Utah college teaches CNC machining to blind & low vision students

Utah college teaches CNC machining to blind & low vision studentsTechnology has taken a significant leap in the last decade. As a result, manufacturing equipment such as CNC machining and laser cutting have become more user-friendly. Going by the example set by Utah-based Davis Technical College who have designed a course to teach CNC machining to blind & low vision students, the manufacturing space will soon be able to hire from a more diverse pool of young talent.

“With this program, our goals were to expand access to new types of manufacturing jobs and trainings to the blind and visually impaired community and to help integrate these students into machining roles at the companies where we are already placing our CNC Machining students,” Geoff Vincent, a CNC Machining instructor at the school told Forbes.

The program at Davis is the only one of its kind in the US and was inspired by a blind CNC machinist based in Seattle and designed in consultation with the Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Salt Lake City whose most significant contributions came in the form of providing necessary safeguards and recommendations to make the shop floors suitable for blind and low vision students.

An important thing to note about the community of students this program targets is that only roughly 10 percent is fully blind, the other 90% have some degree of light perception. It’s why sometimes, offering a touchscreen that allows users to zoom into the buttons instead of a physical control panel is the only modification needed. At other times, that touchscreen needs to be combined with a Braille keyboard to provide more convenience. Of course, these modifications also depend on the task at hand.

“The interesting thing about machining is that none of us can really see what’s happening in the machine anyway, you have to listen,” Vincent told Forbes. “Many Blind and visually impaired students have an amazing ability to hear what’s happening in the machine, often catching specific noises—and therefore problems—that many of us wouldn’t have noticed. The students are also trained to feel the parts in the machine to ensure smooth edges.”

A notable partner to the CNC program at the Utah college is Autodesk. Their Fusion 360 software, a computer aided design (CAD) solution used by manufacturers lends itself well to the needs of blind and visually impaired students thanks to its ability to recognize and execute ‘audible commands’. Paired with a touchscreen and extensive tooltips, Fusion 360 is something all students easily grow comfortable using.

“Our success in the CNC Machining program shows the possibilities for creating similar training opportunities in other focus areas here at Davis Tech, including composites, automation or robotics,” Vincent told Forbes. “When you can see what these blind and visually impaired students can do, the list of what they can’t accomplish is miniscule. Given advancements in technology, the barrier to entry is growing smaller by the day and I’m excited to see what lies ahead for these incredible students.”