Darryl Short

Mar 29, 2023 hireCNC

My CNC Story - Darryl Short


Originally from Durban, South Africa, Darryl Short has enjoyed a career in Edmonton, Alberta that’s touched on many facets of manufacturing. He has a diploma in Mechanical Engineering Technology from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) and is a Journeyman Machinist with Red Seal and Blue Seal certifications. He’s performed manual and CNC machining with a wide variety of equipment and launched lean thinking within a large international energy equipment manufacturer.

In 2011, he founded Catchball Consulting, specializing in lean manufacturing and productivity improvement. Later that year, he bought Karma Machining and Manufacturing, a full-service contract manufacturer helping innovators realize their dreams, from prototype to production. Since then, he and his partner have grown the business three-fold, with no end in sight.

Karma has been diversifying into new markets and launched Karma Medical Products to help support the Rehab Medicine community.

hireCNC recently discussed Darryl’s career journey and the vast opportunities available to machinists.


hireCNC: How did you initially get into CNC machining?

Darryl: As an immigrant from South Africa, my dad and his work colleagues have always been in the tool and die industry and machining. They worked for a couple of different companies - Toyota, Mercedes, and also making some helicopter parts.

Growing up in South Africa during apartheid, we were forced to do everything on our own because there was no outside investment. Seeing everyone come together - Mercedes, Honda, Toyota - all building stuff in the same factory was cool.

Knowing that you have this industry and career that is so multifaceted was interesting for me as a kid in high school. I could go and get my ticket and navigate the world and see what I could do.

From high school, I enrolled in the Alberta apprenticeship program and got myself into a machine shop. I started sweeping the floor, mopping up, doing all the chores that needed to be done as a first-year apprentice. I really advocated for myself to go and get the apprenticeship done in a four or five year time span and then move on from there.

I worked at two shops in Edmonton, both tool and die mold making shops which is kind of rare for Edmonton. I started out manual machining and then CNC’s at a night course at NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology). I got my first introduction to Mastercam there as well. Being so fresh in the trade - it just blew my mind all the different things that you could go into. I like to tell everybody how I started, what the trade is all about and share those experiences.

Basically, it's like drinking out of a fire hydrant. What can I do as a machinist? How can I make these cool machines do what we want them to do to make some cool parts that, who knows, could be going into a jet, for example?

hireCNC: Was there any exposure to machining programs in your high school?

Darryl: I went to a technical college. Growing up in South Africa I got to spend about six months there. Grades eight to twelve you would do a whole bunch of different trade specific subjects - like fitting and turning machining, plumbing, electronics, electrician, etc. Then you figure out what you want to do in the last three years and sort of specialize. For me I was in grade eight when we left (South Africa). I started doing a little bit of technical drawing and learning a bit more about engines, how they go together and most of the mechanical stuff. That was my introduction.

hireCNC: Based on manufacturing and machining being a big part of your family, and then some exposure to it in South Africa, it was clear that Machining was the career you wanted to pursue. What about those students who don't have the family connection in manufacturing or machining trying to figure out what to do in college or university? Would you have any advice if they're considering a career in machining or manufacturing?

Darryl: We sponsor RAP students - that's the Registered Apprenticeship Program. Anyone from grade ten can get credits by working part-time in any of the trades. You just have to find a machine shop that's willing to sponsor the students. That's a good start for them. They get paid, they get high school credits, and they get to see if this is the industry that they want to work in. That's one way of doing it.

I always tell people you have to advocate for yourself with whatever you do. If the student has the gumption, all you really have to do is knock on a couple of doors to machine shops and ask if you can look around. Because most people are pretty passionate, like me, they're eager to show people what they do and what they have for equipment. I'd say that as a student, that's the easiest thing to do. It doesn't cost anything to do and will give folks some experience that way. The other thing is probably attending some open houses.

There are some high schools in Edmonton, like WP Wagner, for instance, with technical programs but the RAP program is one of those things that's province-wide, that helps get the students into a documented and formal regiment for apprenticeship training.

