Plasma recently became a learning tool for metal working students in Columbia County.
The metal work labs of Evans and Grovetown high schools were equipped this year with plasma cutters, computer-assisted machines that use hot plasma to carve exact shapes from metals such as steel, stainless steel and aluminum.
The $8,000 machines were added at the schools, the only two in the county with metal shops, to better prepare students for the workforce.
"There's not a (metal) fabricating shop around that doesn't have one of these (plasma cutting) tables," said Thomas Wilson, the metal shop instructor at Evans High. "Knowing how to operate this will give all of these kids a leg up in landing jobs at those shops."
Wilson said he recently spoke with a friend, who works as a foreman at a fabricating company, about the plasma cutter.
"He was really impressed," Wilson said. "He said any of these guys would be able to get a job almost immediately with that kind of experience."
The starting salary for laborers at a machine welding shop or plant typically runs at about $13 per hour, Wilson said.
Though Evans High senior Ricky Smith realized his job prospects have improved since he has trained on the plasma cutter, he had a more immediate reason for the joy he expressed while operating the plasma cutter recently.
"It's fun," said the 17-year-old as he worked with the graphing software that operates the plasma cutter. "I just like playing with it."
The machines typically are used to cut metal frameworks or ducts for buildings. However, Evans students also use it for such things as carving intricate shapes, such as an Old English "E" representing Evans High.
Columbia County schools Director of Education Technology Michael Canady likes that the plasma cutters improve the work readiness of students, but he also likes how using the machine forces students to incorporate other academic disciplines into their work.
"You can't operate this machine without having a good foundation in math," Canady said. "These kids can go to their math classes and then come here and put it to practical use."
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