Focus, Higher Education, and Manufacturing

Grant fuels The Geek Group’s CNC programming

Haas Foundation contributes $50K that results in 10-week machining course.

December 19, 2014
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Geek Group CNC
A $50,000 grant is helping The Geek Group with CAD and CAM classes for local residents. Courtesy The Geek Group

A Grand Rapids-based makerspace is adding to its educational programming with the launch of a new CNC training course in January.

The Geek Group, a STEAM educational institution based in Grand Rapids, announced this month it has received a $50,000 grant from the Gene Haas Foundation, a private organization dedicated to manufacturing education based in California, to support the makerspace’s programming growth and become a certified H-Tech Educational Center.

The grant will fund the expansion of The Geek Group’s CNC educational programming at Leonard Street Labs and has already led to the development of a 10-week course introducing individuals to the process of designing and machining their own parts.

As a certified Haas Technical Education Center, The Geek Group will join more than 1,500 schools, colleges and universities using Haas CNC machines, software and other educational resources.

Lis Bokt, executive director at The Geek Group, said becoming skilled in the machining process is a great opportunity, especially in a state with a large manufacturing industry, and the H-Tech technical certification signifies an individual understands the Haas machines.

“Manufacturing is one of the biggest industries in Michigan and it is an industry that is growing significantly. Being able to become skilled in machining is one of the best job opportunities available,” said Bokt. “So having the resources to get introduced to that and become familiar with all aspects of machining is really valuable here.”

The Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget released unadjusted data on employment statistics for October 2014, indicating more than 570,000 individuals across the state are employed in the manufacturing industry. In the recent TALENT 2025 talent assessment and outlook for West Michigan, manufacturing was highlighted as one of the five top industries in the area, with 21.6 percent of total jobs in West Michigan.

The Geek Group’s newest course, CNC Cadet: Introduction to CNC & Machining, launches Jan. 11, teaching students how to design and machine a steam engine over a 10-week period. The $500 course is held Saturdays from noon-4 p.m. and will focus on Computer Aided Design and Computer Aided Machining for the first portion of the course.

“It takes you from start to finish of the machining process, so that means the first couple of weeks we go into CAD and CAM, which means drawing all of the design for the parts and learning how to make a part that can be physically made,” said Bokt. “We walk through how to pick out the tools for it, how to pick out an efficient process for machining it, and then we go into the real aspects of it with picking out material and putting it into the machine properly.”

Although no prerequisites or prior experience are necessary, the class is limited to 15 students. The Geek Group anticipates running the class every 10 weeks.

The 10-week course is an addition to the current programs available at the makerspace.

The Geek Group provides a small monthly class for people interested in updating their machining skills.

“A lot of people just kind of want a refresher course; they have worked with machining before but maybe not in a few years. So they want to see what the current standards are, or they want to see if it is something they are interested in, so they come and see how the basics of it work,” said Bokt.

The Haas Foundation previously supported The Geek Group with CNC machinery donations and funding. In 2013, the foundation donated $50,000 to help the makerspace open its machining shop in the Leonard Street Labs. Since opening, The Geek Group has had more than 100 people use the CNC programming and machines, which include a five-axis mill, a lathe with live action tooling and a sheet router.

The makerspace officially opened its new 42,000-square-foot facility in February after renovating the building since 2010 and has a membership of more than 25,000 people in more than 140 countries. Since moving into the facility at 902 Leonard St. NW, Bokt said the makerspace has grown a lot and received fantastic feedback.

“We have been able to really expand our programming by having the physical space to house a large variety of tools and machinery,” said Bokt. “We have been able to get enough staff to cover different areas people are interested in and provide support for what people want to be able to do.”

With a mission to provide education and access to highly technical and expensive equipment for entrepreneurs, students and businesses, The Geek Group offers open tours to the public on Saturdays and provides demonstrations for schools.

“The tours are really popular. It is a great way to be introduced to a lot of things because more people hear about The Geek Group through one specific avenue,” said Bokt. “They are woodworking so someone told them this is a good place if you need woodworking tools, and it never occurred to them that they could do 100 other things. If they start out with machining and they discover they really like working with lasers, there is no limitation to that.”

Josh Spencer, director of development at The Geek Group, said the organization also provides classes in areas outside of machining and is developing collaborative partnerships with a number of schools and local companies.

Some of the past courses and workshops held at the makerspace include: Egg Drop, a six-week, hands-on class for students in grades 6-12 to learn the physics of the classic egg drop; Rain Barrel Workshop, a collaborative event with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council on how to build and install a rain barrel; and Introduction to Collage and Assemblage.

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