Machinist Apprentice | Shop Cleaning | Day 65

No contract work today, so I got to spend the whole day cleaning the shop from top to bottom!

Still working the design for the re-organization of the shop tool holder station and setup/breakdown area. Also, talking with my boss a bit about possibly taking on more small-time production work for the shop and hiring on a new guy. He went over some of the areas he's faced in the past and doesn't especially like production work due to how hard you have to push to get enough work to pay for everything. It's a big game, with big wins and significant losses if contracts don't come through like expected. One of the ways to shield yourself from this is to diversify into different industries/companies instead of going with one major contract from a specific business, where if they fall through, you're up a creek. 

The shop isn't set up for any kind of production work as-is and would require some changes to the way we do things now to get to that level. My boss is specifically thinking of small-time production, with 20-100 parts maximum per run, not trying to compete with China or shops set up for thousands/millions in production. 

What Does a High Level Machinist Look Like?

What Does a High-Level Machinist Look Like? 

Lately, I've been asking myself a lot of questions on what I want to be doing long term, what brings me joy and passion in my work, and what are the steps I need to take to be a high performer in that field?

I've really enjoyed Brendan Buchard's book High-Performance Habits, where he outlines what the top performers look like and how to get to that level. One of the things he talks about is finding your PFI or preferred field of interest, and I've been struggling to see what that is for me. 

The stumbling block I keep encountering is that I'm getting caught up in; if I make this decision now, I can't change it later down the line, and I'll be "stuck" in whatever avenue I chose to pursue. I'm not thinking big picture, thinking what interests me now and what I can do right now, not looking for the super long term but the 3-5 years from now and that journey. I enjoy machining and have an excellent job prototyping and learning one on one with a high-level machinist. I'm not sure if this is "my thing" or not, and I'm scared to get in too deep and feel like I've wasted my time (which I know I won't). 

I decided to make a decision and find out a bit more about the industry and what top performers look like in it, or more accurately, what does it take to become one of the best in the field and what steps did those people take? 

Through some research on google, I found an excellent article on what machinist material looks like by Leading Edge Industrial. They outlined the major five areas that all good machinist has in common. Those are Precision - 1) Detail-oriented, drive for perfection, and quality. 2) Analytical, collecting information quickly, and making decisions. 3) Creative Problem Solving, thinking outside the box, able to understand new and unique ways to solve problems. 4) Patience, making mistakes but not getting caught up in the minutia of the problem, but taking it in stride. 5) Pride, to be proud of one's work and the job completed, having satisfaction in the craft, and enjoying the process.  

Machinist Apprentice | Parabolic Mirror Drilling | Day 64

Today was probably the most nervous I've ever been to complete the final operation on the parabolic mirror part.

There are three holes on this piece, one meets down to another side pocket that I milled out on the 4th axis, and the other two break through the bottom of the triangular piece; they are all over five inches long. The sketchy part about this was how long each of the drills had to stick out to remove all the material. One of the drill bits was only gripping about a quarter of an inch in the collet and would ring when I put it in the VF2. 

Since each of the tools was so long, I took the advice of my boss and put together some shorter drills to remove about half of the material, allowing the more extended drills not to work as hard. Before coming in with the longer tools, I used a center drill and set the path to prevent any deflection from the first peck.

Thankfully everything went smoothly, and I slowed everything down quite a bit to let everything take its time. This was the only part I had, and I didn't have enough time to make another one if this failed, so everything was slow and steady. After the drilling was finished, I used a tapered threadmill and hand tapped the holes that needed it, then deburred everything and packaged it all up. Definitely a unique part and had its challenges, but I'm delighted with the outcome. 

Machinist Apprentice | Parabolic Mirror Part Soft Jaws | Day 63

Working on the soft jaws for the parabolic mirror part today turned out to be much more complicated than I initially thought it would be.

Because of the triangular shape, I wasn't able to machine the soft jaws with the part centered in them but had to use the flat of one angle to meet up with the back flat of the other jaw. This would allow one side to brace it up, while the other would have full clamping pressure against it. 

I also had to hold the part very deep in the jaws to ensure it was stable enough to drill through the rod from one end, due to the cavity in the top of the piece. Because of this, I had to use very long tooling to get down into the 2" soft jaws; my boss instructed me to have three setups of the same tool, each at a different length to get the finish as clean as possible. Then at the very least, use the longest tool to take very small and slow stepdowns along the face of the wall to give it a consistent and clean finish. 

Really sketchy part to make and came close to a machine crash a few times, and the final operation I'll be doing tomorrow will be with a six-inch drill and taking everything real slow. 

Machinist Apprentice | Parabolic Mirror Part | Day 62

Very excited to get back to work after the long labor day weekend. 

Today I was working on a part for a parabolic mirror, which will be one small piece apart of a large, very powerful flashlight/laser. The issue I had last time with this piece is a small inner groove where the 1/16" endmill would leave a mark where it retracted out of the part. What would happen is the tool would dwell for a split second, then retract straight up; this was just long enough for the endmill to leave a circular mark on the surface finish (it was only visible, and when you run your finger across it, you can't feel any difference).

I was able to fix the surface finish issue by going into the linking tab in fusion360, where you set the lead in's and out's and programmed it to do a slow arc at a 15-degree angle upward as it fed out. I was able to try it out and got some pretty decent results; I am still able to see where the tool exited, but it's nothing I can't clean up with a little scotch bright. 

The roughing on this part did take longer than I would have liked (at about 55 minutes with a 1/4" tool), but even that made the machine sound like it was pushing pretty hard, even though I've pushed this particular endmill through much more and had excellent results. My guess is that since I am using the 4th axis, the stability isn't as great as the vice, and so vibrations play a much more significant part.