Always on the Cutting Edge: Fullerton College Program Blends Tech, Tradition
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
It’s true in life, and especially in the manufacturing industry, where technological advances are completely transforming the way that products are made…just like they always have.
“Manufacturing is something that touches all of us, regardless of who you are,” says Fullerton College instructor George Bonnand, who has witnessed the evolution firsthand in his 33 years as an industry professional.
Manufacturing has touched Bonnand’s life deeply. His passion for machining came from his father, a tool and die maker who immigrated to the United States after World War II. In the 1970s, Bonnand completed his training at a community college to become a machinist. Now, he’s back in the classroom, sharing his decades of industry experience with the next generation at Fullerton College.
The Machine Tech program at Fullerton has a rich history of its own. Created to fill demand brought on by the first and second World Wars, the program dates back to the time of Bonnand’s father.
“The Orange County area has been a major player in manufacturing since the 1930s,” says Bonnand. “And Fullerton College has been a part of it.”
Today, demand for manufacturing professionals is rising, not just in Orange County, but all over the nation, as an increasing reshoring trend brings jobs back to the U.S. Taken by itself, the manufacturing sector in the U.S. would be the eighth-largest economy in the entire world. Meanwhile, Fullerton College’s Manufacturing Technology department is on the front lines, filling this critical need for career-educated professionals in an always-evolving regional workforce.
“We have had numerous employers contact us asking for individuals in the machining trade,” notes Bonnand. “We have always tried to stay on top of the technological advances in the automotive, aircraft, aerospace, medical, as well as other industries that will serve our students well in getting a job.”
Machine Tech graduates go on to land careers as machinists, CNC operators and programmers, tool and die makers, lathe and mill operators, and more. And because machine technology is used across multiple industries, students are finding success in all kinds of careers, in a variety of different fields.
“Our students are going into the local industry, everything from aerospace to medical manufacturing,” says Department Coordinator Dan O’Brien.
In fact, the region is a nexus for medical manufacturing, where many companies have their headquarters, while aerospace is another massive draw for Fullerton College graduates. “We have a major portion of the nation’s aerospace manufacturing that’s taking place right here in Southern California,” says O’Brien.
Industry-aligned classes teach students hands-on skills to enter the region’s manufacturing workforce. Students learn manual machining skills first, including using engine lathes, milling machines, and grinders, before using the latest CNC machines. On top of basic machine tool setup and operation, students master reading blueprints, calculating measurements, and mastering job safety protocols.
According to Bonnand, small classes capped at 20 students provide plenty of one-on-one instruction, ensuring that students apply skills correctly and use the equipment safely. Additionally, courses are conveniently offered during the day and in the evening, providing plenty of choices for students with busy lives. “Students are watched and monitored closely to make sure they are on the right track.”
For many class projects, students make practical tools that they can use in the field for years to come. But Machine Tech courses also have a playful side…
“We do make some fun projects such as checkers and checkerboards, as well as intricate chest pieces,” says Bonnand. “All projects have a purpose so that they can be used later on.”
What really makes the instruction effective are the top-of-the-line tools. The machine shop boasts more than $1 million worth of equipment, acquired from grants and a variety of other funding sources. In the past five years, Fullerton College has obtained a nearly equal amount to upgrade the shop and stay abreast of industry trends.
The high-tech tools include 12 engine lathes, essential machines that can rotate a workpiece around an axis to drill, thread, turn shapes, and more. The shop also contains six pedestal grinders, typically used to sharpen tool bits or drills, and three surface grinders, which serve as work-holding devices. The department also has 24 computers, equipped with AutoCAD, Solidworks, MasterCam, and SurfCam software. All of the tools in the shop are currently used in the industry.
Fullerton College instructors have years of industry experience, and because they can teach in the state-of-the-art shop, students can gain readily applicable manufacturing skills.
“The up-to-date equipment and faculty are the cornerstone to making this happen effectively,” Bonnand explains.
The department offers eight certificate programs in various specializations and an AS degree in manufacturing with an emphasis in machine technology. Everything that students learn is designed to launch them into cutting-edge careers.
Notably, the program also attracts students with bachelor’s degrees who come to Fullerton for its unparalleled hands-on instruction.
“We had one student from UCLA who couldn’t get a job,” O’Brien recalls. “He had a degree, but he had no hands-on experience whatsoever.”
Without that crucial experience, the student couldn’t land the type of high-level job he wanted. That’s when he found Fullerton College’s Machine Tech program, and began putting his dreams into high gear.
“He came to us for a year, and then he got hired by [NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory] JPL in Pasadena,” says O’Brien.
With technology improving and demand for skilled workers increasing, Fullerton College is focused on giving students the skills they need today. According to O’Brien, this is a benefit not only to the student, but to the community and regional economy.
“We’re making a product that brings money back into the local economy,” O’Brien says. “If it stays local, every dollar spent on manufacturing has a very high percentage that gets distributed back into the local economy.
“We’re keeping the money here; we’re keeping the jobs here.”
To learn more about Machine Technology at Fullerton College, visit the department website at https://machine.fullcoll.edu/