Sparking the Learning Process

Students in the Mechanical Technology major are learning to literally read sparks.   When a piece of metal is put up against a grinding wheel, the resulting pattern and color of sparks indicates the type of metal that it is.   The color, length, shape, quantity of spurts, and volume of the spark indicates the various alloys that make up the steel or metal.  For instance, wrought iron will produce a large stream of sparks that has very few spurts and is straw colored near the grinder and white colored near the end of the stream.

Charts like this help students learn how to read metal sparks.

Charts like this help students learn how to read metal sparks.

Mechanical Technology Professor Bob Tanchak says it is critical for students to understand and know what kind of metal that they are about to work with. “For instance, if a part needs to be made from a low carbon, low alloy steel you probably would not want to use a high carbon, high alloy steel. Every material has certain properties or characteristics that will cause the material to behave differently when subject to a mechanical load or force. If the material needs to be heat treated, the high carbon steel will become very hard and very brittle. It can actually shatter like a piece of glass when impacted.”

Freshman Mechanical Technology major Daniel Taylor (Phoenix High School) is fascinated by the hands-on learning. “It’s interesting to learn the impact and importance of picking the right metal when you make something.” Taylor is using his OCC education to become a CNC machinist and operator.

Freshman Daniel Taylor analyzes the sparks which come from titanium, a strong and light metal used in the production of products such as airplanes, golf clubs and knee replacements.

Freshman Daniel Taylor analyzes the sparks which come from titanium, a strong and light metal used in the production of products such as airplanes, golf clubs and knee replacements.

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