Franklin County Tech’s “Best Kept Secret” Plays Important Role

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TURNERS FALLS, MA – Franklin County Technical School CAD/CAM instructor Michael Therrien calls his class “the best kept secret in the building.”

“Nobody knows about this shop,” he said. “It’s not actually a shop. We’re a support class for the shops that have CNC technology. I do 3-D printing, laser cutting and engraving. CAD/CAM lends itself to a lot of applications.”

As a support shop, CAD/CAM works closely with Machine Technology, Welding, and Carpentry shops, programs that have their own CNC machines. The program also works with the Plumbing, Electrical and Landscaping shops.

“The CNC field is an emerging field,” Therrien said. “It’s exploding in woodworking, engraving and sign making.”

Computer numerical control (CNC) is the automation of machine tools using computers to complete preprogrammed commands. According to Wikipedia, “In modern CNC systems, the design of a mechanical part and its manufacturing program is highly automated. The part’s mechanical dimensions are defined using computer aided design (CAD) software, and then translated into manufacturing directives by computer aided manufacturing (CAM) software. The resulting directives are transformed (by “post processor” software) into the specific commands necessary for a particular machine to produce the component, and then are loaded into the CNC machine.”

Not only does CAD/CAM support the vocational shops, it also supports other programs and activities at the school. Recently, the program designed and manufactured plaques that were awarded to employers that hired FCTS cooperative education students, a plaque that was attached to a large Adirondack chair made by the school’s Pre-Employment Program for Kringle Candle, and plaques for award winners of the annual Cool Rides Car Show.

Students who learned CNC and CAD/CAM have gone onto careers that have expanded greatly from the vocational programs they mastered at FCTS.

Helaina Balcanoff of Greenfield, graduated from the FCTS Carpentry program in 2006. She is now a computer draft person with Austin Design, Inc., an architectural design firm in Greenfield. Following her graduation from high school, Balcanoff received her Associates degree in liberal arts from Greenfield Community College, and later her Bachelors degree in architectural technology from Fitchburg State College.

Balcanoff also earned a certificate in Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency from GCC, and a Master of Design Studies: Sustainable Design from Boston Architectural College.

While at FCTS, Balcanoff was involved in the early stages of the CAD/CAM program.

“It was very interactive in the way you get exposed to the computer drafting program,” she said. “It was a very practical learning experience.”

Balcanoff said her experience with CAD/CAM came in most handy in her architectural technology Bachelors degree program.

“I was learning other drafting programs and it helped me to navigate those,” she said. “It helped me to become more marketable, along with my shop experience. I could combine my hands-on experience with my drafting experience.”

Today, Balcanoff can combine the skills she learned from CAD/CAM and other programs to her current job.

“Being in the CAD/CAM program was a great learning experience,” she said. “Doing the tasks in the program came naturally to me and I was good at it.”

Dean Judd, graduated from FCTS in 2007 and used a CNC machine in his Carpentry shop. Like Balcanoff, the Greenfield native was on the ground floor of using the technology at the school.

“Nobody was doing that back then as far as my classmates go,” Judd said. “I was really interested in it, because I was interested in carpentry and computers.”

While a student, Judd saw the creative potential in CNC technology. He found the plans to build a wooden grandfather clock in a magazine and decided he wanted to recreate it. Judd spent two years making the clock using CNC technology and when he graduated, he donated the clock to the school where it was on display near the front entrance.

“A flood of students saw the clock and wanted to go into the Carpentry shop,” Judd said. “They accommodated them all. Doing this type of work, there is nothing you can’t do if you have the drive to make it happen. I think once I donated that clock it inspired a lot of other people.”

Following  graduation, Judd worked as a carpenter, but the profession didn’t interest him, and he also sustained a number of on-the-job injuries, including tendonitis and a ruptured disc in his back. He applied for a grant with the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission to start a small business. With the $31,000 grant he bought a CNC machine. With a smaller grant from Easter Seals, he purchased a laptop and other equipment and was in business.

“I wanted to get back into CNC,” Judd said.

Doing business as Nature’s Gift by CNC Dean, he makes wooden plaques, signs, and engravings, and sells them at festivals and shows, and on commission.

“A lot of my work is custom,” Judd said.

Judd recently relocated to Eugene, Oregon where “they appreciate the care you put into creating something,”

Judd said learning CNC was extremely important to developing his career.

“That’s the way of the world,” he said. “Everything is more computerized. It’s been a large part of my life pretty much since I walked into the tech school.”

Jeremy Durant of Deerfield, graduated from the Carpentry program in 2016 and is currently employed as a carpenter for CD Davenport Trucking and Construction. He said he has always had an interest in cabinetry, furniture making, signage and other highly skilled work, and hopes to one day buy his own CNC machine, own his own shop and create custom pieces.

Durant worked at a Cooperative Education job at Thayer Street Associates, a firm that provides general contracting, design-build, and construction management services, while at FCTS. He said his knowledge of CAD/CAM and CNC “helped to translate and accelerate my position at Thayer Street.”

“It allowed me to be creative and it gives you control of the design and tolerances,” Durant said. “It makes things more precise. Mr. Therrien’s class gives kids in construction and carpentry a head start. It gives students an opportunity to excel in their jobs.”

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