Tooling by Design
Count Your Blessings
For me, there have been many who have unselfishly shared their experiences, ideas and philosophies to help further my career. But there have been four men that have had the greatest impact on my career.
The first was the journeyman die maker I served most of my apprenticeship under, Hans Valentin. Hans was a German die maker with a strong European work ethic who demanded dedication and attention to detail. I, on the other hand, was a long-haired, motorcycle riding 20-year old who barely graduated from high school, and was more interested in working on his drag racing car than working on dies.
The impact Hans had on me was not so much what I learned from him technically, though it was much; it was the fact that he saw potential in me that I did not see in myself. It would have been easy for him to pass judgment based on my appearance and my indifferent attitude toward my work. Hans would say to me on numerous occasions, “You have to come back to work now” after catching me day-dreaming at the race track.
Hans could have made life difficult for me, perhaps enough for me to leave the trade before I could finish my apprenticeship, had he chosen to judge my appearance and indifference. He could have decided that I wasn’t interested enough in the trade and that I didn’t have what it takes. He easily could have given up on me. But he didn’t.
Six years later, in 1985, I applied for a job at Anchor Tool & Die (now the Anchor Manufacturing Group) during a labor strike at my former employer. The owner of Anchor, Ed Pfaff, hired me as a young die maker simply based on my word that I would not leave once the labor strike ended. As promised, I did not return to my former employer, but I did leave Anchor after three months to take a position in a die-cast shop. I was eager to continue learning and I saw this as an opportunity to acquire new skills and expand my knowledge in the broader field of manufacturing.
Nine months later, the die-cast shop filed for bankruptcy and I once again found myself at Anchor’s door step looking for a job. Although business was slow at the time, Ed took a chance and hired me back. Two year’s later I left again to pursue an education in engineering.
In 1989 I responded to an ad in the local paper for a tooling engineer at Anchor. I was attending school at night in order to get into engineering. I thought I had left Anchor on somewhat good terms, so I decided to apply for the position. (I was naïve, how good can it be when you leave twice?) Ed made it quite clear that he had never hired anyone back a third time, but he decided he would take a chance. I’ve been with Anchor ever since.
In 1997 I met Stuart Keeler at his three-day seminar at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Throughout the seminar I wondered why the material Stu was presenting had never been a part of my formal tool and die training. Stu helped me see that traditional tool and die training was, for the most part, all about “how” to build stamping dies. In contrast, he was teaching the “whys” (the science) behind metalforming. I was really upset—almost angry—that I had not learned any of this during my apprenticeship. How can such important topics in metalforming not be part of our tool and die training?
I had decided I wanted to learn the “whys” and hopefully share them with others in the trade. Fortunately for me, Stu was more than willing to help facilitate. He got me involved with the North American Deep Drawing Research, for which I now serve as a member of the executive committee, and also helped me get started as a speaker in PMA’s Deep Drawing Seminar. I would not be doing either of these things without Stu’s mentoring and friendship over the past 13 years. Nor would I be writing this column you are reading today.
Last, but not least, is Arnold Miedema. Arnold worked with me for three years as I gradually assumed his technical tracks in two PMA seminars: Designing & Building Metal Stamping Dies and Designing Dies with Maintenance in Mind.
Arnold shared as much of his knowledge with me as I could absorb as we worked the seminars together. Although I am grateful for the technical knowledge he shared with me, it is his genuine personal concern for others that I admire most. “We all need one another to be successful,” he would say. He truly lives by the words of Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
None of us gets to where we are today without the sacrifice of others. Look back on your career, what individuals influenced and molded you the most? Who gave you their time unselfishly, and perhaps gave you a second chance (or even a third chance)? Who was willing to share their life’s work with you, and mentor you? If you have been as fortunate as I have, you should be grateful and count your blessings. More importantly: Pay it forward and make a difference in someone else’s career. MF
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