Let’s talk machine tool suppliers: MSC Industrial vs Enco

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A quick internet search for “industrial supplies” will yield over 1.7 million hits, while searching for “machine shop supplies” displays some 105,000 results. What’s a machinist looking for machine tool suppliers to do?

Like looking for a descent restaurant, finding a good machine tool supplier can be hit or miss without some help. Word of mouth can go a long way and experienced shop owners and purchasing agents can offer a wealth of information. There are also online message boards filled with fellow chip-makers and their favorite supply houses. Let’s start with two connected companies.

Two machine tool suppliers, one company

MSC Industrial Supply and Enco used to compete directly with each other for much of the same machine tool supply business, leading the larger MSC to buy out Enco.  Although Enco is now a subsidiary, they print their own catalog and have very distinct business practices compared to MSC. Both houses stock a great assortment of common machine shop necessities, including cutting tools, raw materials, abrasives, measuring tools, etc.  Both companies, in my opinion, have great customer service.  The staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and genuinely appear to appreciate a customer’s business.  Both MSC and Enco take orders over the telephone or via the internet and accept credit cards with no minimum purchase amount, and both are mail order only (no walk-ins).

MSC Industrial Supply

There are a couple of differences between the two companies, though, that set them far apart.  The question to ask yourself when choosing between the two is, “how quick do I need my order delivered”?

Machine tool supplier MSC Industrial Supply Co's logo

  If you place your order with MSC during normal business hours, you will receive it the next business day while paying only UPS Ground Rates, regardless of how they have to ship it to you for the next day arrival.

When you break your last odd-sized drill or tap and have a looming delivery date which you’d prefer not to be late on, this service is boss and can save a lot of headaches.  You’ll pay more due to higher catalog prices, but it’s there when you need it.

MSC also offers a considerably larger selection than Enco on just about all categories of goods.  Looking at cutting tools as an example, MSC lists over 40 brands of end mills ranging from import (Chinese) goods all the way up to top of the class manufacturers like OSG, Dormer, and Union Butterfield.  In between these two extremes are MSC-owned toolmakers including Hertel.

MSC has the reputation, as well as the vast inventory, to be considered both a machine shop supply house as well as an MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Operations) supplier.

Enco

Machine tool supplier Enco's logo

Enco, on the other hand, is all about pricing.  They have a low price guarantee that I’ve found to be real.

[Enco] will verify the competitor’s price and offer it to you at the lower price plus an additional 5% discount.

For example, if you are purchasing a length of brass round rod and find a lower price at “XYZ Industrial Supply”, just give Enco a call with the specifics, and from there they will verify the competitor’s price and offer it to you at the lower price plus an additional 5% discount.  Enco also offers free shipping codes on a regular basis.  To qualify for free shipping, you must meet minimum requirements which usually range from $25 to $49.  You have to order ahead, though.  Enco ships UPS Ground and your order may take a few days to arrive.

While we’re discussing Enco, lets revisit our search for end mills.  Enco offers just three basic choices:  Interstate brand (Chinese), Hertel brand (company-owned, US made) and OSG (US and Japan made top shelf).

While Enco does stock limited MRO goods, it is mainly a machine shop supplier.

Of course, these aren’t the only two machine tool suppliers in the machine shop industry. Up next, we’ll cover McMaster-Carr and Grainger Industrial Supply. Like MSC and Enco, they have their own strengths paramount to themselves, and are like tools themselves that one should keep in their manufacturing pocket. Stay tuned for more!

The Best Welding Power Sources – a tale of two brands

If you are a professional welder, you know that you have many different choices when it comes to your equipment.  There are a plethora of brands for a variety of areas of the trade.   From Tweco welding guns to Black Stallion gloves, the choices are seemingly limitless.  While welding torches and gloves are important, arguably the most important piece of equipment is the welding power source.  For serious welders in the United States, there are really only two brands to talk about.

