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The Brad Pearson Story: A Problem Solver Defines the Future of Manufacturing

Michael Reader

On Saturday, October 10, 2015, Brad Pearson attended Blackhawk Technical College’s Gala and Grand Opening of the school’s new “Advanced Manufacturing Training Center” in Milton, Wisconsin. He was there with his parents, Lori and Don Pearson, and Precision Plus’ Administrative Assistant Luann Dall and her husband Dan. Wisconsin’s Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch was the guest of honor at the function.

Brad is a straight A student at Blackhawk Technical College (BTC), where he is also the student representative for the CNC Technician Advisory Committee. In the afternoons, he drives from Milton to Precision Plus (PPI) in Elkhorn, where he works part-time.

On the night of the event, Lt. Governor Kleefisch approached Brad, and said, “I’ve heard about you and your story! Congratulations!”

 

As a youngster, Brad had always had an affinity for making things, building things, and working on things. He did well in school, and there was no question that after graduating from Elkhorn Area High School, he would probably enroll at U.W. Whitewater to pursue a business degree.

But for Brad, February 27, 2013, would prove to be a day filled with opportunities, as on that day, the First Manufacturing Career Panel would take place at Elkhorn Area High School (EAHS), organized by Mike Reader, President of Precision Plus and JoAnne Pella, CTE Coordinator at the school. Brad was one of nearly 180 students who came to the event to hear industry professionals talk about manufacturing and the highly rewarding careers available, especially for the younger generation.

Brad recalls, “I found Mike’s message amazing, and even thought I didn’t have a chance to meet him personally then, I talked with Mrs. Pella about my interest in meeting him. That request eventually resulted in  youth apprenticeship at Precision Plus in the fall.”

Mike Reader recalls,

It must have been the spring of 2013, when Elkhorn High School CTE Coordinator JoAnne Pella sent me three candidates to interview for the Youth Apprenticeship program Precision Plus was about to launch.

Our directive to Mrs. Pella was clear: We were looking for the “best and brightest” of the next generation, including exceptional character and the willingness to commit to about 3 hours of daily time, starting at 6:30 am–which could be a difficult feat, taking into consideration high school schedules that are jam-packed with coursework, and extracurricular activities.  

One of the candidates was a young man who although did not seem too enthusiastic during the initial interview, exuded with it the moment he stepped on the production floor. Yes, a light flickering in the eyes that proved we had now captured his attention.  I replied to Mrs. Pella that while I had some early reservations about Brad, he had shown a lot of interest on the shop floor, and that we wanted to offer Brad the opportunity to work with us during his senior year.

Brad started out the 2013-2015 PPI Youth Apprenticeship with two other students—one also from EAHS, and the other from Lake Geneva High School.  All three worked directly with Barry Butters, then Director of Education and Training, first covering all the basics in the classroom.  This included basic blue print reading, understanding Geometric Dimensioning & Tolerances (GD&T), measurement equipment and techniques, and machine shop vocabulary—no, not the swear words, but the manufacturing lingo. 

Each apprentice received clear instructions on how they would be introduced to all facets of manufacturing, and that while some activities would be extremely rewarding, others might challenge them with boredom through redundancy. 

After completing classroom instruction, the apprentices worked in a variety of support roles, reinforcing what they had learned, while exercising both body and mind through hands-on activities. These included working in the Secondary Department, where parts receive additional processing; the Finishing Department, where parts are washed/polished; and the Quality Assurance Department, where parts are given a second inspection.  Although sometimes tedious and/or boring, these experiences provide our apprentices with a foundation to draw from as they progressively move from basic platforms to much more complex responsibilities.

Once they had demonstrated an eye for detail and earned the confidence of their mentors, the apprentices were introduced to the Tornos Swiss-Screw machine platform, a mechanical machine used in the production of small, very close tolerance turned parts using custom-shaped cams mounted on a camshaft. Working on the machines helped the students understand the interaction between tools and material.  Once confident on this platform, the apprentices moved through different CNC Swiss platforms, and eventually onto the Miyano CNC turret lathe machines, which can cost up to $600,000 when all tooled up.  The students not only ran the machines, but also inspected them with different gauging equipment, made tooling offsets, and inserted changes.

