As I’m retiring after 46 years in the machine tool and CNC world, I wanted to take this opportunity to say “thank you” to the most important memory I’ll carry off to my next chapter in life. Namely, all of the great people I’ve known, either as mentor, co-worker, employer who gave me a chance, management folks at Siemens who supported my passion for training that culminated in the incredible Technical Application Center at the Machine Tool HQ of Siemens in Chicago, plus everyone I’ve trained in the classes I’ve given, over the years, either in person, at shows or onsite in their shops and factory production departments.
When I started in 1975, running a Bandit at DoAll in Chicago, the hot new thing was the NC tape drive. I worked on Bridgeport mills and other machines, as I continued my career at Hundai, Iverson, Hardinge, Kitamura, Toyoda and Romi, before finally coming to Siemens, 21 years ago. The transition from tape drives to a true CNC was in full swing, though the industry was still accepting the enormous firepower and motion control capability of the CNC. I had Norman Bleier as my mentor and I could not have been more fortunate, as Norm was on the team that pioneered CNC. The man had an encyclopedic knowledge of the process, the hardware and the software. Plus, he had that gift every great engineer is blessed with, an ability to think forward to the next level of technology… and make it happen.
Along the way, it occurred to me that training would be key in the machine shop world, because many of the older guys worked in a way that simply was destined to go away, in favor of the new technology, which wasn’t being taught in schools, not even trade schools, at the time. Worse, with the cutbacks in educational funding, the first thing to go was often the “shop class,” a place where I’d discovered my love of making things.
Today, I can tell you I proudly leave behind a great shop class operation at Lake Park High School, here in Chicagoland, where Terry Iverson and others have supported the place financially and I’ve helped a little with the machine tool selection and emulated controls. To get serious for a moment, if we don’t train the next generation properly, America runs the risk of losing its manufacturing base and that simply cannot be allowed to happen.
Today, that proper training is being done in Covid times and the Siemens Virtual Technical Application Center, run by Chris Pollack, is engaging thousands of current and potential machine operators, programmers and maintenance personnel in all the latest technologies, as well as those good old tips and tricks the great machinists always figure out, in order to keep their machines running at optimum productivity levels. Despite the tremendous capabilities onboard the new machines and especially today’s CNC’s, it’s still the people who run those machines and the controls and even the robots.
I’ll miss some things about life on the road, where I spent 70-80% of my time for many years, with apologies to my lovely bride. Funny moment was a training trip to Oak Ridge, when I mistakenly kept my cell phone in my pocket as I entered the complex and quickly found myself in a room with some men in black.
Today, Chris and I have the advantage of doing everything virtually, which is very efficient, but I still miss that magic moment when you see that a young person “gets it” and wants to take flight, soar and create something very cool on his or her machine tool. I remember having those moments when I started and smart old craftsmen showed me how to do something the right way. When I’m up in the mountains, swimming, taking photos, riding an ATV or just hiking in nature, I’ll think about those moments and smile, because those were the best. And I owe those memories to the great people I’ve encountered, along the cutting path.
Analog has gone digital, NC has gone CNC, robots handle a lot but still need human guidance and the end result is, as it’s always been since I first cranked that wheel on the Bridgeport, the creation of something that didn’t exist an hour or two or twenty-two earlier.
And I still know how to drive a forklift!
Thanks to everyone who made my journey the rapid traverse of a lifetime.