OHTS Pre-Engineering students Colby VanDecker (l) and Seamus Winning (r) work on the controls of a plasma cutter they recently built. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

PARIS — OHTS seniors Seamus Winning of Norway and Colby VanDecker of Otisfield were challenged by their Pre-Engineering instructor David Langevin to build a computer-automated table as their independent study project. With the choice of what that would entail left to them, the two students embarked on building a plasma cutter – equipment that will benefit other programs and classes in the school for a long time to come.

“We thought a plasma cutter would be neat to have,” said VanDecker.

“It cuts shapes out of plate steel using electricity,” said Winning. “We like working on cars and stuff, so we built it for the automotive program to use.”

Sheet metal prototypes cut from OHTS’s new plasma cutter. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

“They built the machine with minimal instruction, which is great,” said Langevin. “It can construct all kinds of parts. We can make custom grills for trucks, metal signs, even coffee tables. They are already cutting prototypes for Automotive for custom light covers.

“It can make brackets or custom shapes. Auto Collision Program instructor Fred Steeves has an art welding class that will benefit from using it. It has both practical and decorative uses in OHTS programs.”

While VanDecker and Winning continue cutting prototype projects with the unit, Steeves’ class is supporting the project by building a customized down-draft table for it.


“Mostly I’ll use it in the after-school welding class,” said Steeves. “And Auto Collision will use it. It will be available for any program that has a need for it. We don’t have a welding program so I teach it after-school to those students who are interested in it. It’s elective, and students can earn a half credit by taking it.”

Winning, who is part of the after-school welding program, will be able to earn his elective credit using a machine he earned credit building.

Plasma cutting technology is a common part of high school vocational programs, but not quite like this machine.

“For students to build a unit like this, that’s unique,” said Langevin. “Not too many people would take the effort. They started working on it about six months ago. The frame and motors were donated to the school by Procter & Gamble and we purchased the electrical control equipment.

“Our cost to build this plasma cutter is about $700. A similar machine would cost around $6,000 to purchase.”

VanDecker and Winning continue to fine tune the machine, cutting prototypes in different sizes and shapes. They are focused on pieces with fairly intricate detail. According to Langevin, the students have proven the principle of operation and control. The final element he is grading them on is their documentation of the process to build it, so that he can have future students build on their work.

“Right now they are cutting bird designs,” said Langevin, which are fairly intricate. “I will hang them in my classroom.”

VanDecker and Winning plan to continue studying mechanical engineering after they graduate from high school next June. They are both considering University of Maine Orono or Maine Maritime Academy.


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