We often refer to our apprenticeship program as “Karate Kid School,” as the apprentices must first learn all that it takes to get perfect product out the door for our customers.  Some tasks may not be exciting, but every task is as important and it must be considered the most important task in the world.   And every experience is a learning opportunity…even if just to learn why it is important to do it right the first time.

Over the course of the fall semester, Brad was learning quickly and embracing what manufacturing had to offer. He was particularly intrigued by the nuances and the challenges of the manufacturing process and the problem-solving skills required to bring the part from drawing to reality. “Just checking on a part’s tolerance,” mentions Brad, “requires problem-solving skills. If it’s off, I need to offset the problem by making the necessary adjustments.”

Brad was excited about manufacturing and regularly shared his excitement at home. However, there was obvious resistance from his parents, who did not believe manufacturing should be part of the options for Brad’s future.

However, at Mike Reader’s request, they agreed to come to the plant to see what Brad was learning as a youth apprentice. Brad’s parents and sister spent one and a half hours touring the plant, talking with Mike and Barry, observing the type of technology Brad was utilizing, and the skills and knowledge required to properly use the equipment. At the end of the tour, Brad’s parents understood what they saw was not “vintage” manufacturing, but 21st century technology, and have since become Brad’s greatest supporters in his decision to pursue a career in manufacturing.

Upon his high school graduation in the spring of 2014, Brad rolled into PPI’s summer internship program, where he continued his journey. “And it’s been a journey ever since,” reiterates Brad, “Precision Plus and manufacturing are very special to me. One day I may even want to have my own manufacturing business!”

As the beginning of the 2014-2015 academic year was approaching, Brad had to make a final decision as to his next step. He had three options: he could continue with his on-the-job training while working full time, he could enroll in a technical college to pursue a machining degree, or he could pursue a 4-year degree. “Barry and Mike took me around to different technical schools, but I fell in love with Blackhawk Technical College in Milton and with its state-of-the-art CNC training facilities.” And that was his final choice.

Mike continues,

Between Brad, Barry and myself, we set a plan in place where Brad would take classes during the day and work about 4 hours in the evening to reinforce what he was learning in the classroom.  We also had set up a reimbursement plan whereby we would refund him 100% for As, 50% for Bs and nothing for Cs.  Some would say this is a tall order, but the goal is clear: We want to nurture the “best and brightest.” Average does not cut it these days. 

Brad continued his school/work efforts through both the fall and spring semesters, and then brought his transcripts in for Barry and me to review.  It was with great delight that we saw nothing but straight As in every class, both semesters.  A check was drafted and presented to Brad for his full year tuition expenses.  It was a great day for Precision Plus, Brad and his parents. 

Brad is now in his third of the four-semester program and leading his class in all aspects.  BTC and his instructors have done a great job furthering Brad’s education, while we reinforce and focus his energies on how both must go hand in hand.  He is still considering his options for after graduation.

Brad is thoroughly enjoying his experience at Blackhawk Technical College, including being the liaison between his fellow students and the CNC Technician Advisory Committee, serving as a communication bridge between the two groups.

At Precision Plus, he currently operates a Miyano lathe and loves the process involved in solving problems. He thanks his mentors, Ryan Landreman, Sam Kirkland, Victor Moreno and Curt Hibl.

Whenever he can, Brad also shares his message with others as he promotes manufacturing as a career, and a not job.  As a matter of fact, a year after he first heard Mike at EAHS, Brad talked about his manufacturing experience to 200 attendees at the Second Annual Manufacturing Career Panel. He has also talked to students at Delavan High School, has been to the Capitol, was interviewed by the Lake Geneva News, and by the office of Secretary Reggie Newson of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, just to name a few.

As far as the future is concerned, Brad will continue to look at all opportunities, but hone in on his own hope to make a difference and change the world. After all, he is a problem solver.

At Precision Plus, we are grateful for that snowy day in February of 2013, not only for Brad, but also for everyone who has shared in his enthusiasm for the industry ever since.

It is clear why so many people, including Lt. Governor Kleefisch, already know Brad Pearson, his story and his love for and commitment to manufacturing. And there is no question that given the opportunity to change the world, he will.