The other thing, which is what everybody does, is YouTube. There are so many cool videos. We've had guys spend weeks in their programming, and the result is this cool 32-second video on YouTube showing this massive eight-axis machine making a part in one setup. This is a career. It's really cool. The video and the editing make it mind-blowing. That's always something I show kids- and they're like “What? That’s done here in Canada??” Yup.  You bet!

hireCNC: Can you talk about the progression from manual machining to business owner?

Darryl: School of hard knocks every day - keep learning. As a manual machinist and doing the apprenticeship, I was always looking at the chips on the floor. What type of formations were they? How do we create those types of things? Then going back and learning about the trade. When you graduate from the sweeping and mopping and you get upgraded to running a saw, for instance, then you go to a manual lathe, and you start seeing the chip formations from your cutting tools. Then to a mill where you've been introduced to another axis. And then you're looking at CNC milling machines and a fourth axis. Going through that for four or five years - different shops and different types of products - there's obviously a huge range of complexity from simple to extremely difficult.

Once I got my ticket - that being the goal - I enrolled in Mechanical Engineering Technology at NAIT that was a two-year program with an emphasis on manufacturing. As students would go into the machine shop at NAIT and get some familiarity with the equipment and the machines there, I had a bit of a leg up. I was able to help the instructors and students on the machining side of it, and then on the mechanical engineering side, you learn a little bit more about what happens behind the scenes.

That's what got me engrossed into the mechanical engineering and the industrial engineering side of the business. Upon graduation of NAIT, I worked for a large multinational and started lean manufacturing implementation. Everyone says it's an efficiency exercise, but it's a lot more than that. It looks at your foundational values and vision in the company and how you can do things to take away frustrations and make things continuously better.

Are we doing that 100% of the time? If we're not, then why not? Using my background as a machinist, it was easier for me to empathize with my team. As we started changing some of the processes to improve, I was able to ask those questions - “Why do you do it like that?” If you're in a shop forever and have never been anywhere else, you're not going to see different types of things. I always say machinists know how to do things a thousand different ways. We're inventive and creative. There's not just one way of doing something, but there is always a way of doing it better. And that's sort of the philosophy I took from my NAIT mechanical engineering days.

I worked in a multinational shop and went around to different places - Houston, Tulsa, Bakersfield. I worked there for about six years and then I had the opportunity to purchase a machine shop that had been in existence since 1998.

I purchased Karma Machining with a partner almost twelve years ago now. We've always wanted to diversify and have a product that we can manufacture ourselves. Karma Machining Manufacturing is a job shop, an OEM. We manufacture everything for everybody, ranging from plastic parts to titanium and all the exotics you can think of under the sun that are either going to go up in space or miles down holes. That's the cool part about what we do. We do a bit of everything. About five years ago we were very fortunate to look at a product that we designed and manufactured and looked at taking over the IP on that. We got a patent and for the last five years we've been building that business. It's a medical device manufacturing company, building out an upper extremity therapy rehab device that helps improve the strength and range of motion from your fingertips all the way through to your shoulder.

My brother-in-law lost his fingers through frostbite at the beginning of last year. It felt good to have a product that he could use to strengthen and get better and stronger. It took all those years of machining experience and culminated all into being able to say “Look, here's the tool you're going to use to get better.”

It was another “a-ha” moment for me and now I want to go and make more things to help people. It's great to be able to have that with the manufacturing experience, a manufacturing company and then also being able to take those new types of adventures - to have a product-based company and make a go of it that way. From sweeping the shop floor as a machinist to going into millions and millions of dollars in debt as an entrepreneur, this is what we offer everybody - the dream.

hireCNC: Congratulations. That's a great story.

Darryl: Thank you. It's a tough one sometimes, but the rewards are definitely there. With the medical device, it's great to see somebody actually using it and giving you some feedback right in front of you. It's awesome.

hireCNC: When hiring machinists, are there any specific things that you're looking for, key traits or characteristics?

