Training & Education

Up close and personal

By Lynn Stanley

Above: Successful training was a key component to the implementation of this new production system.

On-site training is one way metalformers can nurture workforce talent

March 2015 - More than 40 percent of U.S. manufacturers describe the current shortage of qualified, skilled workers as severe. To compound the problem, job openings will grow to nearly 3.5 million in the next decade, a January Manufacturing Institute report estimates. The skills gap, expanding by nearly 10,000 baby boomers retiring a day, is expected to leave approximately 2 million of those jobs unfilled. 

Uncertain production volumes following the Great Recession led many stampers’ customers to request less costly fabricated solutions in lieu of hard tooling’s prohibitive costs. Focus also shifted away from machine maintenance and training. A resurgence in manufacturing, largely due to automotive, aerospace, defense, electronics, household appliances, and heavy equipment, is pushing the metal stampings market to return to its roots. For many that means a reboot in the areas of tooling, maintenance and training.

A critical first step says BDC Machinery LLC President Rick Wenzel, is matching the right training with the right skill sets. The Nekoosa, Wisconsin-based distributor has nearly 30 years of experience in metal stamping. BDC Machinery provides full systems integration, installation, training, service and support; supplying machinery and auxiliary equipment from world class manufacturers.

Mixed bag

Effective training starts on the production floor with an employee skill sets evaluation, notes Wenzel. “We work with machine operators in their manufacturing environment to accurately determine each individual’s level of experience and knowledge,” he says. “Most job shops today have a mix of veteran employees with a growing number of new hires that are unfamiliar with the equipment they will be running. A generic training program doesn’t have the flexibility to handle such a diverse cross section of employees.”


The one-size-fits-all training approach lacks the bandwidth to address both basic and advanced topics, but it also precludes manufacturers from a number of other advantages.

“A seasoned operator for example, understands the fundamental concept of programming press controls based on a crank angle,” Wenzel explains. “With inexperienced employees who are working with a standard mechanical press, we may have to start with ‘Press Operations 101’ to teach them that events, such as feeding material into a die, are programmed to take place based on a 360-degree rotation of the crankshaft. Training for legacy workers might focus more on new trends in quick die change, die protection or how to properly set a feed line or straightener. It’s important to have instruction that tackles both basic and advanced subjects.” 

Once a company’s workers have been evaluated and grouped according to skill level, training starts in the classroom before moving to the production floor. Training times vary based on facility size, number of shifts and skill sets represented. Typically most programs take several weeks. But Wenzel adds it is on the manufacturing floor where unexpected benefits tend to surface.

“When we work with operators on individual production systems, we often find missed opportunities in the work cell itself that could speed up die change and production along with other shortcomings that could be impacting a company’s bottom line.”

Side benefits

Often the fixes are intuitive and cost-effective to implement when compared to the potential gains. “We worked with a company this past year that at times had job changeovers in a large straightside press that took several hours,” Wenzel says. “There were a number of contributing factors but the standout in this instance was die change time. Quick die locating technology and a variety of die clamping methods [hydraulic and magnetic] can contribute to faster setups.”

One such method of quickly locating a die is to mount it onto a sub plate and equip the press with die locating pins. “Once the sub plate is against the locator pins you have an instant positive and precise location versus trying other more time consuming and less accurate methods,” he says. “The die is then clamped and ready for parts production. This is one example of the things we look at during on-site training. From here we can assist a manufacturer in determining which dies are changed out on a frequent basis and would be candidates for modification. The goal is to reduce your overall setup time. Quick die locating combined with hydraulic or magnetic clamping puts you on the path to faster setups which help operators reclaim valuable production time.”


Without the advantage of on-site training or focused supervision, management may be unaware of steps that could enhance processing methods and speed time to market. “It might be something as simple as not having the appropriate auxiliary equipment in place during setup to efficiently handle scrap removal,” Wenzel adds. Scheduling, ineffective die protection methods and material handling delays can also contribute to production inefficiencies. 

Companies are investing in smart technology as another step toward faster production times and leaner practices. The trend is an important aide to on-site instruction.

“If systems are smart they can—by the push of a button—automatically retrieve and adjust system components settings to achieve proper setups,” says Wenzel. “Criteria for settings can include feed roll pressure, material pass line height adjustment, straightener roll depth, material width guides, press shut height, and counter balance pressure.” 

The road ahead

With repeat jobs, experienced setup personnel can be assigned to program the initial setup for a job. A novice can come in during the next shift or the following week, locate the tooling, thread the coil, enter the job number and push a button to initiate a setup change that will be identical to earlier runs. “These types of system features are not necessarily new to the industry but traditionally have been purchased primarily by the automotive market and other high-volume production environments for timesaving advantages,” Wenzel says. “Today, smart systems can be a huge advantage for smaller companies or job shops facing a lack of skilled employees.”

Follow-up training is especially important for manufacturers cultivating a new crop of operators to someday fill the shoes of retiring veterans.

“It’s unrealistic to think that you can train an employee in a short timeframe to prepare them for all the situations they may encounter in the course of their job,” Wenzel says.  

For metalformers, training programs like the on-site instruction provided by BDC Machinery offer a way to achieve multiple objectives at the same time from equipping a young workforce with needed skills to improving production line performance. In an economy where good deals are getting harder to find along with good workers, on-site training is a smart investment. FFJ



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