July 2012 / Volume 64 / Issue 7|
By Kip Hanson, Contributing Editor
Courtesy of All images: Symbol Job Training Many workers—from newbies to experienced machinists—can benefit from CNC training.
Why would anyone want to work in a machine shop? It’s dirty, grimy and dangerous. Besides, everyone knows U.S. manufacturing is dead. Why train for a career that’s going to China?
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Manufacturing is a high-tech industry, utilizing state-of-the-art equipment and software that would leave your Grandpa Joe, the guy who lost his thumb running a Browne & Sharpe 60 years ago, shaking his head in wonder. Despite what the pundits say, U.S. manufacturing is making a comeback. That is, if shop owners can find enough machinists.
According to Bob Appleton, applications/training manager for machine builder Doosan Infracore Machine Tools, Pine Brook, N.J., this is a serious issue. “Over the years, machinists were told they weren’t needed anymore; the U.S. was going to be a service and financial country. We outsourced manufacturing to the lowest bidder. As the outsourced countries developed, the U.S. declined.”
The result, according to Appleton, is that the U.S. is down to a small pool of machinists as qualified people retire and few enter the field. Worse yet, the level of technical skill required to operate modern equipment has increased substantially, raising the bar for aspiring machinists. “Left unchecked, this gap will expand. Machine operation training is becoming more important than ever before,” Appleton said.
The problem can’t be fixed overnight. Therefore, machine builders, such as Doosan, are taking action. “We have to start by establishing trust in a good manufacturing future,” Appleton said. “And we need to begin training people to become qualified machinists, not operators to push the green button and hope for the best.”
To this end, Doosan provides free basic operations training for customers in all current machine models, as well as mechanical, logic and electrical maintenance classes, at its tech centers in New Jersey, Illinois and California. In addition, Doosan offers non-machine-specific G-code programming classes a couple of times a year.
Aren’t conversational controls and CAD/CAM making G-code programming obsolete? No way, according to Appleton. “Thinking like that is one of the reasons the industry is in trouble,” he said. “CAM systems and conversational software are only as good as the programmer.” In many cases, conversational programming restricts the capabilities of the equipment, and CAM-posted code is often inefficient, in that the toolpath includes unnecessary positional moves and prep codes, according to Appleton. “When the programmer is proficient in G-code programming, he can make the necessary edits to the output code for a more efficient program.”Going to University
DMG/Mori Seiki USA Inc., Hoffman Estates, Ill., is another machine tool builder that recognizes the workforce problem. Rod Jones, chief learning officer at DMG/Mori Seiki University, said: “The biggest problem is that we do not have enough workers. The Department of Labor says there are 600,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs. That number will grow because there aren’t enough young people to fill the pipeline, or they don’t have the right skill sets.”
Perceptions—especially among parents, teachers and guidance counselors—that manufacturing only offers low-end jobs is a key part of the problem, as evidenced by the decline in the number of machining education programs available at schools. “We see two things happening: They are either closing their doors or expanding their offerings,” Jones said. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground.”
Isn’t that contradictory? “You have to consider a couple of factors,” Jones said. “The trade school managers, who might have negative thoughts about machine shops, don’t promote their machining programs like they should.”
However, he explained that trade schools active in getting the message out—attending job fairs and visiting high schools, sponsoring field trips to manufacturing plants and engaging in programs like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)—are the ones succeeding.
Passion is fine, but it takes more than that to succeed. Specifically, it takes money. “There’s a high investment threshold, and government funding is drying up,” Jones said. “The schools that get the grant money can buy new machinery and hire additional teachers. But schools where attendance is shrinking can’t justify the investment. And without the students, you can’t get the grant money. It’s like a death march.
“We have a little joke in the machine tool industry,” Jones continued. “A lot of shop owners say they’ll buy our machines on one condition: We have to supply someone to run it. As machine tool builders, we have to do more.”
Thus was born DMG/Mori Seiki University. “The school was started 6 years ago as a means for training our own people,” Jones said. “But it quickly expanded to include our customers and vendors. We invest more than $1 million annually in course development. We run anywhere from five to 10 classroom training sessions each week, and over the past year have trained 1,200 students in CNC programming, machine maintenance and operation and other classes.”
Jones estimated fewer than 10 percent of DMG/Mori Seiki customers take advantage of the training. That’s primarily because shop owners are concerned with getting parts out the door, and machine operators are expected to learn the basics on their own.
