Tooling by Design



A 4-yr. DegreeThe Road Less Traveled

By: Peter Ulintz

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

According to manufacturing consultant Tim Pearson (Great Glen Solutions, Cleveland, OH), a dramatic imbalance exists in the way the United States prepares future generations to compete in the global marketplace. And in no sector is the divide more apparent than manufacturing.

Manufacturers require highly skilled, educated and adaptable workers willing to constantly retrain and update their skills to keep pace with evolving technology. These workers generally emerge from company- and government-sponsored apprenticeship programs. However, the roughly 398,000 U.S. apprenticeships are dwarfed by the nearly 20 million university students, whose advanced degrees are devalued by the sheer number of graduates.

Some college-bound students may be missing out on a rewarding and financially more advantageous path to an exciting and fulfilling career that skilled trade apprenticeships can provide. Contrary to job-search challenges and student-loan burdens facing many college graduates, graduates of 4-yr. apprenticeships have been gainfully employed—usually full time—throughout their training program.

Pearson also recently rebuked a common misconception that apprenticeships no longer are available (Machine Design, May 2014). In Ohio, he cites as an example, workers select from 86 apprenticeship options, and in Northeast Ohio the production of fabricated-metal parts and machinery involves 86,000 of the region’s 264,000 manufacturing-sector employees. In the greater Cleveland area alone, according to the article, there are 45 sponsors for tool-and-die apprenticeships and 16 sponsors for machinist apprenticeships.

Among the career paths where a skilled workforce is lacking are professional trades such as advanced design and CNC automation programming for manufacturing cells. Welders and welding engineers with skills and experience in advanced high-strength steels, stainless steels and aluminum are needed. And automotive repair shops will have to adapt to these new materials as well.

New materials often require new process technologies, and the skilled technicians to implement, optimize and support those technologies. Composite sheet forming and additive manufacturing, technologies in their infancy, will quickly become increasingly prevalent. And, as fuel-cell technology, hybrid and electric-powered cars continue to enter the marketplace, specialized skills will be needed not just for their production, but also for their maintenance and repair.

Challenges for Metalformers

Tool and die apprentices require training to become metalforming specialists, not programmers, machinists and assemblers. Manufacturers will no longer require the skills of a “traditional” tool and die maker; instead, metalforming specialists will be in high demand.

The die-buyoff process no longer consists of a run-at-rate test and the production of dimensionally correct parts. Metalforming specialists must ensure that strain distributions and thinning gradients in metal stampings correlate well with their computer simulations. They establish blank-edge draw-in parameters, thinning strain limits and springback magnitudes at specific locations on a part that are statistically controlled to ensure a stable manufacturing process. Common tools used by a metalforming specialist include circle grids, tensile-test data, strain distributions, thickness strains, forming-limit curves, forming-limit diagrams, ultrasonic thickness gages and friction-test data.

Where will the skilled workforce of the future come from?

Maintaining and funding apprenticeship programs will serve little good if qualified students cannot be attracted into the program. To stimulate interest, recruiting students should begin in middle school or high school. I remember when many schools offered industrial arts classes, but this no longer is the case.

The Boy Scouts

One place where metalforming professionals can work with young students and potentially recruit the skilled workforce of the future is the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). Among the merit badges Boy Scouts can earn are Metalworking, Mining in Society and Welding.

Says Joe Stocchero, BSA senior development director for the Chicago Area Council: “We are looking for welding counselors. The shortage of welders affects a lot of trades.”

Earning merit badges helps to introduce boys to careers and hobbies. Stocchero says that many young men go on to enjoy careers specifically due to the merit-badge program.

Having served as a scout leader in the past, I know this to be true. As a former BSA metalworking merit badge counselor, I can verify that many young men have a genuine interest in metalworking. But, facts speak for themselves—while more than 1.1 million boys have earned the metalworking merit badge, why are they not working in manufacturing?

Exposing youngsters to skilled trades isn’t limited to the Boy Scouts, and not to just boys. Popular television shows such as How it’s Made and Modern Marvels are at our disposal to educate parents, as well as young boys and girls, about the exciting world of manufacturing and the rewarding opportunities that await.

I suggest businesses and trade unions consider recruiting apprentices in the same way that universities recruit student athletes. Athletes recruited by universities receive campus tours and marketing presentations highlighting the advantages of attending their university. And they’re given opportunities to meet with and speak to current students.

Most importantly, universities routinely meet together with the student athletes and their parents. Family buy-in is crucial when young people are making life decisions. This may sound like a lot of work, but how else can we convince college-bound students to consider the road less traveled? MF


Related Enterprise Zones: Tool & Die, Training

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