Miller Electric

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The first of these, but not necessarily foremost, is Miller Electric Manufacturing Company based out of Appleton, Wisconsin.  Now owned by Illinois Tool Works, Miller has been making welding equipment for over three quarters of a century now.  They have a variety of solutions for your welding needs.  They have gas metal arc welding (GMAW) and gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) solutions for the hobbyist, such as the Millermatic and the Diversion.  They also have solutions for heavy manufacturing such as the Syncrowave and the Continuum.  For the construction industry the have the XMT.  They also developed the Auto-Axcess for robotic applications.  Miller Electric has been making welding power sources for a long time now, and their quality products under the operation of a skilled welder will most definitely produce satisfactory results.

Lincoln Electric

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For those welders who aren’t so fond of the color  blue, there is another manufacturer to meet your needs: The Lincoln Electric Company.  Lincoln Electric began before the twentieth century, but they didn’t start creating welding machines until around the time the Model T was released.  The rest is history.  From then on out they have made and continue to make some of the most popular welding power sources in the world.   They, like Miller Electric, offer a wide range of welding power sources to meet industry needs.  Power MIGs and Invertecs for the garage welder.   Power Waves for large manufacturing operations.   Flextecs for when a variety of welding processes are needed out of one power source.  If you need to weld it, chances are Lincoln Electric power sources can help you get it done.
Truthfully, I have barely scratched the surface of the equipment offerings these Miller Electric and Lincoln Electric offer.  Visiting their websites or talking to a sales representative at your local welding supply store is the best way to determine how your welding equipment needs can be satisfied by these two companies.  As previously mentioned, there are many different welding equipment manufacturers out there, but if you go with a Lincoln or a Miller, you can bet you will get your money’s worth.

Working with Trade Schools in Construction

Being able to find qualified talent in the local workforce is what every small business in the trade’s industry wishes they could do more easily. As the talent pool of workers seems to be gradually drying up in the New Hampshire area, contractors, plumbers, and electricians (to name just a few) are finding themselves in new territory. Not only are these businesses and tradesmen bidding for jobs and competing for contracts, but they are now also in fierce competition over attracting top candidates to join their companies.

With the housing market continuing to recover and homeowners throughout the region looking to update their homes, businesses are doing all they can to keep up with the demand whilst struggling to fill in the ranks of their company.

The Next Generation of the Construction Industry

Instead of passing the storm complacently and waiting for the labor shortage issue to correct itself, there are steps towards improvement to be taken, one big stride being to reach out to the younger generation within the community.

This presents a two-way street, each direction holding equal importance. Keeping the youth interested in the trades; and likewise, keeping the trades industry interested in being more hands-on in developing the youth into a viable workforce.

And so what’s the best way to reach out to the younger generation and introduce them to the trade industry within their community?

Some NH Vocational Schools for Construction

There are a number of vocational high schools throughout New Hampshire, offering courses from heavy duty mechanics to the building trades, and from basic woodworking to electrical engineering. These public schools have been providing such courses for years now, and with current circumstances being as they are, it’s time local businesses start taking more interest.

In southern New Hampshire, both Alvirne High School and Pinkerton Academy have exceptional vocational centers, and for students in the greater Manchester area there is the Manchester School of Technology, to name just a few.

Getting Involved with Local Schools

So where to start? Perhaps with a little research and outreach.

Not every vocational school offers the same courses. Finding out the specifics of each school can be done via their websites. Or take it one step further by reaching out to their respective directors and teachers. Inquire about the number of students they have enrolled in their courses, what challenges they face in developing their programs or students, and are they in need of any resources. Are they in need of tools or equipment? Do they follow industry trends?

Perhaps it’s also a good idea to inquire about being a guest speaker of sorts, introducing the latest technology used in the field or presenting them with case studies and asking for input from the students on how to address a real life issue. It would also be a good idea to reach out to other local businesses in the area and get them involved, providing the students with a variety of resources and options.

The overall goal with reaching out to local vocational schools and students should be to peak their interest, keep them motivated, and assure them there are plenty of exceptional, well-paying, challenging jobs waiting for the right candidates to emerge and take them. In an industry which is struggling to find qualified candidates, reaching out and taking the initiative is a much needed step in the right direction.

