Wikwemikong High School obtains CNC machine for “next level manufacturing”

First Robotics Canada team #5672 First Nations STEM members Mary Pangowish and Ella Williams have quickly taken to learning how to operate the CNC machine at the high school.

WIIKWEMKOONG – On December 15, 2020, Wikwemikong High School (WHS) received a CNC machine. A computer numerical control router (CNC) machine is a metal fabrication method where written code controls the machinery in the manufacturing process. The code determines everything from the movement of the cutting head, spindle speed and RPMs.

Since the pandemic began back in March of 2020, the WHS Robotics Team (First Team 5672) has not been able to compete in its yearly robotics competitions. That included the 2020-2021 school year too. This allowed the high school robotics team to save money they would have used to travel to competitions. In addition, the Magna Corporation and Qualcomm have generously covered their First Robotics Competition registration fee for this year. They used those savings to purchase the CNC machine. 

The CNC machine will allow First Team 5672 to manufacture their own robotics parts and it will serve to expose students to the world of manufacturing, coding and production. CNC machining for production is very efficient. Since computers are used to control machines, it means that all major operations of production can be automated to increase speed and quality of manufacturing. By using CNC machines, identical parts can be made with the highest accuracy levels. Students will also learn how to code. G-code (also RS-274) is the most widely used computer numerical control CNC programming language. It is used mainly in computer-aided manufacturing to control automated machine tools and has many variants.

“Earlier this year, (team mentor) Mr. (Chris) Mara had approached me about purchasing this item,” WHS principal Harold Fox said in a press release. “Without hesitation he had my approval. Mr. Mara continues to impress with his technology programming for WHS. He brings an array of inspiration to our students especially with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). As it turns out, the CNC machine is one of only a few in our Northern schools. I am delighted that our students will be learning and understanding the functions of the CNC. This will allow our students to build upon their skills, portfolios and resumes as they venture beyond our walls.”

Team member Mary Pangowish demonstrates how the machine responds to computer instruction.

“It is very exciting to have a CNC machine,” said Mr. Mara, WHS teacher and First Team 5672 advisor. “It will allow our students to explore 21st century manufacturing processes and machining that involve CAD (computer-aided design). It will increase student and community capacity, and students will develop new job-ready skill sets.”

“I appreciate the astute budgeting and sound decision-making by the high school team to invest in this purchase,” Michael Staruck, WHS systems principal added. “I am excited because I hope it captures the interests of students who are not sure what their ‘next’ may be, and gives them a viable option for a highly employable career. Proficiency in this equipment is connected to the skilled trades, which is a job market that is steadily growing. I look forward to see this machine’s impact on future career choices over time the next few years.”

First Team 5672 is an all First Nations robotics team from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territories comprised of a diverse group of students of Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi heritage with mostly female members. Team 5672 also works to help inspire young First Nations women to get involved in STEM careers. It is their hope to also inspire more First Nations peoples to be involved in STEM, as they mentor multiple First Lego League teams and helped start another Manitoulin First Robotics Competition team, Team 6865 at Manitoulin Secondary School.