The YouTube Apprentice

Inspired by social media and unencumbered by preconceived notions about how to machine, this shop owner plunged confidently into five-axis aerospace work. 


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Brian Ickler anticipated a learning curve with his first five-axis machine. However, he says there was no real fear or apprehension to speak of the first time he clamped a heavy workpiece blank by a dovetail that seemed too slim to grip securely. Likewise for the first time he took an arcing cut that put the spindle housing perilously close to the workpiece. He knew he’d have to proceed carefully and execute correctly, but he also knew the technology and technique could be trusted. 

The former NASCAR driver knew this in part because he’d seen it work in the increasing numbers of educational manufacturing videos now hosted on the Internet, particularly on YouTube. From scripted programs to short, amateur machining clips, the site abounds with demonstrations of what’s possible. He says a steady diet of this content made the latest technology and techniques familiar before he’d ever written his first program—so familiar, in fact, that he never imagined himself working with anything less. The shop’s speedy transition into five-axis machining, and from motorsports work to the aerospace prototypes that now account for more than 90 percent of business, is covered in this September-issue article.

Mr. Ickler emphasizes that the strategies described there are more of a credit to experienced friends and mentors than any video. Nonetheless, social media played a role in driving him to settle for nothing less than the latest in machining technology and technique, if only by convincing him that strategies he’s using today were truly achievable.

That drive, in turn, helped him attract the talent needed to supplement his own burgeoning skills and make the most of the new technology. Chris Graham, whom Mr. Ickler credits with significant strides in five-axis machining, says the chance to play a leading role in developing those processes is a highlight of the job. Social media also made a more direct impact on business when a picture of the shop’s first five-axis machining center on Facebook attracted that machine’s first job. 

Respect for these modern communication channels puts the shop in esteemed company. MMS Top Shops data shows that leading machining businesses continue to be more likely to leverage channels like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to get the word out about capabilities and improvement efforts.

With the right strategy, these channels can make a real difference in spreading the word about capabilities. Does your shop have a social media story to tell? I’d love to hear it. And if you aren’t already, consider following Modern Machine Shop on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.