According to Roush Industries Operations Manager Mel Koslowski, one way to address the skills gap is to expose kids to programs in high school that will pique their interest in manufacturing careers. Roush is also investing in training its current employees to operate machines such as the Makino Machining Complex (MMC) cell above.
What matters most to Roush Industries is its people, so it bothers Operations Manager Mel Koslowski that in five to 10 years manufacturers are expected to experience a critical lack of skilled machinists. It is especially worrisome as the seasoned veterans who are currently leading companies begin to consider retirement.
“We definitely require high-tech machining systems like those from Makino for our production operations,” Mr. Koslowski says, “but we must also train people to use them. Even with automation, there will still be a need for a core group of people to engineer the parts, program and set up the machines to develop the prototypes that will eventually end up in production. We are seeing a growing gap between the availability of these jobs and the workers who possess these skills.”
Mr. Koslowski says that he has been to community colleges with impressive machine setups and great programs teaching the fundamentals of machining, but where these schools fall short is in recruiting high school students to join them. That is mostly because these days no industrial education courses are being taught in high schools—classes that traditionally piqued student’s interests and fed the career pipeline.
“Back in the day, I loved metal shop,” he says. “We learned the basics all through high school, and I really enjoyed that. It is the reason why I went into the machining industry. These days, high schools have closed their metal shops, so students have no idea that there’s another way to earn a living.”
Mr. Koslowski believes that there’s still a future in machining, and that students need to be informed of this—that they don’t necessarily have to go to college to be an administrator, businessperson or information technology professional.
“There are kids in this country that have natural talent with their hands,” he says. “They just need the exposure and to realize that these programs exist at their community colleges. They need to know that they could make a good living doing these types of jobs.”
In the meantime, Roush’s partnership with local schools and in developing its own training program has been successful, and Mr. Koslowski continues to challenge other industry leaders to help find a way to address the skills gap.
Gears are expensive parts to make in small quantities. This video from 3D Systems describes how just one gear—for an oil pump—was critical to overcoming a problem with excessive oil pressure in a Mitsubishi 4G63 race engine for a car run at over 185 mph.
English Racing of Camas, Washington, knew that a change in gear size might solve the problem, but the team didn’t know how to get this gear. The complex custom part would have been costly to machine as a one-off job, particularly since one-off prototypes would also be needed to test and refine the design.
Metal Technology of Albany, Oregon, proposed additive manufacturing instead, growing the part directly from the CAD model on its ProX 300 direct metal sintering machine. This video shows the part not only being additively manufactured in this way, but also functioning successfully at full speed within the engine.
Nothing beats a wild, live cutting demo on the floor of a trade show. Iscar will deliver this at IMTS in Booth W-1800 by bringing back an extreme, attention-getting part-off operation it first featured at IMTS 1994. Plus, it has added a second one that’s just as impressive, as you’ll see (and hear) in this video.
In 1976, Iscar released its Self-Grip part-off system and followed that up in 1993 with the upgraded Do-Grip system. The company says the Do-Grip featured a proprietary twisted design and was the first to enable a depth of cut deeper than the length of the insert. At IMTS 1994, the company demonstrated how this part-off system could perform under extreme conditions by chucking a railroad rail in a lathe and parting off slices of it throughout the show. The rail material is challenging to cut because it work hardens, the interruption is severe and the workpiece cross-sectional area varies, creating difficult cutting conditions that would cause most tools to fail. The Do-Grip tooling showed little sign of wear or damage.
Iscar revisits this live demo at this year’s IMTS, using its latest Tang-Grip part-off system. The company says Tang-Grip is a single-sided insert with a unique shape and pocketing technology to further improve insert security and tool rigidity yet maintain simplicity of use. In addition to the rail demo, this system also performs another challenging part-off demo using a sledge hammer head as the workpiece (this operation is performed at 350 sfm/0.004 ipr). Like the rail, the sledge hammer head material work hardens and the cut is interrupted. Plus, its hardness varies from 30 to 50 HRc.
