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References to Henry Ford, Greek philosopher Socrates’s Socratic method of teaching and kinesthetic learning are not likely what you expect to hear when it comes to skills training, but that’s the kind of language Don Graham, education and technical services manager at Seco Tools, uses when describing teaching students in the metalworking industry.

“Questions in the Socratic method must incorporate analogies or other mental illustrations. For example, when teaching metalworking students chip control when machining high temp alloys, we teach what engineers call the ‘strain rate effect’, the principle that the faster materials move—all other factors remaining constant—the more brittle the behave. We ask students to imagine walking through the woods, picking up a stick and breaking it. Do they bend it slowly or snap it over their knee? Then we ask why and how that relates to the machining process, workpiece material and the resulting chip formation. At that point we can take them out to the machine, ask them to run high temp materials at various speeds, keeping feedrate and depth of cut constant. “

Graham runs Seco’s Technical Education Program (STEP), on-site and off-site classes held in Canada and the US that combine theory with hands-on learning so students gain technical knowledge and practical experience. Classes can run from one to six-hour days or three full days. The program, which Graham says are "completely non-commercial," focuses on troubleshooting failure analysis and critical decision-making.

“Students examine the evidence—sound of the cutting process, chips produced by the process and the resulting surface finishes. They study the cutting tool’s edge condition using a microscope. Once they’ve collected all the data, students present their findings, explaining why the edge looked the way it did and how the process might be improved,” explains Graham.

Graham refers to “natural discovery” as key to hands-on learning for metalworking skills and techniques and adds that many programs fall short when it comes to the hands-on, natural discovery portion of instruction and focus more on classroom instruction.

“Or they are nothing more than product demonstrations masked as training programs where the instructor may demonstrate on an actual machine how to run a tool, but students are never allowed to work with the tool themselves.”

To learn, students must be free to make mistakes while learning. “It is better to crash a tool in a controlled learning environment than back at the shop when running a customers’ part.”

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