What's in a Name

Turning Point

Would you rather say, “I work in a shop,” or “I’m in metalworking science?”

Columns From: 10/21/2010 Production Machining, ,

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Chris Koepfer

I remember an expression from my youth that I’m still fond of: “I don’t care what you call me, just don’t call me late for dinner.” A conversation at IMTS with Jim Gosselin, president of GenSwiss, made me recall that old expression from my younger days.

Also in the discussion with Jim was Mark Erickson, president of Highland Products. Mark’s shop is a poster child for lights out manufacturing, and Mark is considered by many, me included, to be an expert in the untended technique.

 

The three of us were discussing the favorite topic of almost everyone involved in precision machined parts manufacturing, which is, “Why can’t the powers that be understand why what we do is important?” Discussions with Congressional representatives, their minions and the omnipresent bureaucrats tend to produce similar results—polite nods and the promise to look into it. It’s like paddling the canoe upstream.

 

We mulled over the disconnection between the skills needed by industry and the skills available in the labor force. We discussed tight credit for small businesses foisted on machine shops by fear and ignorance by institutions whose business it is to infuse capital into the economy. Of course, taxes and the unknown impact of the impending health care legislation are leading factors of uncertainty for manufacturing and the economy at large. 

 

Then, Jim sprung it. His idea is so simple, so elegant, and it just might help. You be the judge.

He says, “Chris, what we have here is an image problem—you could call it a semantics issue. For more than 100 years, manufacturing has been pigeon-holed as dirty, dumb, dangerous and destructive. We know that’s no longer the case, yet the stigma remains.

 

“Look at Mark’s shop,” he continues. “It’s a marvel of precision machining using best practices as the template to compete. He has workers, but they are workers from the new manufacturing mold. They are doers, thinkers and creators. They adapt and apply technology to the needs of the shop.

 

“Technology is democratic—it’s available to all, but it is individualizing technology to the unique needs of the business where the new skill sets come into play. Mark’s business culture and the culture of many other successful shops is one that engages workers to use their talents and improve on them ongoing. That’s the reality of metalworking manufacturing in century 21, but we are saddled with a 19th century image in the eyes of most outside our world.” 

 

So what to do? Jim lays it on us. “We need to call what we do ‘Manufacturing Sciences’ or ‘Metalworking Sciences.’ The simple inclusion of the word ‘sciences’ may help better reflect modern manufacturing.”

 

He continues, “Think about it. Metalworkers need to have command of many sciences. Trigonometry, geometry, metallurgy, tribology, electronics and chemistry are only a few of the subjects that shop workers deal with daily. A part print is just a theory until it is actually made. We do applied science.”

 

I think he has a point with this idea. For most outside the manufacturing community, perception is usually their reality, especially when it comes to things that are unfamiliar. We are more likely to get the attention of bankers, regulators, politicians and others that have influence over our businesses if we can market ourselves better. I guess that adds “marketing science” to our sciences quiver.

 

Jim’s idea is not unique. How about computer sciences? These geeks are basically data entry specialists who have elevated their status by claiming to be scientists. That’s harsh—sorry. I was just channeling my 19th century manufacturer. However, the fact is, we need to compete with the computer industry for students. 

 

Practically speaking, we are more likely to attract a student with metalworking sciences as the course title than machining or turning as the subject. Sure, maybe it’s a little sleight of hand, but I say what do we have to lose trying something new?

 

Think about your next cocktail party when the subject of what you do comes up. Would you rather say, “I work in a shop,” or “I’m in metalworking science?” Desperate times call for desperate
measures. 

 

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