Darryl: For us, the biggest and most important thing is attitude because we cannot train attitude. We always look for somebody that has a good attitude, a go-getter, somebody that's able to communicate well and has strong attention to detail. Those are the things that we're looking for from a machinist’s standpoint. The training side of it is ultimately something that you do a little bit at school, online and in the shop itself. There are a lot of good programs out there right now for us to hire people that don't have a lot of skills, which is nice. The Alberta and the Canadian governments have the Canada-Alberta Job Grant which will reimburse manufacturers or companies about two thirds of tuition. We've been using that quite a bit with upgrading our employee skills, having Mastercam classes that are specific to different types of products that we do and then also sending them to school. If we found a candidate that has a great attitude, but we think that they need eight months of school, we can get 100% reimbursement if we send that person to school, they return, and we hire them.

That's what we've been doing most recently because we're really having a hard time trying to find people. The other side of what we're looking at is utilizing your platform hireCNC. We're looking at using hireCNC to have a larger reach because typically we will hire locally. hireCNC is North American-wide and essentially it could be worldwide. A bigger net to find somebody that not only has that great attitude, but also has this plethora of skills that they've hopefully gained from different shops and different experiences throughout their career. Tools like that are great. We really think that this platform is going to help us because it's a lot more pointed to the actual needs of what shops want. It's not generic, it's- “I'm looking for a CNC machinist with these skills and I want them to do this, this and that”. It's building that community. We're looking forward to seeing how the platform is built out. You've got a couple of hundred people already on there and only been up for a couple of weeks. It's fantastic.

The next thing is that collaborative spirit. You're building out a blog style platform on hireCNC where it's an opportunity for more machine shop owners to chat. We don't do enough of that. We can help each other improve. We've got some great skills here in Alberta. We design stuff that goes into a two-inch hole, miles down hole. We've got the skills to design other things as well. And having a platform like this to collaborate, share and introduce each other is fantastic because where else would we do that?

hireCNC: Any interview tips if I'm a CNC machinist looking to get into the space? Maybe I'm just graduating or looking for a bit of a career change and want to join a new machine shop. Any advice?

Darryl: Ask for an interview. The one thing that comes to mind is a lot of people just drop their resume off and hope for the best. The next thing is, “When am I going to be contacted to come have an interview? Or can I phone you in a week to follow up with my resume?” Once you make it to the interview, obviously dress for the occasion. Don't be afraid to go out into the shop and look around and see what you're going to do. But most importantly, I think, is ask as many questions as you can, because ultimately our philosophy at the shop at Karma is we want to train everybody and make them as skilled as possible so they can work anywhere in the world, but we treat them well enough that they stay at Karma. I would say as an employee or future employee, make sure that you're getting what you want out of it at the end of the day, because this is your second life- your second home.

Ask those questions, not make it about yourself, but figure out what you want to do. The question I always ask people, and I think I've had one good answer in all these years, is “What do you want to do in five years?” You can go get your ticket, you can go to school and if you don't have a five year outlook, get on it. You're going to need it not only for yourself and for life, but also a lot of shops, a lot of businesses are putting an investment into this individual, into this person. Are they going to be sticking around long enough to have that investment pay off not only for the business, but also for that employee themselves? This is a career. It's not a job. We don't just come into work and push the green button anymore. We want robots to do that, and we must have the skills to be able to program the robots so that they run the two shifts and we only run the one.

And that's honestly where things are going. The mechatronics side, the software side of it. People look at machinists as a career choice as being the one at the end of the road. For me, when I was going to NAIT for engineering, I was asked, “Why don't you go to U of A (University of Alberta)?” A trade is not a last option. I try to flip that, and I think that a trade is really your first option. Get in, get it done, get some experience, get some learning. You'll have a great reputation coming out of that trade and then go on and do those other things that you're going to do because you're be using your trade skills daily. Being a Machinist, to me, is just the beginning of the story, along with mechatronics and automation and Industry 4.0, it's going to be huge, and we need those skills.

hireCNC: Finally, what preconceived notions should we set straight regarding the CNC trade? What does someone who's not in CNC machining think incorrectly about what we do?

Darryl: It's not done in China. That's first and foremost. I've had some accountants come walking around the shop and they say, “Wow, I didn't know this stuff was done in Canada. I thought this was just done in China. Aren't they the manufacturers?”

The other thing I would say is that it definitely can be sexy. It's what you make it out to be. It's not a dirty trade. It's a respectful career.

A lot of parents, I think, would push their kids into the university route, but this is a way to finance your university route and have a career that's really sought after.

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