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Machine Shops with Engineers?

tlwhite0311

Plastic
Joined
Nov 27, 2017
Location
Albuquerque, NM
I am an ME and have been working in R&D for about 4 years. Had my start in manufacturing but they were small companies that barely understood the value of modern software. I came to R&D so that I could learn the proper design process and get more experience and confidence in designing fixtures and other types of things that would be needed in Automation or alterations to existing machinery etc. When I was in school I almost wen't the machinist route because I love CNC machines and the like, but ended going with engineering. Since then, I have always dreamed of being a manfucturing/mechanical/automation whatever you want to call it engineer in a high end job shop that would help with increasing throughput and maybe even implementing lights out processes, but have little success in finding those that would hire someone like that. Most shops seem to be smaller in nature and less concerned with that sort of thing. In my search I have found a place in Pheonix, AZ and Portland, OR but that's about it. I have sent endless emails to random shops all over the west coast but never get a reply. Is this a pretty rare thing in the wild?
 
You are not wrong but, the world still isn't ready for you. Had things gone differently ten years ago, I'd have hired you in a heartbeat. With your desires and background, I would look into manufacturing engineering jobs at larger manufacturing companies. The realities of CNC, robotic loaders, robotic welders, robotic everything, work cell design, etc, etc, demand that they need people with exactly your skills. The problem is: most upper level management still thinks that manufacturing is a very-mildly technical job and beneath a proper engineer. They don't have a clue.
 
Big outfits have long had MEs in manufacturing positions. My experience is from a while back, but the pay used to be not great compared with other ME opportunities.
 
You are not wrong but, the world still isn't ready for you. Had things gone differently ten years ago, I'd have hired you in a heartbeat. With your desires and background, I would look into manufacturing engineering jobs at larger manufacturing companies. The realities of CNC, robotic loaders, robotic welders, robotic everything, work cell design, etc, etc, demand that they need people with exactly your skills. The problem is: most upper level management still thinks that manufacturing is a very-mildly technical job and beneath a proper engineer. They don't have a clue.
Your words give me hope. What companies should I exactly target then? When I look for Manufacturing companies I get a plethora of different kinds, so what I usually have to do is zoom into an area on google maps and search "Machine Shop" and then go through each one by hand, thats how I found those two companies, or I zoom into areas with a lot of white buildings as those are usually the industrial areas and just click and drag around and click on different buildings because sometimes shops will get filtered out even when I do the search.

When you say: "Upper level management still thinks that manufacturing is a very-mildly technical job beneath a proper engineer" can you elaborate a bit. I think you mean that they don't think it's worth someone at engineers salary to be on payroll because machining is like easier or something? I visit shops on the reg for my current job and I'm always looking at their layouts and setups and just thinking about how they could move things around and put a robot cell here or there and make things really happen.

Let me ask you one last stupid question. How stupid am I, to think I could possibly do it myself? I have ran CNC machines before, and even though I lack the experience of guys that have been making chips for decades, I know I am not an idiot. I was looking at Tormach machines as they look to be the most affordable. I could possibly rent a room from somebody so that I can save up for a down payment on a house with a garage or even better a live in commercial space (which I don't even know exists) and the save up for the machine. I could build a robot arm with an Rpi or arduino for basic loading and unloading. In fact I have a 3D printer I could start with before I even get into all that. There is the fear of getting over my head though, and because I don't live in a shop everyday, this all may just be wishful thinking.
 
Any mtb builder. Not just machinist machines- any and all machines. Printers to candlestick makers to swimming pool cleaning robots, and those builders use engineers/designers. Many of those do not use automation because everything is near one off.
 
Your words give me hope.
I'll dive into this but, first: what do YOU want to do with your life? I know that sounds like a cliche question but, if you could do any job for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Being a business owner means you will need to deal with employees, all their lives and failings, the government, taxes, rent, blah, blah.

Do you want to be a job shop? My opinion is that this is a tough market to get into because there is no way to set yourself apart. Some are really good at it and others are meh.

Do you want to manufacture your own products? What are they? Do you have design skills now or do you need to hone them for a few years?

Do you want to be the dude in a large company where you travel constantly and set up other manufacturers?

All the answers to what you asked depend on what you think about above.

When you say: "Upper level management still thinks that manufacturing is a very-mildly technical job beneath a proper engineer" can you elaborate a bit. I think you mean that they don't think it's worth someone at engineers salary to be on payroll because machining is like easier or something?
Yes. Most design engineers and nearly all of their managers think that a CNC machine is like a 3D printer. You take the step file, flush it through something akin to slicer software and put it in the machine. The machine automatically knows what to do from that point on. People are getting sick of reading me posting this but, I did corporate 2D and 3D CAD training for five years. I know how hard it is to cram good modeling skills down the throat of an "average engineer."

