Lets look back 15-20 years ago, how was the majority of machining and engineering work sourced? Reputation? Word of mouth recommendations? Yellow pages? It all worked fine did it not? Especially for those in the UK, with small engineering firms, churning out high quality components. Maybe it was a location thing, you were the only machine shop in a 15 mile radius with capabilities like yours, so work found you no problem.
Even now, it's not to dissimilar in this industry. Reputation is everything - and a few well manufactured parts and jobs can take you a long way. However, there are now more ways than ever to show off your capabilities, using social media platforms.
This is nothing new I hear you cry, I get it, you've had a Facebook account for years and a company Facebook page, of course you have. In fact, if you've found this blog it's probably highly unlikely that you have no social media presence. But there is one major aspect to this that a lot of us vastly overlook and underestimate. In 2018, Facebook has amassed an active usership of 2.2 billion individuals. Even if 0.01% of these users are engineers, machinists or looking for machining work, that's 200,000 people. The potential is ridiculous. Instagram is proving to be another major player, with around 800 million users. Now obviously I'm well aware that most engineering firms have caught on to this and now have their own social media pages and accounts. However, I think they are going about it the wrong way.
Social media is all about interaction. Reality, people being themselves and bringing whatever they are good at into the spotlight and presenting it to the world. Whether that be a big machine tool manufacturer or an independent cake maker producing artisan cupcakes. It's important for engineering companies to be like this to attract a real audience, and inspire them! Probably one of the only big firms doing this, and doing it quite successfully is Haas - they engage with their audience and show things the user really wants to see. Just posting things that have no value are simply a dull waste of time. You don't have to be a big player to have a go at this either. Take a look at Helical_Fresh on Instagram, who takes his awesome design and machining capabilities and combines them individuality which is just inspiring! Or Kemal Alpay of Kalpay who does a great job of documenting his amazing machining work for his company, Rapid Prototype Machining Corp, no doubt helping him to grow his business tenfold over recent years - he's managed to attract a following of 30k followers.
It really is that important, and hopefully we will see some of the other engineering companies being a lot more real and a lot less corporate on social media in the future. Not only is it important for growing your business profile, it's vital for inspiring young engineers of the future - lets not forget, their future is based around using these apps on their phones and tablets, this will continue to develop and further platforms will emerge from this, meaning now is the time you have to be at the sharp end!
If you have a social media account for yourself or your engineering firm, post on it, now. If you haven't - go and create one, as soon as possible...
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So you want to be a machinist right? Who doesn't? There's no better feeling of accomplishment than when you watch something appear out of a block of solid metal that you've spent all day setting up and programming from a drawing. But one thing that I've come to learn during my time in this industry, is that it doesn't come easy, and some individuals take to it a lot differently to others. But what does it take to become a skilled machinist in 2018?
Let's talk about the fundamentals - drawings. I'll be frank - if you can't read technical drawings, you stand very little chance of getting your first gig in a machine shop. This should be the first place everyone should start. Understanding 3rd angle projection is still something that can catch out some people, and it never ceases to amaze me how it can catch me out in the most awkward of situations, in front of clients, fellow workmates always in embarrassing fashion. Not nearly as embarrassing as it would be however if someone handed you a drawing and it seems as though it's written in a language only found in outer space...
A good way to simplify learning reading them, is to learn how to draw them. Grab yourself a set of Vernier calipers, a simple component, and draw some simple layouts of it, dimensioning critical dimensions. Ask someone if they understand what you've drawn - that will help you find the dimensions required to make something simple, and grow on that. Then there's tolerances - the dimensions tagged with +0.00/-0.002; it's simple stuff to some, but to others, understanding that a shaft has to fit in a bearing and therefore cannot be larger than a certain dimension or smaller than another, is quite a challenge.
That's all before we've even stepped foot in a machine shop! I had the benefit of learning to machine manually first, personally I feel this gives any machinist an advantage, however as I'm sure some CNC'ers may agree, you lose a really important part of machining with CNC - feel. It's this sensory input which helps you understand the material you're cutting, the feed rate, the RPM, the way the tool behaves - it's all taught by the connection with that handle. In contrast, I've known CNC machinists who've blown me away with their ability, only to really surprise me that they've never touched a manual machine! It's not everything, but I think it helps.
