Dec 21, 2023 hireCNC

Preconceived notions we should set straight regarding the CNC trade

In 2023 I asked 12 CNC leaders "what preconceived notions we should set straight regarding the CNC trade"? Here's what they said.


David Mitchell

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.


Brian Warren

I wish CNC could gain the popularity like 3D printing has among the masses. Because when we have the high school tour groups come in, they all see the giant Haas machine sitting there and it's, “oh, that's a 3D printer”. We're the opposite of that. 

Another thing would be we're not just “button pushers”. You don't just simply push a button, and everything magically happens. Even operators have to load and unload the parts, adjust wear offsets, check coolant. 

And when somebody says “shop”, they’ve got a picture in their mind of a dirty, greasy, hot, dusty place. Most of the shops I'm sending my guys to are air conditioned, humidity controlled, clean. One thing the administrators really like about our layout here is that it's always clean. I tell students we're a work room, but we're also a showroom. We're going to clean up every day.

The program name is Precision Machining, but the students call it Precision Cleaning because every day we have a clean up when we get done. We're not ever leaving chips on the floor. We're not ever leaving oil, grease, anything out. We're going to clean the tables off. And then once a week we have a major cleanup at the end of the week. Even when I was growing up, I thought the shops were just something dirty. Some of these medical shops, I mean, they're wearing shorts and sandals to work and it's nothing like what the general public thinks it is anymore. That's probably what we need to get out more as a collaborative industry. But we're so secretive because a lot of our stuff is proprietary, so a lot of the people don't get to see what the actual work environment is like.


Darryl Short

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?”


Matt Guse

It's high tech. Everybody thinks it's just a machine - you're low skilled. That's incorrect. Being a machinist, you're really three or four things. You're an engineer, you're an operator, you're a chemist, metallurgist and have to figure out a lot of things quickly. You must know what tools, what inserts and must keep up with new technologies as they evolve. There are many factors. Every time you run a machine; every procedure is a little different. Things happen, and you must be able to react to it. It’s clean. It's not this dirty, grimy place as that’s gone by the wayside. It's like going to a hospital in some shops. It's fun, it’s science and you’re making pieces of art everyday.


Parneet Saggu

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. 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.


Jackie Heeremans

Depending on the industry or the company that you're working for, it can be a very dirty job, but it can also be a very clean job as well. Some of the customers that I see, I could eat off the floor in there.


Gabriel Kooyers

It’s not your grandpa’s shop anymore. In 2011, one of my advisory committee members who worked at Stryker Medical Instruments gave my great advice. I had been struggling with enrollment. I would ask my advisory members; “How can I make my class and trade exciting for high school students and relevant for industry?” And he said, you want to change the image of what manufacturing is- get white epoxied floors. 

It's an investment, but you change that, and you will start to change the image of what manufacturing is. Because of this, we installed white Epoxy floors and nice LED lighting. We got rid of all the old green machines and changed the lay out. As you walk into the shop, the first thing you see is the CNC department. Three CNCs right up front, laid out in orderly, straight lines with the rest being the manual machine area. It supports the cleanliness and precision that CNC is all about. The epoxied white floor is changing the image of manufacturing. Many people who previously would have turned a blind eye at the class, are now intrigued and interested and because of this I have seen a higher enrollment rate in my class.


Jeston Porter

I think one thing that needs to change is this isn't as dirty job as it's portrayed a lot of times, especially now. It used to be dirty. You’d be covered in chips and oil and grease, which still is the case sometimes. But you can't be afraid to get your hands dirty. You don't have to think that this is a disgustingly, dirty, dingy job though. There are a lot of really clean shops out there, and it's a lot more technical than some people think it is. You say you're a machinist, and some people picture George Jetson just sitting there at his desk while parts are flying by. Some days that's the case where you're running a job lights out and you don't have a lot to do. But sometimes you're running around, setting up over here, solving problems over there, running a part over here- especially in a job shop. It really depends on the day what you're doing, but it's more technical than people think it is. It's less dirty than people think it is, and it's a lot of fun.

I love working on machines. I love cutting metal.

If you're interested in something, learn everything that you can about it. I would advise everybody to learn everything that you can. And don't think you're ever going to know everything, because you're not, but you should take the time to learn. I didn’t do that at first, and I spent a lot of time stuck. If there's any advice that I have- there are always opportunities out there, especially if you learn everything that you can.


Trent Phippin

You don't just load the part and hit the button. There's much more to it- making accurate parts, holding tight tolerances and making sure that things are aligned properly. I get that a lot. I'll tell people that I run CNC machines and they say “That sounds easy. You just put the part in there, load the model and it just makes it.” And that's just not the case.


Sean Datusch

 I don't think the spotlight is on Machining when you think of blue-collar work. I didn't know anything about Machining before I graduated or before I got to college. When I grew up, there were electricians, welders that you hear about when you're in high school, but around where I'm from, you don't ever hear about Machining. I had zero exposure. I had no idea it even existed. 

So, I guess as an industry, we need to get the word out about what we're doing because we're seeing a lull in Machinists. It's hard to find guys who do what we do- at least where I'm at- and that can do the work. We can get the word out to younger guys to get them in. That's where we're at right now. I'm seeing a huge disparity in old guys compared to the generation we're at now. 

When those old guys retire, it's going to be very hard, to fill those shoes, because you just don't have the guys who are interested in it. 


Brett Lister

Just the fact that it exists. I don't even know how many kids in high school know CNC machining exists. Andrew Crowe, the Renaissance man on LinkedIn…that's his passion. I had a conversation with him one day because his whole thing is getting the young kids interested. Getting Mastercam in a school that wouldn’t have had it before. It doesn't do any good to preach about machining but having nowhere for the kids to go and learn about it and see it. Not enough kids know about it.


Zach Burke

That CNC Machining and Manual Machining are in competition. Why can’t we live in harmony here? A manual mill is going to hold its place in a machine shop. It’s not going to be used every single day. But if you know how to sit there and use the compound, you know how to put a taper attachment on, and you know how to do some basic stuff, then you can go over there and cut a thread.

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