Machinist Turns Skill Into Labor Of Love

Machining helps drive industry in America. Without precision-made parts, many of the products that people rely on day in and day out wouldn't function properly for very long -- if at all.

The process involves the use of a wide variety of machine tools to cut or form material, usually metal, to precise shapes and dimensions, according to the National Tooling and Machining Association, an industry trade group. As with many other trades, becoming a skilled machinist takes years of practice and dedication.

One of the many who has found a viable career in machining is Jason Church (pictured) of Jackson, Mich. Church, 28, began working in the industry while he was still in high school through a cooperative education program, a combination of traditional classroom curricula and practical work experience.

Church works for Classic Turning, which operates two plants in Jackson. The company and its staff of 116 provide parts for the aerospace and medical equipment industries and others.

Among its products, the company supplies fuel fittings for Boeing 747 aircraft and fighter jets, Church notes. Accuracy is critical in parts used in aerospace applications where tighter tolerances ensure the safety of air travel.

When Church started at Classic Turning about 10 years ago, he began by working on basic tool-room machines, learning the principals of manufacturing and making a part by hand.

He then began operating a "computer numerically controlled," or CNC, machine. CNC machines are frequently used in many modern-day machine shops and in mass production facilities to increase accuracy and efficiency when forming metal parts, according to a description by Clarion University in Pennsylvania.

Although employment of machinists is projected to slowly decline, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job prospects are expected to be good. Median wages in May 2008, the most recent data available, were about $17.50 a hour, with those working in aerospace product and parts manufacturing -- such as Church -- earning about $2 more an hour.

From Concept To Reality

The married father of an infant son says he enjoys being a machinist because it allows him to see a product evolve from a concept on paper to a functional part. And it keeps him on the move.

"I guess the joy that I get out of this industry is just the fact that you're not sitting behind a desk all day," Church says. "You go from sitting at a desk, drawing the part that you're going to make, to going out on the floor and making the part that you drew."

After about six years of working at Classic Turning, Church moved into a supervisory position overseeing others in their machining tasks. Last year he was promoted again to manufacturing engineer and given additional responsibilities.

Church says that his days begin by ensuring that his workers have all the programs they need to work on upcoming jobs. An operator is responsible for setting up and running a machine, whereas his job is to ensure that his employees have the tools and programs to do so.

He also works with the company's customer service department to ensure that parts can be delivered to vendors in the time promised. He also meets with customers should any problems arise or to discuss forthcoming projects.

The average work week at Classic Turning is 44 hours, Church says, so overtime isn't unusual. The company's workers are committed to getting a project done, he says. "Nobody cares more or less than the next guy. It doesn't matter how much time it takes, we just want to please our customers."

Next:Former Home Health Aide Turns To Manufacturing For Brighter Future

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