Networking at its Finest

It's a combination of both relationships and technology that drives the U.S. to greatness.


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If you show a genuine interest in learning about how others became successful, you can open up a world of opportunities.
— Armstrong Williams

A friend of mine recently suggested that relationships, not technology, are what drive the U.S. to greatness. I felt a need to argue because I see incredible advances in technology regularly implemented in manufacturing that are building the foundation of our country. The ingenuity that is demonstrated on today’s shop floor continues to amaze me as the manufacturing process gets streamlined to more efficient production of the high quality parts needed to fuel the economy. Surely, technology is the underlying driving force.

But after further consideration, I at least understand my friend’s point. When people are able to recognize the power of working together toward a common goal rather than going it alone, the results are compounded greatly. Doubling the efforts often results in more than doubling the output. And Americans seem particularly adept at making useful connections and sharing knowledge in mutually beneficial ways.

Networking can happen about anywhere, given the right circumstances. But some of the most powerful networking opportunities I have witnessed have taken place at Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA) functions such as national conferences and regional chapter meetings. This year’s National Technical Conference (NTC), held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in April, was certainly no exception.

Like the PMPA’s other events, the NTC brings together manufacturing professionals from North America’s precision machined products industry, promoting discussion surrounding the strategies that help them meet their operational challenges. However, this conference is geared toward the production people on the shop floor who are directly involved with running machines and making parts.

This year’s conference officially kicked off with a keynote address from Dr. Bob Ash, from Life Lessons, who talked about strong leadership and the importance of integrity in the building of teams within an organization (and in particular, on the shop floor). That evening, attendees were treated to a mini tradeshow of sorts that included 78 tabletop exhibits from industry suppliers. The conference proceeded during the next few days with a series of concurrent sessions that addressed multiple concerns of today’s shop employees.

Additional speakers covered topics such as key business strategies for problem solving, time management, training and team building. Workshops addressed mastering CNC programming, improving CNC productivity, and rapid response with machnical cam technology. Three program tracks covered technical topics (such as thread rolling, exotic materials and rotary transfer), quality (ISO 9001, GD&T, vision systems) and leadership development.

The sessions I find most unique and captivating at the NTC, though, are the print review discussions. A representative from a host shop begins by introducing the audience to a challenging part that it had produced (including both a drawing and the actual workpiece). The group is subdivided into round tables of about five to seven people. These small groups spend about a half hour discussing the strategies they think can be best implemented to efficiently produce the part and then present their ideas to the rest of the audience. At the end of each session, OEM representatives provide previously prepared, thorough print reviews that break down how their equipment could best be utilized for that particular workpiece. It’s a fantastic opportunity for machinists to learn new strategies from each other, as well as from experts in the field.

Sessions that generate discussion among peers (such as these print reviews) seem to be the most energizing and productive because of the ideas that are shared and the learning that takes place. These conversations represent networking at its finest, where new, long-term relationships are being formed among people in similar positions. Once established, these relationships are then maintained through time, not only at future PMPA meetings, but often extended into mutually beneficial business friendships.

I suppose it may actually be a combination of relationships and technology that drives the U.S. to greatness. And these cogs come together in a unique and compelling way at events such as the NTC.

For another look at this year’s NTC, check out first-timer Russ Willcutt’s overview (which includes a nice slideshow).