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Overcoming the Challenge of Retiring Machinists with the Knowledge of Legacy Parts

    
Author: Jason Zenger
Published On: Dec 15, 2021 12:00:00 PM

Overcoming the Challenge of Retiring Machinists with the Knowledge of Legacy Parts (1)
As older skilled machinists begin retiring many manufacturers are going to start running into a significant problem: they will lose irreplaceable legacy knowledge. These skilled machinists have mastered decades of parts manufacturing of things that are considered intellectual property. How can manufacturing businesses combat the loss of this knowledge?

 

What is intellectual property?

Before we dive into the issues pertaining to intellectual property, let’s define what it is. 

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, “Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce. IP is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyright and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create. By striking the right balance between the interests of innovators and the wider public interest, the IP system aims to foster an environment in which creativity and innovation can flourish.”

Challenge #1: Expert machinists are retiring

Machinists are retiring faster than ever before. As a skilled machinist from the shop floor with fundamental machining knowledge, I also hold a lot of intellectual property of legacy parts that I’ve personally run on the shop floor. 

I get questioned about something at least once a week. Young guys can figure things out but it can take time. They don’t know what they don’t know. If they’ve never machined that specific part before, it’s far quicker to ask for help from someone knowledgeable than waste time finding the solution themselves. 

Challenge #2: Outdated specs

We’ve been lucky to penetrate new industries of legacy OEM clients. But many send us images from old microfiche, some prints dating back to the 1950s. The images are often overrun with redlines, revisions, etc. for 2–50+ pieces of each part. The problem is that microfiche print is barely understandable. 

Challenge #3: Lack of skilled purchasers

The purchasing agent, buyer, procurement person—whoever it is—at the OEM has absolutely no clue—they just send out the PDFs. There aren’t skilled people in those positions who know where to disseminate the work. So we often get quotes, prints, etc, that aren’t a good fit for us and aren’t part of our core competencies. 

They’re not educated enough to make sure they’re sending the right parts to the right shop. We say we can’t quote it and the procurement people don’t want to deal with us anymore. Then they get frustrated with us

This tends to happen with legacy parts that another shop had been making. Maybe the owner died, the machinist left, etc. so they send the specs to us hoping we could be their new supplier. It’s a real problem we are beginning to see.

Finding solutions to these challenges

What should we do if we have a great customer that insists we make a legacy part? Do we physically go see the part and turn it into a drawing? Do we get them to send us a sample part? The best route would be to get the OEM needs to invest in producing a CAD model of the part.  Many antiquated parts are microfiche prints that just don’t cut it. 

The bottom line? I believe If an OEM is continuing to outsource precision machine parts to suppliers, they need to invest in people. If they have five different buyers, they need someone to oversee the process that is knowledgeable. They need to be able to look at a print and be able to quickly say what parts should be divvied out where. It will save so much wasted time.

I wanted to bring up this issue to see if the metalworking nation has any ideas on how to deal with this challenging problem. Reach out to me and let me know what you’re doing so we can continue this conversation!

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