With college skyrocketing in price every year, machining trade schools offer an affordable and promising solution to those looking for a meaningful - and even lucrative - career path. Kurt Preisendanz is the Director of Training at the NTMA Training Centers in Southern California. Passionate about sharing the opportunities that machining has to offer the next generation, Kurt explains the challenges that trade schools face and ways that manufacturing leaders can help lead the charge in alternative higher education. Lee Norton is a board member of the California Manufacturing Workforce Foundation, a 501c3 charity that uses their donations to provide tuition and funding to currently enrolled students who are pursuing technical careers. Be sure to listen to this inspiring and insightful episode to learn more about the amazing option of machining trade schools and how you can make a difference.
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Kurt shares the struggles that he faces when representing the NTMA Training Centers at job fairs and high schools. Many parents and teachers push their children towards universities and traditional college paths because they believe those are the best options available. Trade schools are often looked down upon as not good enough for promising students or as a legitimate gateway into a successful career. Kurt explains that this is mostly an American view, as Europe has long viewed learning and mastering a trade as a proper way to begin a career and life as an adult.
Lee shares that while his children are attending university, they have a clear goal in mind. The problem isn’t that the traditional college route is wrong - it’s that it is often wasted and is perceived as the only path to success. That simply isn’t the case. Both Lee and Kurt believe that low trade school attendance and acceptance has to do with the fact that people simply don’t understand the value of what is being taught. The manufacturing world, especially, is still viewed as the dirty factory work that we all want to avoid and escape. Manufacturing, however, has become one of the most modernized and technological industries in the world. The robotics, engineering, building, and software developed and utilized within the manufacturing industry is extremely cutting-edge. The challenge is to overcome the misperceptions surrounding trade schools and machining and to effectively share the opportunity of a machining certification.
Forget the old days of dirty shop floors and being “doomed” to dangerous factory work. The modern world of machining and manufacturing is filled with incredible technology. Kurt explains that while students in machining trade schools are required to learn all the basics of machining, they are exposed to the many specializations that are available, including robotics, CNC machining, inspection, Master CAM, and CMM. Every one of NTMA’s students learns turning and milling and the fundamentals of machining so that they understand how everything is made. The program can be completed in as little as seven months, with daily hands-on instruction. Students graduate with a certification and are guided and encouraged in their job-finding journey. Many leave with job offers and the promise of an exciting and lucrative future.
Both Kurt and Lee believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel concerning the skills gap in the manufacturing industry. Many are beginning to understand and view a machining career as a valid and exciting opportunity. Kurt ensures that his presentations at job fairs and high schools accurately depict the advanced technological atmosphere that is machining. He shares the diverse culture of the manufacturing world as well. It’s not just men, but women as well, who are finding meaningful work in an industry where their talents are valued. Both young and old are finding new purpose and life in manufacturing.
Lee knows that the manufacturing industry is all about giving back. Many who are in the industry grew up in it and have been a part of the Metal Working Nation for generations. Lee and Kurt believe that investing in the next generation of machinists is vital to the health of the industry. Being able to provide scholarships to currently enrolled students in technical fields of study is a huge part of keeping the manufacturing future strong. Be sure to listen to the whole episode for ideas on how you - as a manufacturing leader - can get involved!
Kurt explains that many of the students who go to the NTMA training centers are excited about the opportunities ahead. Kurt makes sure, however, that they understand the level of hard work required. No, they aren’t going to make 100k in their first couple of years as machinists, but what they do have to look forward to is a lifelong career built on engaging and purposeful work. They can grow as fast as they want in the industry - there’s no limit to what they can learn and accomplish. They are investing in a career that can offer them a sense of pride in their labor and skillset, opportunities in aerospace and government - all while supplying them with a stable career that will enhance their marriage and family life. It takes work. But what an incredible opportunity!
Another amazing form of automation is here - the industrial vending machine! Guest speaker Steve Pixley - Founder & CEO of AutoCrib - dives into why vending machines are the Metal Working Nation’s new best friend on the shop floor. From solving the issue of lost tools and parts to supplying a charging station for electronics, industrial vending machines will help manufacturing leaders take their businesses to the next level of efficiency and safety.
Data collection has taken many forms in the history of manufacturing, and now is the time to embrace the most efficient form yet - artificial intelligence. Guest speaker, Akshat Thirani, shares how he solved the software disparity between computer engineers and manufacturers and created a tool to enable manufacturing leaders to meet their goals as efficiently as possible. AI isn’t something to fear. Without change - nothing will happen in your business!
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Growing up in India, Akshat’s childhood was saturated in the manufacturing industry. All of his family and friends had some part in the local manufacturing and production business, and his father raised his children with a manufacturer's mindset. With manufacturing in his blood, Akshat set off for college at the age of 17, studying design engineering and computer software. It was at school that he first noticed the gaping disparity between what computer software engineers were utilizing and what leading manufacturing engineers were using - even though the manufacturers were handling some of the most complex and technical work in the world. Akshat knew he needed to create a tool that would enable manufacturers to work and live to their full potential - a tool that would help them track production time, maintenance, and the data produced by their machines.
Akshat understood that it was no trivial thing to join an AI tool to a machine and start collecting data. Many shops utilize both old and new machinery - making the job of AI more difficult. Akshat knew that the tool he was creating needed to be simple and able to read the “heartbeat” of each machine and distinguish what job was being completed.
