Manager of the Joint Engineering and Physics Instrument Shop
Providence, Rhode Island
A machinist is a person that shapes a variety of metals into various forms using machine tools such as a lathe, mill or grinder while holding very tight tolerances. There are many classes of machinists, tool and die makers, experimental machinist's prototype machinists and production machinist, to name a few.
I attended a catholic boy's high school and in my senior year I pretty much figured out that I did not want to attend a college. I was mechanically inclined and liked working with my hands, so my guidance counselor suggested I take an aptitude test, in which I scored very well on. He then suggested that I look into the field of machinist. I attended Mass Trade Shops School, which later became ITT tech, for a year and then landed a job as a production machinist which I held for about 5 years. Form there I moved into a Model Maker (or prototype machinist) position for about 14 years. Before coming to Brown, I worked in the medical industry for about 8 years making instruments for doctors and surgeons. During this time I was the senior tecnician in charge of the shop. My responsibilities included the upkeep, ordering of tools and equipment and the hiring of new techs for the company. It was mainly because of this experience that I was able to secure this position that I currently hold now for almost 14 years. My title has changed over the years as I moved into different jobs. I was an Experimental machinist III, prototype machinist, mechanical technician, and finally manager. All of these titles represented the field of a machinist that could do manual as well as CNC machining in a prototype or research environment.
I am Manager of the Joint Engineering and Physics Instrument Shop at Brown University (JEPIS) and the purpose of JEPIS is to assist the scientific departments at Brown in the development of experiments, research projects and instructional classes. We offer all the basic machine shop capabilities, with the addition of CNC design consultation, hands on training and instruction through a non-credit basic machine shop course and new this year an advanced course geared toward Graduate Students. I also have customers in Facilities, Dining Services, Neuroscience and Bio-Med. My position requires that about half of my time is dedicated to administrative tasks. This part includes, but is not limited to submitting monthly billable reports, training new hires, consulting with students, faculty and staff about machining and design questions. The other part of my day could involve machining, designing and creating drawings, welding and sheet metal work. My hours are from 8:30 to 5:00, five days a week.
Giving the customer what he/she wants. Quite often the customer has no concept of what it takes to take their idea and make it into what they want. The customer might come in with just an idea and a rough sketch and I have to figure out how to provide them with a part that they can use. This quite often means that I have to design and draw it, and work out a process for the fabrication of said part or fixture. I also have to estimate about how long each job will take, and then assign it to the Instrument makers on the floor.
The diversity-it's never the same from one day to the next. This is the main reason that I sought out jobs in the experimental/prototype classification of the machinist field. I also get great pleasure from seeing a customer get really excited about the part that we have just created for him or her so that they can continue with their research or experiments. I've had a number of students say that we are artists, because we create things from chunks of metal or plastic. Because we do it on a daily basis, we sort of take it for granted, but looking at it through an outsider's eye, and I can see where this could be true that what we do is an art form. I also enjoy instructing my Mechanical Technology II class to students, faculty and staff. This is a 10 week, 50 hours session where the students machine 4 different projects. This class will instruct them on the proper use of all the machines in the student shop. Upon the successful completion of these projects, the student will have access to the shop to work on projects or experiments related to their studies.
That anyone can do what I do. It takes a certain type of person to be successful in this trade. You have to be creative, patient, mechanically inclined, and able to machine parts to very tight tolerances. We work in tolerances of plus or minus .005' or less. To put that in perspective, the hair on your head is about .003-.005' thick.
We are a full service machine shop with CNC and manual machines, sheet metal equipment, presses and a welding and brazing area. I generally have a steady flow of work to do here in the shop. And while there is not a lot of pressure to get it done quickly, I do insist that my guys provide our customers with a high quality part in a timely manner. We are in a high visibility area where there is a lot of foot traffic and tours, so we dress casual, but not sloppy. This is after all a machine shop, and we do get dirty from the materials that we use and the equipment that we operate, so we dress accordingly. For me, I'm the 'œup front guy' that the customers first see, so I have to be mindful of my appearance.
Learn patience and be meticulous! Be prepared to spend 5-10 years becoming proficient in your particular field. Save up and purchase good quality measuring instruments and tools for your personal tool box and take care of them. I still have a Mititoyo dial caliper from the 70's that works just fine. And under no circumstances ever lend your tools out!
Try to learn more about the different fields of the machining trade. For me looking back, I wish that I had spent less time as a production machinist, and more in the prototype field. And having this position at Brown, I wish that I had known about the various machine shops in academia because I might have applied to one earlier on in my career.
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.
Martha Graham, choreographer
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