That may be shortsighted. “Consider Microsoft Word. I can open it up, type a letter and e-mail it,” Jones said. “Does that mean I’m using the product efficiently? Most Office users only utilize 10 to 15 percent of the product’s functionality. It’s the same with CNC machines.”
In other words, you might know basic G and M codes. You can touch off tools and fixtures, adjust offsets or even make program corrections. But without proper training, you’re leaving money on the table.
“Without training, you might only be getting 50 to 60 percent of the available efficiency out of your equipment,” Jones said. “Technology is different than it was even 5 years ago—and far more expensive. To pay for that machine, you have to run it at higher efficiency.”
For example, there’s a lot more going on in today’s CNC machine than there ever was on your old SL-1 Mori. “We offer mill/turn machines with nine to 12 axes and multiple spindles, 5-axis milling machines, in-process gaging, broken tool recovery, thermal growth adjustment, advanced macro programming—the list goes on,” Jones said. “Never mind that many shops are asking their people to run two or more machines.”
Despite potential productivity improvements, many shop owners are still reluctant to invest in expensive training. “A lot of traditional classes are $1,600 or so,” Jones admits. “That’s a lot of money for a small shop or one looking to train an entire department. We try to keep our training affordable; figure around one-third the cost of traditional classes.”
And what about the real cost? Training takes people out of the shop, and that means they’re not making chips, right? Not necessarily, Jones said. “We have more than 600 online courses. We’ve found you can get 40 to 60 percent of the training done this way.”
Shops that motivate people to train off-hours experience greatly reduced downtime. “We worked with a shop in Iowa last year that was looking to train 75 people. We set them up with their own corporate training Web page, where they could log on whenever they liked. The total cost to the shop was around $12,000. By the end of the year, they’d logged more than 5,000 training hours and completed 1,200 courses. That comes out to around $2.60 per hour.”Control Training
CNC manufacturers are also involved in the training effort. According to Randy Pearson, dealer support manager for Siemens Industry Inc., Buffalo Grove, Ill., “Most times, training on a new CNC machine is provided by the dealer that sold the machine or by the machine builder. Siemens’ method is to train the dealer’s engineers and give them the tools to pass this knowledge on to their customers. Recently, however, there has been a bigger push for technical school training classes. This has proven successful for continuing education and also with several large companies looking to train their employees.”
The best method for machinist training is a combination of classroom study and hands-on training, using simulators or computer-based software, according to Pearson. For example, Siemens’ control-identical software for its Sinumerik CNC, called SinuTrain, is loaded onto the student’s laptop and used for practical examples and proving out part programs. Siemens has also partnered with local schools, such as Moraine Park Technical College, West Bend, Wis., which uses SinuTrain in the classroom.
Pearson promotes the use of conversational controls for those new to CNC. “Graphical-user-interface controls, commonly called conversational controls, help ease students into programming CNCs,” he said. “The various dialog boxes and help screens speed up the learning process and do not require the student to memorize an extensive list of G codes. I have seen students writing and setting up jobs in less than 2 days. In traditional G-code programming, this would take an average of 4 days.”
All this is great, but what about people who need basic machining education in addition to learning how to operate a CNC? Tom Peters, director of business operations for Symbol Job Training Inc., Skokie, Ill., has the answer.
“We have a 4-month program, half CNC mill and half CNC lathe, and offer intensive, rigorous training with lots of hands-on work,” he said. “We’re geared toward first-time job seekers and workers new to the industry, but a lot of s
The 4-month program
Symbol Job Training reportedLearning Never Stops
go out to the machine and set it up.”
To support this, Putz visits shops throughout the U.S., teaching the operation and programming of Fanuc, Yasnac and Mitsubishi controls. When asked about the decline of G code vs. CAD/CAM systems and conversational controls, Putz said: “Sure [conversational controls] make it easier, but they’re only good if you make a few of something. If you need to make a lot of something–parts for an auto manufacturer, for example—you want the program to be as fast as possible. You’ll always be faster if you use G code.”
As for the job market, Putz assures those considering a manufacturing career that “good paying jobs are available, but you need to know that this is not a job for a lazy man. Learn something new every day, and learn as much as you can—never, never, never stop learning.”
Today’s machine shop is nothing like the place where Grandpa Joe once worked. It’s cleaner, safer and more technically advanced. To help you get there or to make you more productive and efficient once you are, a variety of training options are available—from month-long commitments costing thousands of dollars to no-cost quickies to help tweak speeds and feeds. So there’s really no excuse. Get learning. CTE
About the Author: Kip Hanson is a contributing editor for CTE. Contact him at (520) 548-7328 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learning feeds and speeds and solving part problems
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