Gray Matter Matters

Companies embracing thorough workforce development are routinely coming up with out-of-the-box solutions that often overcome challenges.


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More and more metalworking manufacturing is using advancements in technology. The sophistication incorporated in today’s machining centers, tooling and workholding continue to fuel the complex and automated processes and operations, opening up new possibilities. What was not possible yesterday is now possible; imagine what will be possible tomorrow.

At the heart of all the digitizing, software, wiring, steel, hardware and power is another equally important resource—brainpower. It is, after all, what leads to the development of the technology in the first place. Having the equipment—the virtual intelligence, the horsepower, and the versatility—is only the first step to achieving manufacturing success. To realize potential and get the myriad of technologies to actually produce something requires a person. It is comforting that it’s the gray matter that gets it all to come together. Even unmanned machining requires operators to set up the process initially.

The need for people in manufacturing addresses the challenge of hiring and keeping talented people, from those who develop processes, to those who interface with machinery. In addition, companies are benefiting from those few unique individuals who are willing to think outside of the box and challenge conventional thinking.

The experiential learning approach of apprenticeship programs has been giving way to classroom theory. Unfortunately, that one step has insulated the tangible benefit of seeing, touching and making.

Technical development centers are key to revitalized hands-on training and education. Tech centers, in all of their various forms, combine equipment and technologies from industry leaders and specialized companies to, among other things, replicate plant floor operations. Production operations can be proved out remotely, finding capability and efficiency long before a single chip hits the plant floor.

Additionally, extensive R&D can take place in the ideal controlled environment leading to further enhancements in both hardware and processes. And, those same facilities make for a real-world training ground, providing the best of what industry has to offer, particularly for young people entering manufacturing technology for the first time.

In all of my years of serving manufacturing, it has always been a pleasure to see young people embrace the technology of the day, but even more so to see them use their own creativity once the spark ignites. For this reason, my company, Jergens Inc., has continued to stay at the forefront of real-world training and development, and we’re not alone. Machine tool builders, tooling and toolholder manufacturers, software developers and the entire spectrum of companies involved in the manufacturing process are getting in on the action. The benefit of which is an increasingly robust workforce, and from a patriotic standpoint, an important contribution to the nation’s economy as well as to our ability to compete on a global stage.

Companies embracing thorough workforce development and collaboration with industry experts are routinely coming up with out-of-the-box solutions that many times overcome challenges that can limit or even stop manufacturing. Encouraging the exchange of ideas and getting people to think differently is often where the problem gets solved. Case in point, Jergens Inc. manufactures a line of stainless steel specialty fasteners, and some fasteners are produced on our CNC Swiss machines. Creating programs for the range of fasteners to be machined was an arduous task, given the number of different variations.

To find time savings as well as process improvement, we turned to our machine tool distributor for a collaboration. The product manager’s willingness to challenge old ways and our distributor’s knowledge of modern CNC programming yielded an answer, which is parametric programming: a language that exists within some CNC controls that can account for numerous variables, providing logic and effectively shortening programming time.

If your company is stagnant or having trouble keeping pace with changes in industry, ask yourself what you’re doing to challenge and inspire your own people. The answers are resources that are at the core of what really matters.