Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Someone help! Is there a machinist in the house?

I fly often, and often enough, that I have actually been on several flights where the call for a medical expert had been requested. The good news has always been that the call was answered in each of these instances.

As many of you know I get pretty passionate about the state of manufacturing in the United States, sided with a deep care for STEM education opportunities we are providing for our kids. The fact that as a nation we tend to no longer value skilled labor is a crime. It has severely affected our ability to remain the largest manufacturing economy in the world, but more disturbing, is that we have limited the opportunities for our children to exploit their talents and entrepreneurial spirit.

I was recently listening to some talking heads on television that said manufacturing was dead because we are now about the use of technology. What an ignorant statement! But unfortunately that is the belief still held by too many Americans. They still think of manufacturing like it existed in the days of Henry Ford — dirty, low wages, oppressive environments, relying on massive amounts of unskilled labor. We have come so far from that!

Almost every machine on my production and machining floor is run by a computer. Guess what, computers don't program themselves. Someone has to write the program that can create the final part needed, and if that’s for a multi spindle or axis machine, that starts to get fairly complicated.

Making chips fly and producing something out of raw materials is an art form as well as a technical skill and we are losing both at an alarming rate in this country.

The impact of this really hit home during my last quarterly sales meeting with my regional sales managers. As each one reported on their top priorities, they talked about the key issues with each customer and what was needed for the project to go to production. Over and over I heard them report that customers can't find the skilled labor they require to make their product. Granted, this is more than just machinists; their request for help includes needed support from mechanical engineers, CAD specialists, technical sales people, protection workers, programmers etc.

How sad that with the rate of unemployment we have in this country, we still don't have the skill sets we need to capitalize on the manufacturing opportunities we have available. How scary it is that when we call out for skilled and technical employees, the response is mostly silence.

Shame on us.


  1. What’s needed, and has been badly needed for at least the last 20 years, is a federally backed, modernized, long term machining apprenticeship program like we use to have. GE had them. Pratt and Whitney had them.

    The current short term programs offered by the NTMA and the SME don’t provide the necessary skills set for anything other than an entry level machining operator job and that’s not the skill set needed in many of today’s high tech machining job shops.

    It’s time to cut the constant B.S. and get real. It takes years of hands on experience to gain the necessary job skills that modern machining job shops need. Short term programs don’t work and don’t attract the high level students that are needed.

    Here is an example of what I mean by the the wrong kind of machining program. It reminds me of so many of the late night infomercials you see on TV:

    Jon Banquer
    San Diego, CA

  2. Jon thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree that short term programs like you have listed above often fall short of the level of technical skills required for the actually job openings out there in the manufacturing sector today. On shoring has forced a rapid increase in the efficiencies and automation required on our production floors. That is often achieved with cutting edge capital equipment.

    I just returned from the National Association of Manufacturers board of directors meeting. The subject of creating a pipeline of skilled employees is very pressing. In fact for the small and medium size manufacturers that are part of the board it was listed as the second highest concern behind the cost of health care.

    NAM, through the Manufacturing Institute, is trying to address this issue head on. In this day and age of budgetary constraints I do not know how viable a government back program would be, but at a minimum all manufacturers have to look to themselves and their ability to start apprentice programs and support long term education and skill set advancements in-house.

    I think the other side of the issue is that manufacturing has been labelled dead and dying for so long in this country that it has scared off the next generation from seeing it as a viable career choice. We have to work to change that perception. Along with that we have to change what our country values, and that includes showing employees with technical skills the respect they deserve.

  3. Wow! Your comments resounded in my head, because I have been talking about the lack of exposure manufacturing has in the schools for 20 years. Kids don't even get to visit plants anymore on field trips NOR do they have Career Days which include someone from manufacturing. If every single small to large company adopted one Jr High and one High School to participate with and bring awareness to - just one school in their proximity it could have an enormous impact. Complacency could kill the US as a top tier manufacturing power.

