Oakman senior a CNC machinist prodigy

Posted 5/15/19

OAKMAN - Operating a programmable controller machine comes as easy as using a calculator to Andrew "Drew" Taggart.The Oakman High School senior has become a pro at computer numerical control (CNC), …

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Oakman senior a CNC machinist prodigy


OAKMAN - Operating a programmable controller machine comes as easy as using a calculator to Andrew "Drew" Taggart.

The Oakman High School senior has become a pro at computer numerical control (CNC), which is used to program machines. He will even showcase his skills at a national competition in June.

He takes courses in the precision machine tool program housed at a Bevill State Community College building off Industrial Parkway. The program is made possible through a partnership between the Walker County Board of Education, Jasper City Schools and the college.  

Precision Machining Instructor Ted Alexander of Jasper City Schools is Taggart's teacher.

Taggart was originally interested in computer programming and reportedly took a course or two at the Walker County Center of Technology. He decided to go a different route and explore CNC, which he wasn't fond of in the beginning, but that quickly changed.  

"After growing up a little bit and getting better at this, I wanted to do more CNC," Taggart said.

In early May, Taggart gave the Daily Mountain Eagle a tour of the facility that houses the machine tool program. He primarily uses a programmable controller machine during his daily studies, which operates a CNC milling and CNC lathe machine on site.

Both machines are used to cut raw materials (woods, metals and plastics). 

Taggart uses G and M codes to program the machines using the programmable controller. 

"There's about 150 G codes, and there's right around 200 M codes. We use those specific codes to tell the machine what to do," he said. 

Taggart has spent the past two to three years learning CNC, and he will graduate with four NIMS Manufacturing certifications: CNC milling operator; job planning, benchwork and layout; CNC lathe operator; and measurement, material and safety. 

As a CNC machinist, Taggart will be able to craft automotive materials, medical tools and other items. While in high school he has made chess pieces, animal calls and even placards for members of the Walker County Board of Education. 

He said typical pay for a CNC machinist is $16 to $35 an hour.

"I want to do CNC, just running those machines all day and maybe have a supervisor job at some point," Taggart said.

He plans to earn an associate's degree after high school, and he can attend Bevill State on a full ride between scholarships and grant funding. He has also received a scholarship to the Universal Technical Institute in Mooresville, North Carolina, to take part in a 36-week program on the NASCAR Tech campus for more CNC training.

At the time of the interview, Taggart wasn't sure which path he wanted to choose. Instead, he was primarily focused on the upcoming SkillsUSA National Conference that will be held in Kentucky this June.

SkillsUSA is a program that highlights the accomplishments of career and technical education students across the country, and students can compete in 100 program areas.

Taggart placed first in the SkillsUSA state competition for CNC.

At the national SkillsUSA competition, Taggart will compete against other students across the country. He will be required to take a written test that will assess his basic knowledge of CNC programming and mathematical calculations, and he will also have to complete a skills performance, where he will write CNC turning programs, interpret prints and measure parts.     

Taggart admits he's a bit nervous to compete at such a high level, yet he's confident in his abilities.

"I'm going to win," he said.

With every accomplished student comes a great teacher, and Taggart voiced his appreciation to Alexander for helping him learn a skill that he knew nothing about.

"My teacher, the best I've ever had," Taggart said. "He pushes you and really wants you to do good. If you have enthusiasm, you'll do a lot better."