Young Folks Spend a Day at a Machine Shop

It's hard to have conversations with young people about manufacturing if they have never been in a shop. Luckily, MMS editor Derek Korn recently got a chance to take some millennials to a nearby advanced machine shop. Read their impressions following the trip.


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Here’s my shop posse standing in front of Metalex Manufacturing’s huge Pietro Carnaghi turning and milling center (left to right): Katie Cattell, Hannah Coombs, Ryan Korn, Ryan’s old bald dad, Max Egan, Jack Kline and Madeline Kline.

On the first of this month, I got the chance to take a few young folks from Gardner Business Media (publisher of Modern Machine Shop) to Metalex Manufacturing, a contract machine shop in Blue Ash, Ohio, that has some huge, advanced machine tools. The shop hosted an open house to celebrate NASA’s Space Flight Awareness Award it received with the support of some of its big aerospace customers for the work it has done machining critical components for the Orion and Space Launch programs.

My group included my son Ryan, Madeline Kline (our company’s marketing special projects coordinator) as well as Jack Kline, Hannah Coombs, Katie Cattell and Max Egan (MMS summer interns). Most had never been to a machine shop, so I thought it’d be a good opportunity for them to see a good example of a shop that has millions of dollars’ worth of high-end equipment, but also knows it still needs to empower its people and establish the right corporate culture to be successful. Plus, we got to hear astronaut Brian Duffy tell some neat space stories, which I don’t get to experience on my normal shop visits.

After the visit, I asked each of them to write about things they found interesting or surprising about the event itself, the company, the technology, the people…whatever they liked. What follows is an overview of what they said.

Jack noticed the interplay between people and processes. He notes that one of the company’s mottos is “learn something new every day,” and also liked its concept of not having bosses, but rather having everyone working as partners. Jack also learned that each employee has his/her own personal “playbook” that they use and update every day to keep all of their responsibilities straight. At the end of every year, their performance is assessed and they are spurred to improve.

He also picked up on the value of spending a little bit of extra money to grind custom cutting tools, because the shop can create a more specific tool for a given job as opposed to buying one that doesn't perform quite as well from a bigger tool company.

Similarly, Madeline noticed there was so much knowledge to be absorbed within the shop that learning something new every day might not be so much of a challenge for employees. The fact that engineers and employees are familiar with a wide variety of machine tools was very interesting to her, too, because many of the shops she has toured primarily use only one machine brand. (Plus, it was the largest shop she had ever seen, and we didn’t even get the chance to see the shop’s grinding facility.)

Madeline appreciated how passionate the Metalex employees are about their jobs. “Hearing them talk about manufacturing with so much excitement and knowledge was inspiring.”

I asked my son, Ryan, to tag along because he starts college this fall at the University of Cincinnati studying aerospace engineering, and figured it would be helpful to see how parts engineers design are ultimately machined. He was amazed not only with the size of the machines, but also how precise and finely detailed that equipment could machine big parts.

One of his favorite parts the shop machines is a four-port manifold that acts as an emergency ejection system for the crew of the Orion spacecraft to be safely ejected if something goes wrong during takeoff. “It is parts like these that I want to design in my aerospace engineering career—parts that could possibly save lives. The experience I had visiting Metalex was inspirational, because I know what I plan to do in my future will make a difference.”

Katie says what struck her the most about the visit to Metalex, beyond the absolutely massive equipment, was the equally massive impact that its products had on the lives of the people that used them. “For the average person, it’s easy to forget that many of the things we rely upon on a daily basis probably originated in a machine shop. Until about two weeks ago, I knew almost nothing about machine shops, so for me, this has all been one big learning process.”

She thinks Brian Duffy articulated it best when he talked about visiting various machine shops during his career as an astronaut. “He used to carry a picture of his family with him on all of those visits in order to humanize the work that the machine shops were doing. He would show that picture to the machine operators and tell them that he, and his family, were depending on them to get him home safely. In the same way that he humanized himself to the machine operators, I think it’s important that we humanize the work that these machines are doing.

“It’s easy to sit in the office reading product releases for different machines and not truly grasp the importance of what they are doing. However, being able to go into the shop and talk to the people who were behind the machine brought to light the things that, up until that point, I had only been reading about. Overall, the most significant lesson that I took away from my first shop visit was the integral role that machine shops play in our everyday lives, despite how easy it is to take them for granted.”

Hannah went full blog-post on me, and you can find her thoughts here.

Max did too.

I've told my son about some of the neat manufacturers I have gotten to visit for my job. However, it has to be challenging for him to grasp what their capabilities are and what impact they have on everyone’s lives just by the conversations we have.

You really have to visit to understand, and I'm happy we got to do that the other day. I just wish more young people got this type of opportunity.


In addition to being introduced to machining technology, the group learned of the importance of inspection and measurement.