I put that in quotes because there are some engineers that can do magic. A full half to two thirds of them aren't that good and I would dread the thought of having to teach some of them all that goes into just Mastercam, much less all the features and idiosyncrasies of a machine control. Someone will come along and say it's not that big of a deal. Well, they would have probably been a good engineer too and don't appreciate how difficult all these skills can be when stacked on top of one-another.

How stupid am I, to think I could possibly do it myself? I have ran CNC machines before, and even though I lack the experience of guys that have been making chips for decades,
Why wouldn't you be able to do it yourself?

I know I am not an idiot. I was looking at Tormach machines as they look to be the most affordable.
There are people here who will say you're an idiot for writing those two sentences so close together. 🤣 No, no Tormach. If you're an engineer, you'll have money for at least a Haas in no time. Others will be along to argue their favorite brands. This post is already a wall of text.

My first advice would be to get some design engineering jobs under your belt. Pick a manufacturer. Doesn't matter if they make faucets or farm implements or desks. They will have design opportunities to hone and develop your skills. You'll learn from all the mistakes they've already made. You'll learn from the things they got right that you hadn't considered. Dive in when given an opportunity, even when it's "not my job." Yeah, you might become the expert and not get paid but, experience is portable. It goes with you when you leave. When you can get paid to learn it on someone else's dime, all the better.

Oh, and get good at finding things in the McMaster catalog. There was absolutely nothing I couldn't fix with a corporate purchasing card and a few CNC machines. McMaster was a huge chunk of that. I'm not joking. You need to know what's in that book. They have coffee makers, desk chairs, carbide end mills and mold heaters. Knowing you can get something, where to get it and how to fix things begins there.
 
I'll dive into this but, first: what do YOU want to do with your life? I know that sounds like a cliche question but, if you could do any job for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Being a business owner means you will need to deal with employees, all their lives and failings, the government, taxes, rent, blah, blah.

Do you want to be a job shop? My opinion is that this is a tough market to get into because there is no way to set yourself apart. Some are really good at it and others are meh.

Do you want to manufacture your own products? What are they? Do you have design skills now or do you need to hone them for a few years?

Do you want to be the dude in a large company where you travel constantly and set up other manufacturers?

All the answers to what you asked depend on what you think about above.


Yes. Most design engineers and nearly all of their managers think that a CNC machine is like a 3D printer. You take the step file, flush it through something akin to slicer software and put it in the machine. The machine automatically knows what to do from that point on. People are getting sick of reading me posting this but, I did corporate 2D and 3D CAD training for five years. I know how hard it is to cram good modeling skills down the throat of an "average engineer."

I put that in quotes because there are some engineers that can do magic. A full half to two thirds of them aren't that good and I would dread the thought of having to teach some of them all that goes into just Mastercam, much less all the features and idiosyncrasies of a machine control. Someone will come along and say it's not that big of a deal. Well, they would have probably been a good engineer too and don't appreciate how difficult all these skills can be when stacked on top of one-another.


Why wouldn't you be able to do it yourself?


There are people here who will say you're an idiot for writing those two sentences so close together. 🤣 No, no Tormach. If you're an engineer, you'll have money for at least a Haas in no time. Others will be along to argue their favorite brands. This post is already a wall of text.

My first advice would be to get some design engineering jobs under your belt. Pick a manufacturer. Doesn't matter if they make faucets or farm implements or desks. They will have design opportunities to hone and develop your skills. You'll learn from all the mistakes they've already made. You'll learn from the things they got right that you hadn't considered. Dive in when given an opportunity, even when it's "not my job." Yeah, you might become the expert and not get paid but, experience is portable. It goes with you when you leave. When you can get paid to learn it on someone else's dime, all the better.

Oh, and get good at finding things in the McMaster catalog. There was absolutely nothing I couldn't fix with a corporate purchasing card and a few CNC machines. McMaster was a huge chunk of that. I'm not joking. You need to know what's in that book. They have coffee makers, desk chairs, carbide end mills and mold heaters. Knowing you can get something, where to get it and how to fix things begins there.
I guess I have a lot to think about. Until then I’ll keep searching and keep doing my design job. Thank you for your advice.
 
Wait, your info says you're at Sandia labs. Are you there? You have a job?
Yes I am at Sandia before that I was at Los Alamos. Before that I was at two small manufacturers, one did blown film extrusion for flexible packaging and plastic retail bags and another one was a lumber company that made doors and windows.
 
What does it take to get someone in that stupid place to answer their phone or email? Smoke signals? Congressional order?

A buddy was trying to get someone associated with this to respond and it was shouting into a black hole:


The opportunity came, simmered and died in the time it was taking to get hold of them. Major applications for the technology.

You're already in the place all young engineers want to be. I've been told that being an engineer at Disneyland is way less cool than it sounds (literally by an engineer who worked at Disneyland--I call him the dream killer).
 