 

Mike Reader Will Serve as a Panelist in the Upcoming Midwest Industrial Efficiency Summit

Michael Reader

On Wednesday, January 28, 2015, industry leaders will convene at the Chicago Hilton and Towers to share their experiences and knowledge for sustained energy efficiency efforts during the Midwest Industrial Energy Efficiency Summit. This is a yearly event sponsored by Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA), organized to “celebrate accomplishments and inspirations in energy efficiency, as well as layout out the efficiency program and policy landscape for the coming year” in the Midwest. The summit takes place in conjunction with the 3-day 2015 Midwest Energy Solutions Conference, which goes through January 30th.

Mike Reader, President of Precision Plus in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, was asked to be part of a panel titled “Companies Capitalizing on Opportunity,” where he, Rick Sites and Jeff Rehm, will address their “commitments, successes and challenges” in achieving energy and GHG emission reductions, as well as the non-energy benefits inherited from energy efficiency initiatives. Rick Sites is the Energy and Sustainability Team Leader at Ohio Hospital Association. Jeff Rehm is Senior Manager, Corporate Facilities & Global Sustainability at W.W. Grainger, Inc. Panel moderator will be Christopher Russel, Visiting Fellow, Industry, ACEEE.

Reader plans to share Precision Plus’ current processes to identify viable “green” solutions for energy-related scenarios, which include challenging ROI calculations. Reader adds that this arena is constantly changing and it important to stay at the forefront of energy efficiency developments.

Precision Plus Participates at Beloit Memorial High School’s Career Fair

Michael Reader

In a continued outreach to area schools, Barry Butters, Director of Education and Training at Precision Plus spent the morning of October 6, 2014 at Beloit Memorial High School’s Career Fair.

We have developed a great working relationship with the Beloit School District with tours of our facility for their administration and teachers, classroom visits for presentations about manufacturing, and financial support for robotics clubs. We were more than happy to help out when Ryan Rewey the Director of Career & Technical Education at Beloit reached out for our participation in the fair.   What was unique to this career fair was that it included opportunities for elementary, middle school as well as the high school students. We will be also supporting the next Beloit Memorial venture on October 21st at 6:00pm when they introduce a new Career and Technical Education program. – Barry Butters

Here are some highlights from Beloit Memorial High School Career Fair:

Butters explaining to a high school student how the bottle filling component is machined.
 A high school student examines a component with an eyeloop to see the surface finish.
 A group of high school students who visited the table.
 A group of middle school students who visited the table.
 A group of elementary students who visited the table.

PMPA Wisconsin Annual Golf Outing at Lake Lawn Resort a Great Success

Michael Reader

Bill Wells, Precision Plus’ Director of Engineering, organized the PMPA (Wisconsin Chapter) Annual Golf Outing at Lake Lawn Resort on Delavan Lake, which took place on September 24, 2014. Eighty-eight golfers participated in the event, which kicked off the 2014-2015 programs for the Precision Machined Products Association members. The weather was perfect for a good game of golf, and the event culminated with a wonderful dinner and door prizes by the lake.

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Precision Plus Tours McHenry County College’s Advanced Manufacturing Department

Michael Reader

On September 15, 2014, Barry Butters, Director of Training and Education at Precision Plus and John McConville and Ryan Nuhn toured McHenry County College’s Advanced Manufacturing Department to learn about their manufacturing program. The facility was impeccably clean and featured manual machines as well as a CNC lathe and a CNC mill.

McHenry County is one of the fastest-growing manufacturing sectors in the region, accounting for more than 25 percent of the county’s earnings. McHenry County College offers a Fast Track Advanced Manufacturing Certificate, through a program that incorporates CAD (computer aided design, manufacturing processes, blueprint reading for manufacturing and CNC (computer numerical control) machining.

Manual Machines

CNC Lathe

CNC Mill

For more information on McHenry (Illinois) County College’s Fast Track Advanced Manufacturing Program, click here.

Precision Plus Intern Matt Dowell Places 5th at SkillsUSA Nationals

Michael Reader

Precision Plus intern Matt Dowell and his team placed 5th out of 22 teams at the National SkillsUSA Competition in Kansas City, MO.

Matt and his teammates Mikaela Coose and Cecily Fico earned the a trip to the national competition by taking 1st place in Wisconsin’s SkillsUSA Engineering Technology/Design Competition in Madison on April 29-30, from six teams competing in this category. Precision Plus congratulates Matt and his teammates!