 

No Experience in Collision Repair? No Problem

Finding employment in the collision repair industry with little experience can be a daunting task for any new automotive technician. Experience is what employers are looking for, and in the end, that’s what pays the bills. So how does an aspiring technician go about finding quality employment that will carry them to the next stage of their career?

Here are a few helpful tips that may help point you in the right direction.

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1) Shop Helper

My first job in a collision repair facility was as a painters helper. I was offered a meager starting wage, which in hindsight was okay considering I didn’t have a tool to my name, no industry experience and had never been in the paint department of a body shop before.

I learned a ton at that job. Learning from those around you as an inexperienced employee is important when it comes to how quickly you’ll progress in the trades. Starting your career off as a helper can allow you to gain experience at a respectable pace while acquiring the tools you’ll need to make your paycheck along the way.

2)  Apprenticeship

Considering opportunities for apprenticeships offered through local auto body shops can be a positive step in the right direction.

While apprenticeships are typically tuned towards a specific area of expertise, they’re also valuable for new technicians seeking to further their on-the-job training.  Having the opportunity to learn from a journeyman technician will not only educate you on industry best practices, but also teach you how to organize work in a manner that’s profitable for you and your employer.

Side collision

3)  Vocational School

Continuing your education in the collision repair industry as well as any other industry is part of being a professional in today’s workforce. Choosing to take advantage of the numerous vocational school opportunities that are available should be considered when thinking of pursuing a career in the trades.

Enrolling in an auto body program can only assist in showing a new technician the ropes of their newly chosen career and teach them the skills they’ll need to be successful once entering the workforce.

Landing a job can be frustrating when starting out in a new profession, but like anything in the trades, using the tools available can makes things much easier. Keeping a positive attitude and staying persistent will make all the difference in locating a job in an auto body repair facility or any trades position.

 

 

Porsche Apprenticeship Program and UTI Are Driving Student Success

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Exclusive. World-class. Unprecedented. These are the words that describe the Porsche Technology Apprenticeship Program (PTAP), a partnership between Universal Technical Institute (UTI) and Porsche Cars North America (PCNA). PTAP is a graduate training program that provides Porsche’s 188 dealerships in the United States with uniquely qualified entry-level technicians.

UTI, a top-notch technical education institution, has 12 locations in the U.S. It is the only school to offer the PTAP. Since 1965, UTI has been headquartered in Phoenix, AZ, and has graduated over 200,000 students.

Porsche, the iconic sports car manufacturer, has a staff that is known to consistently offer outstanding customer satisfaction. Furthermore, the technicians demonstrate an expertise that only a motivated, expertly-trained technician can deliver. That level of professionalism starts with PTAP.

Award-Winning Automotive Training

David Rogers, the national program manager at UTI, said, “UTI launched the PTAP program with Porsche Cars North America in 1999. UTI…has partnered directly with manufacturers of more than 30 top brands to create…sophisticated education programs in the automotive, diesel, motorcycle, marine, and motorsports industries.”

The two training centers are located in Atlanta, GA, and Easton, PA, and offer an array of Porsche-specific courses.

PTAP’s Curriculum and Facilities

Rogers said, “PTAP is an exclusive 23-week, manufacturer-paid advanced training program that accepts only the best of the best for extensive training.”

A prerequisite is completion of UTI’s Automotive Technology Program that is certified by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation. PTAP’s courses include Porsche Heritage and sports car servicing, Cayenne & Panamera V6 and V-8 engines, and Carrera/Boxster/Cayman Pre-DFI engines.

“Students undergo an extensive evaluation and interview process,” said Rogers. The class enrolls only 12 students – “one of the best student-teacher ratios in the industry,” according to UTI representatives. Students use Porsche-specific tools, workshop equipment, and Porsche models built over the previous seven years. Graduates of the program are eligible for employment with authorized Porsche dealers.