    1. Rhonda,

      I agree and we try to work with our local schools to give the kids exposure to our facility. Unfortunately the schools are so strapped for money they don't have the ability to even transport the kids to our facility. We say yes to every opportunity we get to get kids onto our production floor to learn about manufacturing and the types of skills it takes to run our business.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Paul, I read your comments before you removed them. I agree with much of what you posted. I think it is best to learn the art of being a machinist by learning to be a manual machinist.

      But current economics do not allow me the ability to make parts in such a method. The way US manufacturers stay competitive is by being highly efficient and fast and that comes with the CNC style machines.

    2. I think CNC is a great tool for the trade. But there is so many thing we need to know as machinist to be good with it.
      I learned CNC when i first come into the trade. It was fun and exciting.
      But after a while it bacame boring. The fun part was using my head to learn it.
      I worked in a job shop, and the owner seen that i was a quick learner, and knew I was the person they were looking for. He had a special project in mind.
      He knew with all the new technolgy that was coming out, that the trade was forgetting the basics. So he put me to work with all the old machinist. And i mean old, they are all dead and gone now.
      This was the earily 90s. So they taught me the knowlegde of the past 100 years of the auto industry. You like many others may say SO WHAT! Knowledge we dont use anymore. But we do! Its the basic knowledge for all the CNC machines. Same with cars and many other things. Compounded knowledge.
      I feel machinist must have basic knowledge to be better. Its the only way we can compete with the world.
      Who said faster was better. China makes many thing fast. But they are not better.
      I've been in the trade 22 years, and i have seen no matter how fast we get it done, they still take our job. Be it greed or just the way its meant to be.
      We have a lot of great technology that we have forgot about that would make us able to be better. The tooling and machine are not as good as they were years ago.
      The materials we work with are not good either. When USA stop making steel, it has never been the same. But i'm sure they make it faster now.
      I'm one of only a few machinist that can still make detailed part on a manual machine or CNC. My advantage is the CNC is an extension of my skills as a manual machinist. That is what makes my good at this trade.
      I know it takes all of money to train people. So when it stops being about the money, and more about being a great nation. We will just keep spinning our wheels and getting nowhere.
      Oh! And by the way, I work for a big defense company. They just announce they are sending all the CNC jobs to Mexico. They are cutting down to only one machinist.
      Me. Only for building prototypes. Is it bottom line greed? I'm not sure.
      Or just the way its meant to be.
      But i do know one thing, when this knowledge is gone. It will not be easy to get back.

    3. Paul,

      I think we agree on many points. If you read about my dad or watch the videos on him you will find that he openly states that the most important person in the world is the tool and die maker.

      As you write it is becoming a lost art and skill set in our country and that is frightening for the future of our country.

      We have several older machines we still use on our floor exactly because of what you write, they are made much better than many of the new machines. The machines are made of better materials, are heavier, and are able to keep better tolerances with less shake.

      I am not one that feels that China makes things faster or better. I have walked too many facilities over there to believe that. But they do produce product cheaper than the USA, though that gap is reducing every day.

      I think the quality of many items out of China is a ticking time bomb and your comments about their steel is spot on. I just hope that the end product of all of it is not the loss of more human lives. There has already been many lives lost in China because of poor workmanship and quality and I hope that does not spread around the world.

      The only way to change the current trend is for people to start rethinking their purchasing habits. Cheaper is rarely batter, but every time someone buys cheap items from other countries they are voting against the American worker. If we all started to demand US made goods, like we have been doing with the trend toward organic produce, the market would drastically change. But that change wont happen for free.

  5. Machines are everywhere and that thought alone calls for the importance of skilled machinist. It’s not easy to do machine repairs, maintenance and updates, and only a person with the knowledge and technical skills can do this work. People should seize this employment opportunity. It’ll surely guarantee stable operations in the long run.

    -Lance Cessna

  6. Lance, I totally agree. The problem is that especially here in California our schools do not educate our kids as to the potential stability and earning potential of manufacturing based jobs and skill-sets. This is damaging our state financially in the long run.