May 8, 2023 hireCNC

My CNC Story - Parneet Saggu


Migrating to Canada from India in 2007, Parneet Saggu realized the value of a mechanical engineering and machining background when looking for work in a challenging economy after graduating from George Brown college.

Wanting to share his technical knowledge and manufacturing experience with a new generation, Parneet now teaches at his alma mater.

He recently spoke with hireCNC’s Jon House about his career journey and the enduring value of machining fundamentals.


hireCNC: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got started in CNC machining?

Parneet: My dad is in the trades. He’s a machinist as well. From childhood I had an interest in manufacturing the things I have seen- things being manufactured from raw material to finished product. When I migrated to Canada back in 2007, I chose the Tool & Die program at George Brown. It is a renowned college for the trades. In 2007-2008 it was a recession, and the Tool & Die industry had the worst days during that time. I thought, “okay, why not apply as a CNC machinist?” I learned CNC machining during my studies and worked in CNC back home as well. There were a lot of opportunities.


hireCNC: When you were hired for your first CNC machining position, what kind of things were you doing?

Parneet: At that time, I needed a job when the industry was down. I accepted a low wage, but I was fully utilized by the company independently running a CNC lathe. It was an aerospace company manufacturing landing gear parts. I was asked to do a second operation- just facing the parts. But when they saw me working on the machine during my first week in 2008, right after my graduation, I moved on to more complicated operations. Basically, within the first month, I was independently maintaining and running a manufacturing cell for that company. We had four machines at that time and there were two of us. First and second operations were done by the same person. Time went on and I was selected for some rapid response parts, which means that there was only one off or two off parts that were required. They were urgent orders that came directly from the client, and we needed to make sure they were delivered the same day. I worked in the rapid response cell for about three years.

From there onwards, I got into teaching at George Brown College, and have been teaching since 2011 there as a professor. I coordinate the CNC and a Precision Machining program where I was a student in 2007.


hireCNC: What attracted you to the teaching side of the industry?

Parneet: One thing I have seen in industry, was it was always about taking, and teaching is all about giving. I like to give the knowledge I have to the younger generation and the new generation that's coming into the trades. I didn't only work on a lathe. I worked on a shaper. I worked on a lathe mill, manual machining, threading- all kinds of threading on a lathe. I worked from the smallest part of a ¼” diameter on an OD and a male diameter, to about 36” diameter with 30”-40” on the length. I want to give that experience. I want to distribute that experience to the younger generation. We all know the value of the trades. I feel blessed to be in the trades, and I would really love to give what I have to the students. Another good thing in teaching, is we learn every single day as well. New students come in and they have their own ideas. We also learn some new procedures, same as in the industry. But for sure, I enjoy teaching.


hireCNC: Based on when you started teaching at George Brown to now and moving into the future- is there anything that we need to be doing differently to recruit more students into these types of programs?

Parneet: Well, that's a very good question. The sad part is machinists don't get paid as well as some of the other trades. That's crystal clear. And we know that, right. An average machinist is probably making $35 an hour where in other trades with similar experience are hitting $60-$65 or $70 an hour. And that's the sad part. I think the industry needs to get together and re-evaluate the skills and think about those kinds of wages. You can keep up to your passion while you afford to have that passion. When you don't see the growth, that's where that passion starts becoming depression. I was lucky enough that I was able to move from industry to teaching. But when I talk to the younger kids they say, “if I become a framer I will make this much. But if I become a machinist, I'm going to be getting paid a minimal wage after a two-year diploma.”

It's a bitter truth. I always tell them a machinist can be a framer, but a framer cannot be a machinist. With no offense to a framer, but in 2008 I personally knew about 20 machinists at that time who were laid off from their work but none of them were unemployed for long because it was an overnight switch. They just went from machinist to construction. They worked in construction for a period, then they came back into the trades. We lost a lot of people, a lot of skilled workers in the manufacturing industry made their transition from machining to the other trades. They are making good money.

Right now we need to attract, not only attract- we need to give a clear picture of machining insight to the younger generation. The government came up with a very good plan of putting some trades into the high schools, which is great, but I feel there may be a gap because just having a machine isn't going to do anything.

At the end of the day, the students need to get out and make their living. To make their living they need to go through at least college, and at least an apprenticeship. They should be setting up commonality between the colleges and the high schools. The curriculum that's been taught in the high schools must be easily transferred from high school to the college level. Students should not lose anything they have done in (high) school and should be getting accreditation in college. Moreover, they should develop a nice pace where the students are basically doing this in the (high) school. For example, they should learn fundamentals of machining in the high school and then when they come to college, they advance from there. Now we have 24 public colleges in Ontario, and I would say maybe twelve are involved in the trades. I am one of those trades persons in the college who is teaching in this department yet have never heard back from any school or a ministry where we should be involved. Technically we should be involved- let's develop core and common curriculum where the student who is learning the skills at (high) school get an advantage in college.