In 2015, UTI’s student body totaled 13,200. Almost 97 percent of the students are male and about 80 percent are ages 18-24. Adult learners (career-changers) total 20 percent and veterans account for 10 percent of the students.

Rogers said, “However, Porsche does require that graduates from the program work for a Porsche dealership upon graduation  with a minimum one year commitment.”

Success Before and After Graduation

Daniel Addie, 22, had a 4.0 GPA from UTI. He said, “I chose PTAP because it was the hardest thing to do and I like a challenge.” Currently, he is working at a Porsche dealership and pursuing additional certification. “I love my job,” he said, exemplifying the value of the program both to Porsche and students alike.

The PTAP program began almost 17 years ago and it’s an example of how UTI partners directly with manufacturers to create real-world programs that provide effective training solutions. With this proven record of success, students can feel confident about their decision to learn from two industry leaders.

 

Carlos DellaMaddalena, the director of external communications at UTI, is acknowledged for his assistance and commitment toward the development of this post. 

 

 

 

 

 

Trades Networking: Pounding the Pavement Still Has Merit

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While the trades industry is most definitely evolving into a more accessible and technology-centered organism, at the same time it is still undeniably rooted in the tactile and “hands-on” approach that has been passed down through generations.

Though there is much to be gained by familiarizing yourself with the online trades world, and seemingly limitless avenues to pursue once you learn to navigate the channels and resources available, you simply cannot overlook the fundamental value of that good old-fashioned hand shake. Because the trades industry is one of constant change with a wide range of participants, projects can be extremely diverse and stretch out over long periods of time.

As we all know, construction is done in stages; this means that, depending on your trade, there are various stages where you can visit a job site in person to make introductions, hand out your company information, and hopefully do some networking, for both that particular project as well as potential future projects.

One of the best things about the construction industry is that projects are often hard to miss, particularly new residential construction and commercial tenant improvements. Are you a flooring installer?  Do you see a new home going up with a sign on the perimeter fence identifying the general contractor?  Are they only in the framing stages?  Go to the site and introduce yourself.

Take a walk through your local shopping center, and you will likely find at least one retail store with a hoarding in front of its doors, and construction going on behind them. Check out the job site and find out who is in charge, and ask questions.

Have they secured a company for your particular trade yet and if so does that group need an extra hand with this or other projects?  Is this store a chain that’s renovating multiple locations in succession?

Many of these projects are in constant flux because of budget and design evolution. Clients increase budgets, change their minds, run into problems along the way (oops- we didn’t know we had dry rot behind the sink…now we don’t just need a plumber we need a drywall restoration company), and thus create many opportunities for you to get your business card in the mix.

Don’t underestimate the value of your presence and an in-person handshake.  You may not always find immediate work from these impromptu site visits, but you will have broadened your client network and potentially set yourself up for projects in the future.

So, grab a stack of business cards and get out there!  Best of luck!

Makerspaces and the New Journeyman

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The world of fabrication has changed dramatically since the days of old. Technology and more approachable software systems are part of it, but what’s truly moving things forward is the method of training.

While traditional journeyman programs and on-the-job training are still around, those methods of education have often become what unpaid internships are to the white-collar workplace. Some of the challenges that companies have experienced hiring qualified candidates can also be attributed to this.

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Vocational and tech schools have grown and helped to change the landscape, but the growing popularity of community makerspaces are helping as well.

Makerspaces are intended to provide access to expensive or complicated tools and software – like CNC machines or 3D printers – for those who can’t afford or don’t have the space for such equipment. As more of these spaces have popped up, they began to compete with each other, precipitating a need for added value. So, the spaces started to expand to beginners and provide classes and on-site knowhow.

For obvious reasons, this has driven a need for makerspaces to train their employees and/or members in an array of fabrication techniques, often even paying for members to be professionally trained at a tech college (sound familiar?).

Makerspace3a

This is ushering in a new era of training and journeyman-style education.