The “heartbeat” of a machine is the signature electrical current that it produces. During his senior year in college, Akshat and some of his colleagues created the prototype AI tool he had dreamed of. It eventually became the answer to the machinist’s problems with efficient data collection. Instead of jotting down on pieces of paper or having to manually insert data about a machine or job into an Excel spreadsheet, AI can be hooked up to a machine and learn the heartbeat of specific jobs and functions. AI then transmits that data to a centralized, online platform through cellular data - allowing the manufacturing team to quickly read the pulse on their machinery and work.
Every individual on a manufacturing team has expertise that is wasted when they are required to spend time collecting, recording, and analyzing data from each machine. Instead of having the professionals do the busywork, AI can read, transmit, organize, and analyze the data outsourced by the machinery. Providing real-time data to team members, Akshat’s AI tools can record the speed of each machine being used, which machines need maintenance, the estimated timetable for a piece or job, and the reasons why a machine is not running at optimum capacity. Meeting the core manufacturing goals of simplicity and practicality, AI is something that the leaders of the Metal Working Nation need to be taking seriously and educating themselves on.
Every manufacturing business will have different long-term goals and immediate needs. Akshat encourages listeners to walk through their shops and talk with their team members to identify what needs to be accomplished through an AI tool such as Akshat’s. Calculating the cost of integrating AI into the system may be surprisingly less than what is being spent on manual data collection. Identify what you need to accomplish work more efficiently - and then make it happen. Because if you’re not making chips, you’re not making money!
With so many automation systems available, it can be hard to know which to use to meet your specific goals and needs as a manufacturing leader. Guest speakers Randy Jokerst and Brad Klippstein share how the THINC Developers Group enables the Metal Working Nation to perform at its best by solving manufacturing leaders’ problems through innovation.
Randy is the Director of Technical Services at Hartwig Inc. and one of the founding members of the THINC Development Group. Entering the manufacturing world by way of CNC engineering, he has used his gifting in engineering to amp up machinist’s efficiency by implementing automation systems into new machines. Also an engineer, Brad Klippstein is the Supervisor of the Okuma Product Specialist Group. His manufacturing journey began when he visited a machine tool fair fresh out of college and was asked if he wanted to program robots. Hooked, Brad dove into developing new technology and applications at the forefront of the programming world.
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Having trouble creating efficient processes or closing the skills gap of the next manufacturing generation? Founded in 2008, the THINC Developers Group was created to solve the issues of the Metal Working Nation and provide the cutting-edge applications needed to automate manufacturing systems. The THINC control for machining systems was originally PC-based, and while the developers understood how to navigate and decipher the data collected by the control, most users were unable to view what the control was collecting. The development group was created to enable customers to build their own control interface apps so that they could use the control system to meet their unique needs. The THINC group’s focus is on the communication between the machine tool side and the PC side - teaching people to write the apps to accomplish their machining goals.
Better efficiency is something manufacturing leaders are constantly working towards. One way to improve efficiency while also pouring into your team’s adaptability and performance is to automate the jobs that take away from time that your team can spend in their specific areas of expertise. Limiting distractions by utilizing automation systems to set and send reminders can also boost efficiency levels. Randy talks about how one of the U.S. mints had three separate operations that moved parts from one machine to the next to make the coin dies. Using an automation system developed by the THINC group, they were able to combine their operations into a three-machine/one robot cell that produced all the parts within hours instead of days.
Many of Okuma Inc.’s developments have come from the THINC Developers Group. Through the MyOkuma app, you can integrate the Okuma tools into your systems. Compatible with many different PC systems, the THINC Developers Group plays in the sandbox of the Application Program Interface (API), creating communication points between machines. The vision and goals of the customer are brought into being through the innovation of THINC and executed through their developments via the Okuma Sampling Path.
Brad explains that at Okuma, through the Okuma Sampling Path, they can read, write, and access thousands of data points within the controls of systems and machines. They can make the control do whatever the customer needs through the API. All of the solutions data can be viewed and interpreted by the customers so that they can make the best business decisions based upon the data provided.
MTConnect takes the guessing work out of machine data interpretation. Okuma machine tools and the Okuma control collect their machining data from MTConnect, which harvests data straight from the CNC machines, interprets it, and sends it to the Okuma control. Manufacturers have access to this data through their own Okuma controls because MTConnect is already attached to the control from the moment it hits the shop floor. MTConnect allows you to take all the information processed and pull it up via the data stream to your phone, tablet, or computer. With Okuma controls, there is no additional fee for MTConnect. Because it is sent via data stream to your devices, you can access necessary data even while offline.
Reading exuberant amounts of data can be overwhelming, which is why the THINC Developers Group created several unique dashboard bases to meet the different needs of manufacturing leaders and their teams. Streamlining your automation systems by utilizing a central dashboard for data collection and interpretation will enable you to view and make decisions more quickly. Instead of manually checking on the tools and machines being used and recording the health, run-time, and down-time of your tools, you can see all of that data displayed on a single dashboard. The idea is to create a condition-based, automated environment that allows you to be as hands-off as possible with the menial work required to run your business. Automation systems are all about keeping it simple and clarifying communication between your team and machines.
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