National Champion: Robb Simpson Triumphs at SkillsUSA

July  2, 2010

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Robb Simpson (center) is flanked by LWTC faculty members Bob Monroig (left) and Mike Clifton in Kansas City.

Robb Simpson, an LWTC student studying Precision Machining, took first place at the national SkillsUSA competition in Kansas City in June.

SkillsUSA Nationals is an annual series of competitions bringing the best and the brightest together from across the country to compete in their fields of expertise. In all, over 5,000 individuals competed in over 90 contests ranging from construction to hairdressing to mechanics.

Simpson's win came in the CNC Milling High School/Secondary competition against 20 other contestants and automatically qualifies him for the international competition. Computer Numerical Control (CNC) milling uses rotating blades, guided by a computer program, to turn a solid material into a useable part.

"I actually made a number of mistakes," said Simpson, who finished second at last year's competition in the same category. "But just because you make a mistake, it doesn't mean you won't do well. The key to winning is being able to adapt to ever-changing scenarios."

The CNC Milling competition consisted of two parts: programming and machining.

In the programming portion, contestants were given a blueprint, a computer with special software, and two hours to write CNC code to create the part shown in the blueprint. "We made the code using software that was much like a simple text editor," Simpson explained.

In the machining portion, they had 45 minutes to take their code and produce a part using a CNC Milling machine. Within the allotted time, Simpson and his fellow competitors had to compete several steps: setting the block of metal to milled; configuring the machine; "telling" the machine the tools to use; loading and preparing the software; and, finally, running the program and making the part.

"When you take into account all the steps," Simpson says, "45 minutes is not a lot of time."

Last year's experience helped Simpson cope with the unexpected, but he also credits his success to his LWTC teachers, including his Machine Technology program instructor Mike Clifton, and the equipment he uses while a student at LWTC.

"All the big machines we have at LWTC use the same basic codes as the machines at the competition," he explained. "But the LWTC machines are much larger and much more powerful that those at the competition. This difference made things interesting."

"Robb is a really good student," said Clifton, who was Simpson's instructor throughout his six quarters in the program. "He went into the competition with a quiet confidence and was very focused what he had to do to be successful."

The win also showed Clifton how far the program has come in the 15 years he's been an instructor at LWTC. "We've worked hard to stay on the cutting edge and a win like Robb's says a lot about the state of our program. We have a lab that's the right size and our students work on high-end equipment. We're very proud of Robb's accomplishments and of where we are as a program."

For winning, Simpson received $750 in clothing from Carhartt, a $150 gift certificate provided by Autodesk, the AutoCAD Inventor 2010 Professional software suite, worth over $5,000, and three sets of high quality CNC software for his school.

For more information on the Machine Technology program or on any of LWTC's 41 programs, please visit our website,