This new style of training is also set apart because it almost forces a diversified experience. Makerspaces are full of several different kinds of equipment, which can often be in various states of disarray. Working with fabrication machinery in these sorts of conditions can be incredibly frustrating in a workplace environment (where time is money), but in a makerspace, these circumstances provide a prime learning atmosphere.

While the education provided in a makerspace might (for now) be informal, it is truly a hands-on experience which requires both trades knowledge and refined problem solving skills on various fronts. Education in a makerspace is still a growing trend, but it is most certainly growing fast.

What Exactly Is A Company Mechanic?

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They’re known far and wide by many a nom de plume; the fixer uppers, the jack of all trades, the guy your friend knows when he says, “Dude, no worries, I know a guy.” Those guys are the MacGyver’s of the world, and to that prestigious list, may I add, the company mechanic. 

A major road construction company can do millions of dollars in work every year, and have upwards up of thousands of trucks, machinery, and tools that need upkeep. Technicians and mechanics are not inexpensive people on the payroll, therefore the fewer you have to employ, the better it could be for your company’s bottom line. But, finding a captain of the crescent wrench to lead your rowdy crew of road worriors is not a task so quickly accomplished.

The process of becoming a company mechanic is hard enough with the lifetime of knowledge needed to be the go-to guy, let alone trying to find a company looking to hire such an employee. Is it possible to market yourself as the jack of all trades without being pigeonholed as a master of none? Is all that work even worth it? Short answer… absolutely. 

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Master Mechanic

In layman’s terms, the title master mechanic usually means, “This guy officially knows his stuff,” or he’s the boss and overseer of all the other mechanics. According to occupationalinfo.org, the dictionary, and three of my neighbors (I’m pretty sure one of them is a scientist… possibly mad), it usually refers to a vehicle mechanic who can work on any aspect of any normal land vehicle; such as cars, buses, trucks, etc…

The company mechanic, though, is someone who needs to be able to work on any land machine, not just vehicles. It’s not unusual for a company mechanic to fix a melted hose on a compressor, then remove and replace a rear axle on a dump truck, then have to remove a tire from its rim to fix a cracked valve, and then reinforce welded supports on an a backhoe bucket, all before lunch. It’s the ability to switch between tasks and wear different hats without losing momentum that really makes a company mechanic a must-have for any organization.

Show Me The Money!

So you’ve labored for years, and like a sponge, soaked up every piece of information you could, about any machine ever made by man – what should you expect in return for such a cornucopia of knowledge? Well… a lot.

The national average for a shop foreman or a garage’s master mechanic ranges from $50,000 – $70,000 a year, according to payscale.com. For the company mechanic, that can be just a starting point. Utility players are some of the most sought-after employees for any company. One person doing the job of two, maybe three, master-level workers sounds too good to be true, and even if you’re not a business owner or know anything about it, you can obviously see the value.

The opportunities are out there, you just need to know how to reach for them; but we’ll cover that in an upcoming blog: “How To Become A Company Mechanic.”

Until then, keep those wrenches turning.

 

How To Become a Certified Welding Inspector

The American Welding Society (AWS) has many different types of certifications for welding professionals.  While all AWS certifications carry the organizations endorsement, the Certified Welding Inspector (CWI) certification is arguably their most popular and desired credential.  I recently received my CWI certification, and I would like to use my experience in attaining this certification to layout in a simple manner what it takes to become a Certified Welding Inspector.  The three main components to becoming an AWS CWI are satisfying the prerequisites, studying for the exam, and passing the exam.AWS Logo

Prerequisites

As with most credentials in life, there are several prerequisites that need to be satisfied before you can obtain your CWI.  The first worth noting is the required combination of work experience and education.  There are several different combinations that meet the demands of the American Welding Society.  You must also be able to pass a vision acuity test.

Studying for the Exam

The amount of studying that I recommend for the CWI exam really varies from person to person.  Coming from a 4 year formal college education in welding engineering technology, my studying was pretty relaxed.  However, if you have a limited knowledge of welding, particularly welding symbols, weld examination, and weld qualification, you may want to put in more effort.  For self-study, there are a variety of books that the AWS recommends.