These hourly demos are viewable on the large LED monitors in Iscar’s “Machining Intelligently” booth in the West Hall. Be sure to check out these impressive part-off operations for yourself if you’re coming to the show.
Kent Bicycles, a United States-based company that currently manufactures bikes in China, will be building a plant in South Carolina so that it can serve American demand with American production. This Washington Post article details the company’s move. The article paints an interesting picture of reshoring, identifying the many factors that contributed to the move. According to Kent CEO Arnold Kamler, the reasons for reshoring include all of the following:
1. Shifting Opinion. In the 1990s, he says, offshoring was fashionable. “Made in the USA” was not. For a manufacturer to be regarded well by important commercial partners (retailers, for example), it helped to look to offshore production even for small cost savings.
2. Customer Encouragement. Related to Point 1, Wal-Mart recently expressed its new preference to Kent. The big retailer enouraged the bike maker to shift some production to the United States. Wal-Mart’s encouragement gave Kent the confidence to press ahead.
3. Foreign Demand. International business is doing so well that Kent expects to be able to sell all of its current overseas production outside the United States. Therefore, this shift in production will not subtract production from overseas. Instead, U.S. production is the alternative to an overseas increase.
4. Cost. Cost of labor in China is increasing. The difference between U.S. and Chinese labor cost is not as great as it once was.
5. Worker Commitment. Mr. Kamler found what he regards as a serious attitude toward production-floor work in Clarendon, South Carolina. Many of the workers he observed were single mothers basing their families’ livelihoods on this work. By contrast, he has noted what he views as an increasingly “apathetic” attitude among personnel in overseas facilities. He cites the distraction of cell phone use by production employees as a significant problem.
6. State Competition. State governments recognize the value of manufacturing and are pursuing manufacturing facilities. New Jersey and South Carolina competed for Kent’s plant. Part of the winning offer from South Carolina was the commitment to train Kent’s workers for free.
This robotic deburring cell was one of the items that caught the attention of the 3DRV touring reporter.
Although we have written about ITAMCO in the past (read this article and this one), it’s good to see this precision machining company getting positive mention in a recent article posted online by Forbes. The author, TJ McCue, visited ITAMCO as part of his eight-month, cross country tour to investigate the impact of 3D digital technology and advanced manufacturing.
The article helps get an important message about advanced manufacturing and its challenges to a larger general audience that follows important developments in business. For example, one of the challenges reported by the author, who visited ITAMCO for a perspective on small to midsize manufacturers in America, is the difficulty of finding skilled employees locally to run advanced manufacturing equipment. Likewise, pointing to ITAMCO’s efforts to help structure and fund an innovative high school program is a good example of the radical solutions required.
I spoke to Joel Neidig, the Technology Manager at ITAMCO about the visit by the 3DRV road tour. I’ve made several editorial visits to ITAMCO’s main plant in Plymouth, Indiana, so I was curious about how this visit was different from mine.
For one thing, TJ McCue arrived in his famous, distinctively decorated RV, which is serving as his home away from home during the tour. “He carries a 3D printer, 3D laser scanner and high-end camera and video gear with him,” Joel tells me. The RV tour is sponsored by Autodesk, Stratasys and other tech companies.
On the day-long tour, TJ asked the right questions about ITAMCO’s manufacturing operations and understood its significance, Joel says. “He was especially interested in the high school program and was eager to meet the students and instructor there.” Joel learned that, because TJ had taken shop classes himself as a student, he could easily see how different today’s programs have to be to meet today’s needs.
Now that the Forbes article has been posted, I asked Joel what kind of feedback he has received. All of it has been positive, he says, especially from the vendors working with ITAMCO. “Most of all, I'm glad to see manufacturing get this kind of positive attention. There’s definitely more interest from the public in manufacturing and how its image is changing,” he says.