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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.

 

Bill Wells Represents Precision Plus at the Wisconsin Aerospace Partners Roundtable in Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Michael Reader

On Tuesday, October 6, 2015, the Wisconsin Aerospace Partners held a roundtable to discuss the possible initiatives that should or could be put in place in order to attract more aerospace business to the State. The meeting took place at the Batten Board Room of the EAA AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Present at the meeting were the seven member companies of Wisconsin Aerospace Partners (Astronautics Corp., Fives-Giddings and Precision Plus), along with Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, and representatives from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. Bill Wells, Sales/Engineering Manager at Precision Plus represented the company.

The discussion centered on the steps which could or should be taken to attract new business to the State, given the strong supply chain already in place. It was noted that Lt. Governor Kleefisch has been a champion in promoting Wisconsin’s aerospace industry to the world, and the attendees were asked to share their thoughts on what the State’s government could additionally do to support the overall endeavors of Wisconsin businesses involved in the aerospace industry.

“There’s just an unbelievable amount of activity in this industry right now in Wisconsin,” recently said Gail Towers-MacAskill, Aerospace Sector Development Manager with WEDC. “These new projects will put Wisconsin on the map in the aerospace sector, nationally and internationally.”

“Wisconsin is climbing as a leader in aviation and aerospace innovation,” recently stated Lt. Governor Kleefisch. “Our assets of industry research and manufacturing know-how, and regional collaboration between manufacturers, engineers and innovators will strengthen Wisconsin and the Midwest’s unique position in the global aviation and aerospace industry.”

Precision Plus is proud to be a part of the supply chain of Wisconsin’s aerospace industry, and a member of the Wisconsin Aerospace Partners.

STEM Education Event at Advanced Manufacturing Center on April 22, 2015 Features Elkhorn Area School District PLTW Students and Teachers, State Legislators and Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch

Michael Reader


In fall of 2014, Project Lead The Way (PLTW) announced a pilot program with a curriculum specifically designed for elementary school children, to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics arts (STEM). PLTW has had a solid record for rigorous and comprehensive curricula available to children from middle school through high school. Elkhorn Area School District was an early adopter of the elementary grades pilot program, the PLTW Launch Curriculum, which gives students an opportunity to explore and apply STEM sciences early on.

Dr. Joshua Schultz, Affiliate Director of PLTW at Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), extended an invitation to Elkhorn Area School District PLTW students, as well as teachers and administrators, to participate in a Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development event and reception at the Advanced Manufacturing Center in Milton, WI on April 22, 2015, to celebrate the district’s accomplishments and receive a special recognition. Also invited were State of Wisconsin legislators, PLTW officials, Barry Butters from Precision Plus, and Wisconsin Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch.

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As planned, Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch was at hand to hand the special recognitions. So were William White, Vice President, Project Lead The Way Midwest Region, Jason Tadlock, District Administrator for the Elkhorn Area School District and Barry Butters, Director of Education and Training at Precision Plus

Students included Cullen Gahart (3rd Grade), Matthew Prokes (4th Grade), Natalie Petersen (5th Grade), Lesly Rodriguez (6th Grade), Gwen Nicholas (6th Grade), Wendy Remeeus (6th Grade), Elizabeth Wallace (11th Grade, Justice Bachtell (12th Grade), J.P. Griswold (12th Grade) and Kathryn Lieffrig (12th Grade). Teachers present were Eryca Card, Linda Frankenberg, Alex Hutson, Barry Butters and Jerry Iserloth. Jason Tadlock and Chris Trottier represented the administrators.

Teachers and administrators were asked to talk about their STEM initiatives, and to showcase their efforts to support education, their students, and reiterate the importance of STEM education policy decisions in Wisconsin. In addition, students from the Elkhorn Area School District displayed their projects and shared the value and lessons learned through their PLTW coursework.

The agenda included a continental breakfast, introductions and welcome by Tania Kilpatrick, CESA 6, an overview of PLTW in the Midwest Region by William White, presentations by Jason Tadlock, Barry Butters, Eryca Card and students, and by Thor Misko, Vice President of Development at PLTW. Dr. Joshua Schultz closed the program with final remarks about the event and the program.

And thank you, Elkhorn Area School District, for the shout out on their Facebook Page!

 

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson Visits Precision Plus During Manufacturing Month 2014

Michael Reader

On October 6, 2014, Senator Ron Johnson visited Precision Plus of Elkhorn as part of his tour of manufacturing plants throughout the State of Wisconsin. October 2014, is officially designated as Manufacturing Month.

First on the agenda for the senator, was to participate in an executive roundtable with local business leaders to discuss the state of affairs at the Capitol, particularly in the area of manufacturing. Following the discussion, Mike Reader, President of Precision Plus, took Senator Johnson on a tour of the plant. The visit culminated in a town meeting with the staff of Precision Plus, where individuals had the opportunity to ask questions about issues that affected them at the constituent level.

