ICATT Apprentices Kirk Skaggs and Todd Meyer joined the ICATT Apprenticeship Program in September 2020 as mechatronics technicians (MT) at CLAAS of America and Metro Community College in Omaha, Nebraska. The two apprentices recently finished putting their machining skills to the test by replicating a miniature version of one of CLAAS’ signature combines.

Apprentice projects like this one are a great way for apprentices to combine the skills they learn in college and on the job. The purpose of this project was to teach the apprentices manual machining skills – basics on which to build on for the remainder of their apprenticeship. The miniature CLAAS combine challenged their skills in basics like filing, sawing, and soldering.

“There’s a quite bit of concentration involved,” said Todd. “You have to pay close attention to the blueprints in order to assemble it correctly. Precise measurements were critical as well, as a simple mistake would skew the entire project.”

Although the apprentices couldn’t see their progress at first, the hours they spent filing pieces finally came into view after a few weeks. Projects like these also benefit from apprentice-inspired personalization – Kirk and Todd used a 3D printer to produce a driver’s seat for the combine.

“I was pretty excited,” said Kirk.  “I was getting toward the end, and I just wanted to see the final product after all the hard work. After 4-5 weeks, you start seeing the pieces come together.”

It is common for apprentices to feel discouraged by repetitive and time-consuming tasks, like filing. Trainers learn during Train-the-Trainer seminars that they can keep apprentices motivated by explaining the learning objectives in the beginning of a filing project and reminding their apprentices of the project’s end goal.

Trainer Alex Pompa, who assigned them the project, guided the apprentices throughout their journey.

“At the beginning, I could see their frustration about filing on a piece what seemed like forever. The apprentices start to ask, ‘What am I doing this for?’ But then they start to file a little faster and start to understand why they’ve done it so many times to get the right dimension. You could hear in their voices that it made more sense to them.”

The miniature CLAAS combine was an alternative to exercises in the Christiani Binder with lesson plans for manual material processing skills. This apprentice project and others can be found on the ICATT Resource Page, under “Training Resources.”