can now offer ‘CNC units’ to our BTEC and City & Guilds students.

“In addition to accommodating full-time students, we are also getting local industry on-board; they can send employees — whatever their age or skill level — to us to develop their knowledge, thereby allowing them to move up the skills ladder — maybe going from being an operator to a setter, or even a programmer.

“The new machines allow us to tailor these courses to suit both individuals and their employers.”

The college currently has 24 students on its BTEC and City & Guilds CNC modules; the oldest is 34 and wants to make his qualifications more relevant to industry’s requirements, so that he can get back into the job market.

These students come from a cross-section of businesses, from the smallest sub-contractor to ‘blue chip’ global companies. Moreover, the college is confident that the uptake of its courses will increase, now that the college has access to these XYZ machines.

Industry needs

Mr Jones said: “We needed to invest in order to deliver what industry needs. As an educational establishment with tightly controlled budgets, we looked at many alternatives when deciding on which machines to buy. Our criteria included value for money, service and technical support.

“A visit to XYZ’s Devon headquarters and conversations with the company’s educational sales director, John Aspinall, gave us the confidence that it would deliver on all counts; and when we’ve needed to call XYZ’s support line, our questions have been answered straight away — with the information pitched at exactly the right level for us.”

The delivery of the XYZ machines, which are housed in a new workshop alongside a CMM and a laser marking system, went without a hitch. Indeed, Mr Jones quips that the hardest part of the installation for the college was “putting the cones out in the car park to make access easy.”

He added: “Another factor in choosing XYZ as a machine supplier is its partnership with the Sheffield-based tooling company WNT. To have a tooling package put together for us prior to the machines arriving saved us a lot of time.”

With these four machines up and running — and with an expected payback of two years on this initial investment — Coleg Gwent is already considering the second phase of the project; and while this may not come to fruition for 18 months or more, the college is working with local industry to identify its needs in terms of training, and whether this will necessitate more of the same types of CNC machines or a mixture of CNC and combination manual/CNC machines — such as XYZ’s ProtoTrak mills and lathes.

Mr Aspinall said: “Working closely with the education sector is part of XYZ’s commitment to training the engineers of tomorrow.

“Any recognised engineering training establishment or research centre receives special pricing on our full range of machines; they also have access to comprehensive training programmes that are designed to keep tutors and students up to date with the latest industrial production processes.

We also provide special training days/open days for technicians, lecturers, teachers and students.

“Furthermore, qualifying educational establishments can access our Student Training Days. For these, our trainers visit classrooms and lecture theatres to highlight what is currently happening in the world of manufacturing and how things are set for the future.

“These days cover topics such as new processes, lean manufacturing, five-axis machining, CAD/CAM and probing.”

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