If you aren’t feeling so sure of yourself, the AWS also provides a seminar the week before you take your exam.  This covers all parts of the exam and includes all of the study materials you need.  This seminar week is quite popular, and I hear it substantially improves the test taker’s chances of passing.  Be aware, though, that it comes with a hefty price tag.

The CWI Exam

I have heard of some pretty high fail rates for this exam.  I won’t pretend that I know the exact numbers, but I will say that roughly half of the people I took the exam with were there to retake a section.  There are three sections, all multiple choice, and you are allowed two hours for each one.  They are:

  • Part A: Fundamentals Examination
  • Part B: Practical Examination
  • Part C: Code Book Examination

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Overall, with breaks, I was at the exam site for just about 10 hours.  You do not take the test in any set order.  You could, for instance, start with Part C.  Once the exam is finished, you walk out without knowing your results.  My results were back to me in a little less than two weeks time. 
If you receive a 72% or above for each section, congratulations! You passed!  If received an average of 72% or above, but received below a 72% on an individual section, you have to retake that section.  If you averaged below a 72%, you have to take the exam again.

The AWS provides a variety of testing sites and times to take your CWI exam, so get studying!  Good luck!

How the Shortage of Skilled Trades Workers Hurts Manufacturing

A recent study from the Washington Post found that as many as 600,000 manufacturing positions may be languishing for lack of qualified applicants. And things may get worse before they get better: Forbes quotes figures from Manpower stating that the majority of skilled laborers in this country are aged 45 and older—and as this sizable population retires, the gap between need and capability will widen even further. As Tulsa Welding School points out, the economy continues to recover and grow, and manufacturing sales have become steadily healthier. With such growth, the manufacturing industry is now focused on finding sufficient numbers of skilled tradespeople to keep up with the rising demand.

Specific Examples

While the general lack of skilled labor is hurting manufacturers across the board, some specific manufacturers are particularly starved for certain necessary types of expertise. For example, Louisville Business First noted that GE Appliances is spending more than $1 million to construct its own technical training center simply to cope with the company’s desperate need for machinists and electricians. A lack of skilled welders on the Gulf Coast has severely crippled the oil and gas industry in the midst of the shale boom there, according to Bloomberg; the industry has an urgent need to hire approximately 36,000 new welders by 2016. That’s a lot of available work—and no available workers. In the construction sector, the National Skilled Trades Network reports that a lack of skilled labor is stretching the workforce to the point that on-the-job injuries are on the rise.

An Image Problem for Skilled Labor
Why are manufacturers finding it so hard to fill these jobs? The answer may lie partly in the way young working-age people view them. The image of hazardous, dirty facilities and backbreaking, low-paying work requiring little skill or smarts continues to linger, despite the fact that modern skilled trades careers vary greatly from their predecessors.

ATS cites a national poll in which more than half of all the teenagers surveyed expressed little or no desire to take up any manufacturing trade. These individuals have no exposure to or understanding of the modern manufacturing environment, in which tradespeople use state-of-the-art equipment, computer programming, and the latest in robotic technology every day—opportunities they’d never receive working in a “cubicle farm.” On the other hand, the fact that these jobs require training in such skills means that high-school graduates can’t just leap into them; in fact, many interested parties may have no idea where to pursue such training even if they knew they needed it. This, too, adds to the recruitment gap.

Awareness Could Be the Answer
What can manufacturers do to reclaim their missing skilled trades candidates? It’s largely a matter of encouraging people to consider vocational training and a career in skilled labor. Shop teachers, school counselors, and anyone else in the position of guiding tech-minded kids should at least mention the possibility of a career as a welder, electrician, or other skilled tradesperson. Interested graduates should also be told where they can receive the instruction they need to qualify for the many jobs out there. Major manufacturers could launch awareness campaigns, including referral bonuses, new-hire incentives, and a public relations effort to let the world know just how rewarding and exciting a career in skilled trades can be. The jobs are there—all that’s needed now are the right people to fill them.