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Training & Education

Calling all sheet metal operators

By Liz Sommerville

The Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International, Rockford, Ill., launched its first certification program for precision sheet metal operators to test and validate their skills in sheet metal forming and fabricating. The Precision Sheet Metal Operator (PSMO) Level 1 certification is the first to provide an exam covering shearing, sawing, press brake, turret punch press, laser cutting and mechanical finishing.

The first of its kind
The association created the certification to offer sheet metal operators the same level of acknowledgment as welders. "There really isn't a certification program that's specific for our industry," says Jim Warren, director of education for the FMA. "We felt we needed to be a little more specific about the equipment in our industry. The exam covers equipment you would find in a small job shop, whether it's a laser, waterjet, punch press, laser and punch press combination, shearing or plate rolling. We're testing all the stuff you'd expect someone in a job shop to know at a Level 1 operating position."

Sheet metal operators can obtain the PSMO Level 1 certification by meeting minimum work or training requirements and passing the multiple-choice exam. The exam consists of 100 questions covering 13 skill areas: metals, metallurgy and metalworking processes; paperwork and documentation; math calculations for sheet metal fabrication; blueprint reading and part layout; computer/part programming; machine setup, functioning and operation; hand tools; inspection/quality control; inspection tools; tooling/dies/jigs/fixtures; material and product handling; safety checks, equipment and procedures; and preventative maintenance on equipment and tools.

"You want to have a level of competency in a job or position," says Warren. "This [certification] is a way for companies to level-set all their employees, and they can build it into a compensation plan for the employees. For example, if they take the exam, they could move up to a different level and maybe make more money, which often happens with a welder as he adds certifications to his portfolio. So this is a way for the operator to distinguish himself from other operators, and it's a way to show the employer that he knows all the basics."

The certification exam is Web-based, so operators can take it at any testing center. It's also offered in a paper-and-pencil form to be taken on-site at a job shop and proctored by an FMA official. The exam fee is $245 for FMA members and $345 for nonmembers, including one year of free membership. A special student rate of $95 is also available, which includes a free, one-year FMA student membership.

After taking the exam and receiving a certificate from the FMA, the certification is valid for three years. By the third year, operators need to amass 36 continuing education credit hours to be recertified. Credit hours can be obtained by taking classes, receiving on-the-job training or participating in e-learning like webinars. If the operator doesn't complete the 36 credits, he has to be retested to keep the certification.

"It motivates people to keep continuously learning, whether it's from the FMA or other places," says Warren. "We'll look at any training that they've taken, as long as we have the outline of what they went through and a certificate of completion."

Planning another first
The FMA is planning to develop a Level 2 certification exam, which will be aimed toward an operator who's become a team leader or higher. Warren says that exam will test skills of interfacing with a customer on a print, cost estimating, and getting involved with and improving a design. "It'll cover all those skills that you would find with someone interfacing with a customer and then having to translate that to the team of operators to make the part," he says. "So [the next certification] would be for someone at more of a management or team leader level."

But for now, the association is focusing on its first certification program and its ability to change the sheet metal industry. "We were motivated to do this because, in many shops, you'll find people who've taken welding certifications," says Warren. "People get certified on welding stainless steel, aluminum, whatever it may be. But there's no certification for the guys on the other side of the shop that are cutting the metal and prepping it prior to assembly, prior to sending it over to the welders. So this is a certification for our guys. The welders have their certification, and now the precision sheet metal operators have a chance to earn ours."

For those interested in assessing their current knowledge level, a practice quiz is available online at www.fmacertified.org. The 20-item quiz costs $25 and allows test takers to become familiar with the format of questions on the full exam. FFJ

Sources

  • Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International
    Rockford, Ill.
    phone: 815/399-8775
    fax: 815/484-7700
    www.fmanet.org
    e-mail: info@fmanet.org

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