Their product, called ecoTUBE,  is an innovative medical tube designed to dispense 100% of any salve or ointment. Watch a rendition of their project and some highlights from their trip to Kansas City.


The national competition spanned from Monday, June 23 through Saturday, June 28, 2014. In the Engineering Technology/Design category, teams of three students demonstrated their ability to design an innovative an engineering project and present those ideas along with a display and live model. During the presentation, students were judged on their performance as a professional team, presentation of their project to a panel of judges from the engineering field, their storyboard presentation model, and the overall effect of the presentation.

Matt and his teammates developed their project while taking the Project Lead The Way (PLTW) capstone course Engineering Design and Development (EDD) at Wilmot Union H.S. Their advisor for the SkillsUSA competition was George Troupis.

HISTORY OF THE PROJECT

Problem Origination: Team member Mikaela Coose’s dog suffers from dry-eye syndrome, which requires regular application of an ointment medication. The ointment comes in a tube, most similar to that of a toothpaste tube, but smaller in size. Because this medication is costly and a substantial amount remains in the tube after it is squeezed out, the team decided they would redesign the current not user-friendly squeezable tube design for these types of applications.

PROJECT DETAILS

Design Statement: Patients find it increasingly difficult to utilize the full value of expensive salve medicine due to the current structure of medical tubes.

Design Objective: Design and develop an innovative medical tube that allows patients to more adequately utilize the full value of costly salve medicine.

Target Market:

  • Elderly or Individuals with Arthritis – due to the limited force needed to squeeze the medication out compared to other containers
  • Handicapped or Disabled Individuals With Limited Motor Skills
  • Anyone Looking to Save Money – The product’s low waste results in cost savings

 Description of Product Overview (As Shown On The Video Above):
The design was rendered in Autodesk Inventor, and 3-D modeled using the same software.

  • The first segment shows ecoTUBE’s assembly sequence
    • The spring moves left into the far left component
    • The assembly moves from left to right, snapping the left most pieces together
    • The plunger gets screwed on
    • An O-ring is added to seal the assembly
    • The product is placed in the tube
    • The sub assembly from before gets snapped into the tube
    • The cap gets placed on it.
  • The second segment shows an working model of ecoTUBE
  • The third segment demonstrates the child lock on the bottom of it. Initially it just spins, but once pushed in, it twists the entire unit

Note: There is also a model that does not include the child lock, and is geared for over-the-counter products such as sunscreen, toothpaste, etc. The team included a child lock on the original design presented, as their target market was medical-type applications.

Personal Project Roles Of The Team Members:

Matthew Dowell – Headed up the CAD modeling and prototype building

Mikaela Coose – Presentation materials such as the PowerPoint and Storyboard

Cecily Fico – Much of the documentation such as the design brief and made the label

ABOUT THE TEAM:

This was not Wilmot’s first trip to Kansas City, as Mikaela Coose (past Senior) and Matt Dowell (past Junior), made their second trip along with new member Cecily Fico (past Sophomore) to the 50th SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference. Having placed 14th in last year’s competition in the Engineering Technology/Design category, Coose and Dowell learned what it would really take to bring their presentation to the next level.

With Fico on board, the Wilmot team devoted most of their free time throughout the school year to work on their ecoTUBE – coined for its economical and ecofriendly qualities – an innovative medical tube designed to dispense 100% of any salve, such as medicine gels, toothpaste or sunscreen lotion.

During the week of June 22 -27, 2014, Coose, Dowell, and Fico had the opportunity to demonstrate and explain their creative idea to each of the judges in personal interviews as well as to the public. They also took on a spontaneous team problem-solving problem, involving building a roller coaster for a marble out of provided materials. The team ended the competition week with a professional presentation of their product. Wilmot came very close to medaling at the Awards Night, but were completely thrilled to find out the team notably placed 5th in the Nation.

Although Coose will be moving on to study engineering at Olivet Nazarene University, Dowell and Fico have a promising future as they look forward to using the priceless experience they have gained to improve and eventually compete at the next SkillsUSA Conference in 2015. Dowell is looking to a future of becoming a mechanical engineer, and Fico desires to be a civil or architectural engineer.

Autodesk’s 2014 $250 MM Software Donation Benefits Every Single Middle and High School in the U.S.