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Photos courtesy of Walworth County Today

Senator Johnson’s visit marked the fourth time in 2014 during which a high-ranked public official visited the Precision Plus facility. Earlier in the year, Precision Plus also welcomed Wisconsin’s Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, Senator Tammy Baldwin, and Governor Scott Walker.

In their initiatives to close the skills gap, Precision Plus continues to bring legislators and politicians through their facilities and hold frank conversations about the state of the manufacturing industry and the efforts that manufacturers, educators and organizations are making to overcome it. “The more we can do to show first-hand what we are doing,” said Reader, “the better opportunity to earn their support on legislation impacting manufacturing.”

Precision Plus on the Move: Barry Butters Visits Area Schools

Michael Reader

As part of the continuing effort to bring attention to the manufacturing industry as a viable career option for today’s youth, Barry Butters, Director of Education and Training, and other representatives from Precision Plus Inc. have been traveling to Wisconsin area high schools and technical colleges.

On November 1st, Butters spent the day at Burlington High School’s Career Day Fair.  The event allowed students to gather information from the booths of various prospective employers from a wide array of industries.

“It was evident from the discussions with the students, that there are still a number of misconceptions about manufacturing,” said Butters.

Butters then traveled three and a half hours to Eleva Strum High School on November 7th. Technology Education teacher Craig Cegielski, has developed an operational manufacturing company run by the students within the school. The Eleva Strum staff, students and community were filled with pride about what their program has accomplished to date.  Cegielski’s outstanding efforts bring real-life manufacturing experiences into his classroom.

Butters and Production Supervisor Charles Lankford, traveled to Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville on November 19th.  They took a tour of the CNC Machine Program facility and met with CNC Technician Instructor Rich Grossen.  The entire manufacturing program at Blackhawk will be moving to a new facility in nearby Milton in the near future. The Advanced Manufacturing Training Center at Milton will result in larger capabilities for the program.

On November 26th, both Barry Butters and Mike Reader, President of Precision Plus, traveled to Richmond-Burton High School to speak to an “Introduction to Business” class about the manufacturing industry.  Mike shared the challenges of running a manufacturing business in the current economy, and Barry focused his remarks on employability skills.

Subsequently, Butters traveled to East Troy High School on December 1st to speak to Mark Beilman’s “Introduction to Engineering” class about the manufacturing industry and specifically what is manufactured at Precision Plus Inc.  East Troy is a first-year Project Lead the Way (or PLTW) school with just one-course offering. Beilman shared that East Troy High School plans to add an additional PLTW course each year.  Precision Plus Inc. is a big supporter of the PLTW Program, which follows the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Initiative to promote the field of engineering. The PLTW curriculum strives to provide experiences to stimulate interest in the manufacturing industry.

 

Reader and Butters attended the State Project Lead the Way Conference in Pewaukee on December 9th, for which Precision Plus is a “Friend of STEM” donor.  At the conference, Wisconsin’s Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch addressed the state’s PLTW teachers, where she acknowledged the skills gap that companies, such as Precision Plus, are facing.  It was encouraging to see the sheer number of high school educators working in conjunction with the PLTW program through the Milwaukee School of Engineering to stimulate interest in the youth of Wisconsin toward this field.

On January 7th, Precision Plus representatives, President Mike Reader, Director of Sales and Engineering William Wells, Production Supervisor Tom Lankford, Director of Education, and Barry Butters, Director of Education and Training, traveled with Elkhorn’s District Administrator Jason Tadlock and Assistant Principal Dan Kiel to tour Beloit Memorial High School’s Technical Education facility. What has been accomplished at this facility in a short period of time is remarkable. Steve McNeal, Beloit’s District Administrator, said it was truly a partnership between the school and local industry leaders.  Beloit Memorial High School has also hired Ryan Rewey to be the Technology Education Coordinator to ensure the program’s success.

Butters again traveled back to Beloit Memorial High School to speak to PLTW teacher Tammy Spoerk’s classes on January 10th.  Butters message centered on the potential for a great career in the manufacturing industry and specifically, what is manufactured at Precision Plus

Butters went back to East Troy High School to speak at their Career Day on January 14th. He and fellow manufacturer Jerry Heckel from Heckel Tool & Manufacturing Corporation gave a presentation to 40 students on the skill-set needed to join the manufacturing industry, including problem-solving skills, a significant background in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as experience in traditional metals classes.

Butters plans to visit Delavan-Darien High School and Woodstock High School in the near future.  Mike Reader is committed to the cause of re-introducing the manufacturing industry to the next generation of professionals, dispelling the misconception that manufacturing is a dirty and dangerous profession. Precision Plus Inc. invites any individual or group interested in learning more about the manufacturing industry to their facility for an informational tour.  Furthermore, Barry Butters and Mike Reader will travel to speak to any group interested in learning about the manufacturing industry.  Feel free to contact them with any requests at 262.743.1700 or via email: Barry ButtersMike Reader.