If you work in a large-batch production environment, you'll find you spend a lot of your time on the same job, obviously. Unless you get moved around a lot onto different work, there's a strong chance you won't work with different CNC controls and importantly different tooling. Smaller precision engineering firms often run smaller batches, meaning one job is generally completely different to the next. This results in a requirement for some fairly extensive tooling knowledge, knowing what tools can be used for what features, what speeds and feeds are to be used for the tool and the material. There are plenty of books and resources out there to give you these, especially the tooling manufacturer, however they're just indicators - nothing can tell you what's perfect, other than experience and actually running the job.
Smaller batches also mean there will be challenges thrown at you when the customer presents you a drawing, with no setup guide or fixture. Understanding how best to hold the component takes a fair bit of understanding - more than I can put into a few words here to be honest. You need to understand program efficiencies, the materials involved, the accuracy and repeatability required, the speed of reloads, the list goes on.
That all sounds like hard work - and to someone who isn't a machinist but likes the idea of becoming one, sounds quite unachievable. However, I can tell you with the right guidance you can get to the point where it comes naturally. Luckily there are many sources for learning to get you started, much of which you can do before even getting in front of an operational machining facility. One such example, a great operation has recently not too far from Atom Precision, is the Marches Centre of Manufacturing Technology. Offering apprenticeships to young students in the UK in many different engineering and manufacturing fields. It's initiatives like this that will keep us striving to continue to excel in manufacturing. If you or anyone you know is interested in finding out more about the MCMT, follow the link below.
Do you have any top tips for upcoming manufacturing engineers and machinists? Comment below!
So some of you may have come to this site, wondering what it's all about.
You may be a job-shop owner/machinist thinking, "Why would I want someone off-site to program my jobs?!" So let me tell you a bit more.
Currently there is a crisis in the manufacturing industry, especially in the United Kingdom. Up until fairly recently, for well over a decade, the educational system has told pupils and students that in order to be successful, and in turn keep the economy successful, your must aim to get yourself to University and get yourself a college degree. This is all well and good, and for some, a very important part of the early stages of their careers.
However, fast forward to now, this has had an adverse effect on one of the biggest industries in the United Kingdom; engineering and manufacturing. In days gone by, machinists and toolmakers were in high demand, however there were plenty to go around. Many people left education at 14-15yrs old to follow an apprenticeship in their local engineering firm as toolmakers - this became a highly respected profession, however, when the digital age dawned, a shift occurred.
The education system deemed engineering a dirty, grubby job. Why would you want to get your hands dirty when you could make websites for a living? Thus, the number of apprentices fell, and although technology kept spurring on forward (driven by those who remained passionate about engineering) fewer and fewer people were available to become toolmakers, machinists, and equally as important; CNC programmers.
I can remember when I first started out, out of my own choice, at an evening course at my local technology college. This was just over 10yrs ago. I was the only person there off my own desire, the remaining students had been sent by their respective companies and bosses, and didn't really want to be there. However I saw the opportunity - I knew there was a gap here to be filled by someone passionate and ambitious.
Fast forward a few years, and I found myself running a manufacturing facility, with a CNC machine shop and 6 CNC machines at my disposal, which sounds great. However - I, like many in this industry today found trying to source and hire quality Programmers was like searching for a needle in a haystack. Mainly due to the older generation of engineers retiring, with no one younger to come up and learn the ropes properly - they're all too busy developing iPhone apps in their air conditioned offices with ping-pong tables...
So what I'm trying to tell you, is that now, it's a time where you can utilise the high-tech side of manufacturing, but without the headache and cost of trying to employ someone qualified enough to do it (and then keep them!). Also, a lot of job-shop owners will do this themselves, which is great, however what they may be failing to see, is that the time they are spending programming a part or designing a jig or fixture, is not time spent building and developing their business. It's just not the best approach these days. There are quite a few companies out there offering offline CAM programming services, with good reason, there are plenty of companies out there who need it. Sometimes it can be just as simple as they have a job from a client, which is too complex to program conversationally or in ISO, but they can't afford to shell out the cost for CAM software - and then spend hundreds of hours learning how to use it. Alternatively, there may be firms who simply have so much work in the order books, their current resources can't keep up, so they need a little help. If you get an expert to subcontract the work for you, you can focus on your business and not worry about how the next job is going to get done. It works!
What do you think? Hit the comment button below the title if you agree or disagree! Would you let someone loose on your CAD files to develop a program for you? Let us know!