That’s going to also shorten up their time for learning. They're going to have more exposure and they can be ready sooner than the traditional way and, help to serve the industry. Manufacturing needs to get back to Canada. Manufacturing needs to be in Canada. Manufacturing is the backbone of any country. COVID taught us a lot. We relied a lot on imports. We couldn't make some of the necessary items in Canada. I think we should be an independent nation and keeping our imports to just fill the gap. Rather than completely be dependent on imports, we should be making as many things as we can “Made in Canada”.


hireCNC: In terms of your students, have you identified anything that would separate a high achiever in terms of CNC machining versus maybe the status quo? Is there a specific trait that would lead one student to be more successful in industry than the others?

Parneet: At George Brown, I would say we've been blessed that our students are very focused. The student who picks the CNC and Precision Machining programs, their focus is very clear. They know exactly what they're going to do after two years, where they are heading. I have students working in a single man shop up to the Magna’s and Massiv-Die Form. Other students were working in research as well. What makes them different is their intuition, what they want to do. Where do they see themselves? Do they see themselves on the machine and producing the parts? I think your personal interest says a lot when you decide what you want to do. One thing I always tell my students, don't be an operator, be a machinist. Anybody can be an operator; you tell them to push red and green buttons. You want to make sure you are a machinist: you know how to set up the tool, you know how to program the machine, you know how to design a part, you know how and where to find the sizes on the drawing, you know how to do the GD&T (geometric dimensioning and tolerancing), you know how to control the quality. A machinist, in my opinion, is a full package of skills where they know how to design. They know how to maintain the tolerances. They know how to calculate the tolerances. They can work as a quality inspector, in my opinion. A machinist is a very highly skilled job and it's a highly skilled trade.


hireCNC: Are there any preconceived notions we should set straight regarding the CNC trade? Is there anything that an outsider who's not very familiar with machining would think that is incorrect?

Parneet: Well, I would say once again, the exposure to trades were underserved for many years and now we see the need of those things. I think there needs to be more promotion. The government took a good step putting machines out there, but we should not let go of traditional machining. I know the manufacturing industry is all about production, lead time, lean time- I understand that. But without a qualified machinist, you cannot drop down your lead time. You can't do lean manufacturing, because when the person knows manually how to cut the material, how far I can go, no matter what the software nowadays can do, we cannot replace reality and a human mind, with AI. We have to admit that we need to put a little bit more focus on manual machining. George Brown is probably one of the few colleges where we teach manual machining to our students. Our students, when they graduate, have a capability of even doing threading (manually). You're going to get people who send you a resume with their five-axis experience and so forth, but if you ask them a simple question, “do you know how to do threading on a manual lathe?”, you'll be lucky if you get 1 out of 100. I've been involved in a lot of hiring processes with the college. Someone says, “I'm a machinist and I know how to run the machine.” One thing I always ask, “do you know how to do manual threading?” 99 times out of 100 they fail there. Facing that skill is a big gap. That's what causes outsourcing. We should be doing operations within Canada- within Mississauga, Brampton, Toronto. We should be doing those things here. We need to educate our CNC machinists.

In my opinion, there must be a pre-req for becoming a CNC machinist and that should be manual machining. If you don't know manual machining, you shouldn't be jumping into the CNC machine. I have seen in my industry experience about 70 people working in a day shift, 60- 70 in a night shift, and probably about 60 machines, all CNC. We had only one manual mill and one manual lathe- understanding that they were there for a reason. I was only person in the company who knew at that time how to run a manual lathe and a manual mill.

There was a time when I had to use soft jaws and they were back ordered for two weeks. We had to ship parts. I just went on a manual mill and shaved (existing) jaws to a smaller diameter on the side. Without that manual machining experience, I would be waiting two weeks for the shipment. Those small things make a big difference in manufacturing.

If we have a manual machine, you don't have to always program a machine to face a part. Sometimes it's a lot quicker to just go on a manual and do some stuff. I'm in a favor of CNC, don't take me wrong. I love the CNC. We can do it on a CNC. But manual- those skills can be learned on a conventional machine- will make you a perfect machinist.

I would like to stress more foundational knowledge for the newcomers to this trade. They must be well served with a strong foundation. And there must be communication between high schools and the college system. I’m not expecting that if I advocate for a school, if I'm giving curriculum to this school committee, that 200 students are going to come into my CNC (program). But at least have students who are taking those (high school) courses have a direct transition to the program, so they don't have any hardship when they come to college. If they are spending 3 hours or 4 hours a day on that machine in a high school, that time must be useful in college and should speed up the process. Fulfill the requirement of the shortage in the trade.


hireCNC: Is there anything you're excited about in the next five to ten years from a technology perspective?

Parneet: Yes, robotics. I think things are changing a lot. I have seen a lot of robotic work coming up, but once again manufacturing will be the backbone. It's going to remain a backbone of the industry. Collectively we all need to advocate our trade and we want to make sure this goes a long way. It's a beautiful trade. It's high skilled. I know back in the day; the Tool & Die makers were respected as much as doctors and engineers. I think that day is not far away again where the Tool and Die maker is going to have similar respect like those people because the machinist contribution is not small in society. We build things for construction. We build things for doctors. We build the things for household. We build and design things for every industry- you name it. Machining metal is involved to produce each single part starting from your desk to an aeroplane. Everything has a direct or indirect relation with machining.

We should integrate the technology; we should do all those things- but should not let the trade go. We should make sure that machining is core for any country. We should keep and promote this more.

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