Michael Reader

In an effort to prepare American high school students for careers in science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM), and in conjunction with federal, educational and manufacturing initiatives, Autodesk’s president and chief executive officer Carl Bass, announced the company’s commitment to make available $250 million in 3D design software to all middle schools and high schools throughout the United States.  According to a news release of February 4, 2014, Autodesk’s “Design the Future” program, not only makes the software available to the schools and students, but also empowers teachers with the instruction necessary to pass the knowledge on.

This combined effort  by federal, state, and local government, educators, manufacturers and suppliers to the industry is in response to the lack of qualified high-school and university graduates  available to fill essential positions in technology and art.

Precision Plus  is proud to partner up with Autodesk in this nationwide endeavor by participating in the education and training of future technology leaders.

About Autodesk

Autodesk helps people imagine, design and create a better world. Everyone—from design professionals, engineers and architects to digital artists, students and hobbyists—uses Autodesk software to unlock their creativity and solve important challenges. For more information visit autodesk.com.

Are the $370 Million Wisconsin Receives in Federal Job Training Funds Efficiently Spent?

Michael Reader

“If Wisconsin wants to make a dent in the skills gap, the state will have to make some serious investments in job training, advocates discussed at a luncheon in Brookfield Thursday,” writes  Jeff Engel, Reporter for The Business Journal, who regularly reports about the manufacturing industry and technology  in the state of Wisconsin. He also writes extensively about the skills gap issue and the disparity between manufacturers struggling to find talent versus high unemployment rates.

Tim Sullivan (Photo courtesy of Scott Paulus)

On November 8, 2012, the Tech Council and the Milwaukee Chapter of its Wisconsin Innovation Network hosted a discussion to review recent studies and researches done on Wisconsin’s current investment of its job training funds.  According to Tim Sullivan, former Bucyrus International, Inc. CEO and current unpaid consultant for business and work force development for the state, the roughly $370 million in federal job training funds the state receives are “not highly effective or efficiently spent.”  According to a recent report by Competitive Wisconsin Inc., Wisconsin currently invests less than $15 million in discretionary job training funds.  Additionally, a recently-released study by ManpowerGroup, Milwaukee, studied the topic and made some recommendations to bridge the talent gap.

All involved in the conversation agreed that that there is a talent shortage in Wisconsin which will become prevalently increasing as the current work force reaches retirement age.  Although the recommendations for solving this problem varied, the conclusion was that this was an imminent problem.  It was suggested that the manufacturing sector should also partake in the rebuilding of the manufacturing trade work force.

States such as Pennsylvania and Minnesota, who are actively increasing the funds dedicated to these types of initiatives, were cited as models that work.

Attending the meeting also was Linda Salchenberger, Marquette University associate provost for academic planning and budgeting and co-chair of the Competitive Wisconsin study, who said the initiative didn’t just call for the state government to “simply throw money at the problem,“ but do to it in a way where state grants would match funds raised by businesses, economic development agencies and other groups for targeted initiatives with a proven talent need.”

‘RIGHT SKILLS NOW‘ PROGRAM BRINGS HOPE TO U.S. MANUFACTURING

Michael Reader

Call it a conundrum of sorts…in a down economy, when jobs are scarce while unemployment soars, the manufacturing sector struggles to find qualified candidates to fill available jobs.

Some refer to this void as the “perfect storm:” manufacturing being outsourced abroad, Baby Boomers in manufacturing approaching retirement age, and Gen-Exers and Milleniums pursuing broader-ranged careers.

In October of 2011, and in response to the lack of available talent to fill manufacturing positions, The Manufacturing Institute launched a fast-track education and training program called “RIGHT SKILLS NOW.”  Based on the National Association of Manufacturers’ Endorsed Manufacturing Skills Certification System, the program is designed to provide accelerated, intense training and education to  potential workers, who upon completion of the 16 to 22-week program are able to meet the demands expected in precision machining jobs in manufacturing.

RIGHT SKILLS NOW is a grass root movement backed by some formidable partners:  The President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, The Manufacturing Institute, ACT, Inc.,  and The National Institute for Metalworking Skills.  The scope of the program involves aspects from professionalism in the workplace, integrity, communication, problem solving, and CNC milling and turning.

Several schools around the U.S., including Minnesota and Nevada, have already set up and implemented curricula for  “RIGHT SKILLS NOW” programs.  The first graduates are expected to receive their certificates in mid 2012.

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