Dave's CNC Story

Feb 21, 2023 hireCNC

My CNC Story - David Mitchell


With both General Machinist and Tool & Die accreditations, David Mitchell is currently Director of Products & Services for In-House Solutions, a Canadian company focused on delivering the latest software technologies to manufacturers.

David details his professional journey and offers advice on apprenticeships, education and skills to be successful in the CNC industry.


hireCNC: How did you end up in the CNC machining space?

David: During high school I had a friend whose parents owned a CNC machine shop. I started working there probably around grade ten - just a weeknight thing where I'd go in after school. Once I got more experience, I was able to work almost unlimited hours on nights and weekends. It was a great opportunity. While my friends were working at fast food places, I had a really cool job at a CNC machine shop - so that's how I got into it.

Then when it came time to graduate high school, I was planning on going to university for engineering, but I really had no clue what direction or field I wanted to go into. I talked to the plant manager at the shop that I was working at and he basically said, “you're really good at this - maybe you should do an apprenticeship with us.” He'd credit me with some of the hours that I'd work. It was great. I went right out of high school into an apprenticeship.


hireCNC: When you were in high school and you were working a couple of hours a week, what were the tasks that you were doing as you first entered the machine shop?

David: Pretty basic stuff and a lot of manual labor. I was the guy that they stuck on the machine if it was a heavy part or a dirty job. Not everything was CNC related as well. I spent months in the summertime outside grinding flame cuts and I did the dirty stuff before I could actually work my way into the better jobs.  I started out on older Mazak lathes mostly, just running production.


hireCNC: Then you did the (General Machinist) apprenticeship. Can you explain how long an apprenticeship is and what's typically involved?

David: Typically, most apprenticeships are 8000 hours or 4 years. The way it usually works is you'll work for a year and a half and then you'll go for a block of two months in school. This is repeated until you have completed 3 terms in school and your hours are accounted for.  They also offer other options for the schooling like 1 day a week instead of the block.


hireCNC: After the apprenticeship, you were full time with that machine shop? What was the progression there?

David: Once I started full-time at the shop, I stayed in the lathe department primarily, and worked my way up to being the lathe department lead hand. We had Okumas, Doosans and Mazaks. Then something came up and I had the opportunity to move over to the milling department. Eventually I worked my way up to a lead hand of both the turning and the milling departments. In total we had over 50 machines there, so I got a lot of different experience on a lot of different processes, machines and controls.


hireCNC: Were you making the programs? Were you using CAD/CAM software?

David: One of the reasons why I left that company was I wanted to get into programming. I signed up for a night school course at Conestoga College, learned Mastercam Mill 2D, and once I did that, it opened my eyes up to what everyone else was using. That led me to my next career move at Kramer Tool & Die. They were looking for a programmer. It kind of took off from there.

When I started at Kramer, it was a small 6000 square foot tool and die shop. They had two CNC’s. One of them, they purchased when I came on board. We ended up with about five or six CNC machines, with one of them being a new wire EDM. We were bursting at the seams and ended up moving to a 30,000 square foot shop where we just started expanding. We got into more production but also kept the tool and die side of things. We grew that to about 20 to 25 CNC machines and then eventually I ended up being plant manager.


hireCNC: Now you’re in more of an office setting (with In-House Solutions) servicing machine shops all across the country.

David: I was getting tired of the 70-80 hour weeks and wanted a complete change and went to In-House in an applications role (initially with a focus on supporting Mastercam customers). Over an 8-year period I’ve worked on the support desk, lead training classes, performed onsite technical implementations, managed technical teams and sales teams, and I’m now in a Director role responsible for leading the technical and product side of the company. It has been a major shift from being in a factory all the time focusing on production, to now focusing on enabling other machine shops via software technology.

I love working with all the OEM’s, whether it be machine tool or cutting tool distributors. It's such a variety. We get to work with some of everything - the latest and greatest all the time. Not to mention the fact that with Mastercam they update things every year – it feels like the latest version gets released and we're already starting to work on the beta version. It's a never-ending learning process.


hireCNC: How important are certifications to the employer? What advice would you have for anybody who's early on in their CNC career thinking, “should I pursue a certification or not”?

David: Working hard for certifications and apprenticeships shows employers that you're committed to learning the trade and growing with their business. In today’s job market, staying loyal is an attractive asset which can help set yourself apart from others who tend to "bounce around." Pursuing these credentials could be essential in finding success as a skilled CNC machinist!


hireCNC: Is there anything you wish you would have done differently in terms of a specific skill that you proactively tried to get experience in? Is there anything that maybe you missed out on that you wish you would have been exposed to much earlier?

David: I would say the programming side of things. I wish I would have gotten to learn that a little earlier in my career. I had my full machinist ticket before I actually got to do much programming aside from conversational programming on the machine. I wish I would have taken that class at Conestoga (College) right at the beginning. It would have steered my career a little bit differently.


hireCNC: Talking about schools, I know Conestoga has a good program and there are a number of schools in our area - Southern Ontario - that do have quite good programs. But in general, is there anything that you would wish that schools would do differently in terms of what they're teaching the students or how they're preparing them to start a career in this industry?

David: I wish that they were a little bit more up to date on newer technology when I went to school. I think this is way better now than it was back then. When I went to do my apprenticeship, most of the students knew more than the teachers about the CNC equipment they had in the shop. I think it's the other way around now. They're starting to invest more in the schools. You're starting to see five-axis machines, and CAM programs for programming. I think that industry is demanding they invest in newer equipment.


hireCNC: Any advice for CNC trades people looking for a job?

David: Get as much experience on your resume as you possibly can. And remember, it doesn't have to be things that your employer has given to you. If you can go take a class at a local community college, do that. Don't wait for your employer to give it to you. If you can do it on your own, get out there and do it.

Also, multitasking is important because there's so much happening at any given time. You're not only listening to the machine run, but you're measuring and making tweaks to offsets. You also may be deburring a part, worrying about taking it to a CMM, running reports and reading a report, all while running multiple machines at the same time.


hireCNC: What preconceived notions should we set straight regarding the CNC trade?

David: You can make a lot of money if you’re willing to put the time in. That may be something (hours) that people like or dislike, but every shop that I’ve ever worked for, there has basically been unlimited overtime available. If you want to make a lot of money you can work as many hours as you want. I do feel like the wages are catching up. Machinist wages have probably been a bit behind other trades, but it appears it is catching up now.  The skilled labor shortage is really helping/driving that.


hireCNC: Where do you see the industry or technology in five or ten years? Is there anything you're particularly excited about for the future of CNC machining in general?

David: I think the addition of automation. People were originally fearing the automation side of things. But I think it's something that we need to embrace and go with because the skilled labor shortage is not going to get any better. We're going to be working alongside the automation.

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