By Leslie H. Dixon
PARIS — Oxford Hills Middle School students are making cribbage boards at Maine Machine Products.
But these are no ordinary cribbage boards.
At first glance, the shiny, silver cribbage boards look like large bars of silver that belong in the U.S. Mint. They are, in fact, 9-inch by 4.5- inch aluminum blocks, which weigh approximately 10 to 11 pounds.
By the time they have been drilled, tooled and milled with the Vikings logo and name on the top and Maine Machine Quest 2015 on the side, then shaped and trimmed, they will be authentic, usable and uniquely Vikings boards that will be sold in the school store at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and other places.
“The Maine Machine Quest offers the students an exciting opportunity to travel to Maine Machine to be a part of the engineering and machining process,” said Oxford Hills Middle School Assistant Principal Tara Pelletier. “Students have learned how to review engineered plans, design parts, put them into production and build them.”
Oxford Hills Middle School operates on a trimester schedule continues with students rotating between the Paris and Oxford campuses, which allows the school to offer the nontraditional Quest programs.
They range from news operations to building a race car and this year, learning first hand about the engineering and machining process with the assistance of Maine Machine Products.
Pelletier said the students had to apply for the Maine Machine Quest through an application process that mimics the Oxford Hills Technical High School process for getting into specialized courses. A total of 35 applications were received and from those, eight students were selected to participate in the Quest.
The students say they are excited about the opportunity to learn new skills from professionals and some are already focusing on how the experience will help them once they begin looking for employment.
“It helps you to get a job,” Strong Ellis, 13, of Norway said. He hopes to work in the field of computer programming and Maine Machine Products not only train employees but offers other educational incentives.
Some students, like Keigan McLaughlin from Hebron, had family members working at the company.
The students have spent several hours each week since the start of school designing and making the cribbage boards that will eventually be for sale.
To get to the finished product, the students had to first draft the design of the cribbage board. They then created an SD card with all the information that would be inserted in the RoboDrill that uses a variety of tools of heat to shape and form the aluminum block into the cribbage board.
The RoboDrill is a high-speed, high-precision milling tapping and drilling machine. The students are able to view the process of trimming and etching the aluminum bar using highly heated tools and subsequent coolants through a porthole in the machine.
“Something could go really wrong. You have to put it in just right,” said Ellis, who likes all the students to wear the proper safety gear while they are on the floor working with an employee and working among dozens of other employees who are operating other machines.
The students say they were first given a tour of the plant and learned about what Maine Machine Products does and how they ensure the safe and clean operation of the machinery.
“When the Oxford Hills Middle School approached us about a Quest for their students we jumped on the idea right away. We look at this as a win-win,” MMP human resource director Erica Douglas said.
“The students are learning about a trade they may be interested in and we are hopefully gaining some future employees. It has also been great for our current employees. They are really enjoying working with the students and teaching them the trade they love. ”
Douglas said the company hopes there can be a cooperative effort with Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School to bring a precision machining concentration to their vocational offerings.
Maine Machine products operates out of a 65,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility, on Prospect Street in Paris and uses the latest in CNC and multi-axis machines and precision inspection equipment.
The company is considered a world-class manufacturer of custom components and assemblies for targeted high-tech markets, such as semi-conductor; medical; defense and aerospace; telecom and fiber optics; and oil and gas.
Maine Machine products will continue its partnership with Oxford Hills Middle School next semester when students in the Aspire Higher race car Quest will manufacture parts for the new season’s race car at Maine Machine Products.