What does it take to get someone in that stupid place to answer their phone or email? Smoke signals? Congressional order?

A buddy was trying to get someone associated with this to respond and it was shouting into a black hole:


The opportunity came, simmered and died in the time it was taking to get hold of them. Major applications for the technology.

You're already in the place all young engineers want to be. I've been told that being an engineer at Disneyland is way less cool than it sounds (literally by an engineer who worked at Disneyland--I call him the dream killer).
Sandia is one of three nuclear weapon design labs. It’s also a massive government organization. Keyword government. Everything is highly compartmentalized. I don’t think you can just call down. Depending on the classification level it can be hard. I feel bad for the shops that have to deal with us, we have an entire liaison system that interfaces with them. He could try to get a hold of the author of that research through other means such as LinkedIn or professional societies. I’m actually happy you sent that link over, because that shit is interesting as most things are in a place like that.
 
He could try to get a hold of the author of that research through other means such as LinkedIn or professional societies. I’m actually happy you sent that link over, because that shit is interesting as most things are in a place like that.
He did try to contact them, from a company email address at a major defense contractor. I personally scrubbed the web for the email addresses and names of anyone I could find associated with it. He doesn't do Linkedin and I'm retired so...
 
I was in a similar position to you a few years ago and I previously worked at AMS in Vancouver. (You asked in that thread if the opportunity was still open.)

There are some opportunities at larger companies that could fit what you want, but it would likely need to be in a small department that is somewhat separated from the corporate mothership.

I would look at smaller companies if I was in that situation again. You skills are much more valuable in these situations and the owners/managers are more likely to recognize it. My searches were often mixes of manufacturing, engineering, CNC, machine shop, prototype, etc. They exist, but aren't the easiest to find and some expect to pay you pennies.

What ended up getting me my job at AMS was just asking for a tour when I was going to be in Vancouver for a family event. I had read Motion's posts for years and it sounded interesting, but I wasn't aware of their in house manufacturing. Had no intention of going for a job, but after talking for about an hour I got asked if I wanted to interview.

Out of genuine curiosity and love for machining I have gotten more than a dozen tours at shops all over the PNW. Whenever I am on vacation, traveling for work, etc I reach out to companies in the area. Some were through PM, others through Instagram, and some after just calling the office. I've almost always been shown around by owners or engineers and after talking with them throughout their facility, they are typically trying to convince me to move and work for them. I think it works pretty well since I'm not going into it looking for a job. It may not work for your personality/social skills, but it is an option.
 
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How much do you need to be making? How far are you willing to move? I don't have an open position for this sort of thing right now, but we do do a lot of that. What you need is a company 10-20 people with an owner that loves that kind of thing. Either as a highly specialized shop or as a manufacturer of specialty products.

The other question is, that's what you want to be doing. How plug-and-play are you if you were hired to do that sort of thing? Big or small automation projects are risky for small manufacturers, so if you can't already build cells and program robots and select end effectors and such, how much is someone spending to roll the dice?

You might want to take a job with a builder of custom automation (there are lots) for a few years, so that when you hire to be the guy, you can refer to successful projects that you've already done in your portfolio.
 
I am an ME and have been working in R&D for about 4 years. Had my start in manufacturing but they were small companies that barely understood the value of modern software. I came to R&D so that I could learn the proper design process and get more experience and confidence in designing fixtures and other types of things that would be needed in Automation or alterations to existing machinery etc. When I was in school I almost wen't the machinist route because I love CNC machines and the like, but ended going with engineering. Since then, I have always dreamed of being a manfucturing/mechanical/automation whatever you want to call it engineer in a high end job shop that would help with increasing throughput and maybe even implementing lights out processes, but have little success in finding those that would hire someone like that. Most shops seem to be smaller in nature and less concerned with that sort of thing. In my search I have found a place in Pheonix, AZ and Portland, OR but that's about it. I have sent endless emails to random shops all over the west coast but never get a reply. Is this a pretty rare thing in the wild?
i might have something for you. Its a little bit of everything, to include running large cnc machines because you need to figure out how to get the jobs done and how to do them better. I have wanted to halfway automate some things but don't have the time and missed some opportunities because of it. If you are still looking for this, please DM me your contact info.
 
How much do you need to be making? How far are you willing to move? I don't have an open position for this sort of thing right now, but we do do a lot of that. What you need is a company 10-20 people with an owner that loves that kind of thing. Either as a highly specialized shop or as a manufacturer of specialty products.

The other question is, that's what you want to be doing. How plug-and-play are you if you were hired to do that sort of thing? Big or small automation projects are risky for small manufacturers, so if you can't already build cells and program robots and select end effectors and such, how much is someone spending to roll the dice?

You might want to take a job with a builder of custom automation (there are lots) for a few years, so that when you hire to be the guy, you can refer to successful projects that you've already done in your portfolio.
Thanks for the advice.
 








 
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