While most 2019 grads are headed off to college this month, one Lomira student is already well into a rewarding career at Metalcraft of Mayville, programming FANUC paint robots. The atmosphere, pay and benefits, and opportunity he has now are what his peers will be hoping for 4 years down the road.
Manufacturing is seeing an astounding transformation. Walk into a facility that’s adopting Industry 4.0 technologies and you’ll immediately realize you’re not in the factory of your grandparents’ time.
Instead, with the convergence of operation technology and information technology, production machinery is integrated with smart robotics. Programming software and HMIs resemble smartphones. Apps are monitoring, analyzing and running equipment. Screens display production statistics in real-time.
And the opportunities for motivated young people are endless. Companies can now manufacture more products faster, and they need bright minds to program and operate these smart technologies.
Metalcraft of Mayville is one of the manufacturers taking advantage of the industrial boom and scaling up. With plants in Mayville, West Bend and Beaver Dam, the company is producing more than ever. There currently aren’t enough skilled workers available to fill their positions, so they’ve turned to automation.
This summer Metalcraft acquired two automation companies who are adding more robotics to their facilities, as well as designing automated solutions for customers.
The Mayville plant welcomes guests with a high-ceilinged entryway filled with natural light from large windows. To the right, a large meeting room contains bag toss boards and ping pong tables — employees have tournaments for fun.
The production facility is clean, brightly lit, and filled with automated lines. On screens overhead, production statistics are displayed in real-time. The operation runs safely and efficiently, using robots to weld, paint, and move parts.
One of Metalcraft’s primary products are Scag mowers, known for their bright orange color. To keep up with the production rate of these mowers, the paint department has also seen a great deal of increased automation. They moved from a fully-manual operation to a process that now begins with FANUC paint robots doing most of the work.
And Metalcraft needed a bright young individual to come and program these robots.
Enter Kyle Pike, a 2019 graduate of Lomira High School and Metalcraft’s newest programmer.
Last year, Kyle was facing the same questions as his peers: what will I do after graduation? His friends were going to universities, technical colleges or the armed forces.
Kyle recognized that he was wired for another path, despite the pressure to go to college. Instead, he opted to take advantage of a great opportunity to jumpstart his career in the workforce.
“School just wasn’t for me,” he explained. “But I did take a lot of shop classes, and I liked those.”
In addition to the welding, metal fabrication, and woodworking classes that Kyle took at Lomira, the district has also begun to offer classes that expose students to authentic industrial robotics and CNC.
Lomira is one of four schools in Wisconsin to install one of these “Metalcraft Learning Labs,” loaded with FANUC products.
Branding is important, and when a company is able to get in front of students with real, authentic tools and skills used in their business, they see a greater influx of talent from graduates.
Last summer, Metalcraft’s West Bend plant employed nine students from West Bend School District between their junior and senior years. These students spent their days operating robots and CNC machines.
But in Kyle’s case, the Learning Lab wasn’t his first direct exposure to Metalcraft. A FAMILY LEGACY
Andy Pike, Kyle’s older brother, has been working at Metalcraft for over 16 years. His experience is a testament to what happens when a great company invests in a hard-working employee.
“I started when I was 19 as a production employee. I was fascinated by the robots, so I moved to the robotics area. Within two years I became a lead which allowed me to set up jobs, fix the robots, and do minor programming. Now I am the lead programmer, mainly concentrating on weld but also helping Kyle with the paint robots.”
With guidance from Andy and support from Kyle Gourlie, the Mayville Plant Manager, Kyle Pike has the opportunity to follow a similar career pathway.
“Part of our culture at Metalcraft is to look for people with good hearts and good minds,’ remarked Gourlie. “Kyle struck me, when I sat down with him for an hour, as being one of those people.”
So Kyle was hired as an intern and given the opportunity to explore where his interests in the company were. He started working part-time after school during the spring, and has come onboard full-time since graduation.
The facility is loaded with automation and technology that would make any job exciting, but Kyle was drawn to the paint department in particular.
Two FANUC paint robots loom overhead, waiting for a part rack to slide into range. Then they go to work, their path of motion smooth and precise, efficiently dispersing a coat of paint over the parts. While they seem almost lifelike in their precision, the programming behind each movement requires specialized skill.
Kyle recalled the first time his brother prodded him to try programming.
“[Andy] said, ‘Want to try learning this?’ I said, ‘I don’t know…it looks pretty complicated, but I’ll try it.’ I tried it on his computer and I’d get frustrated. But whenever I get frustrated it makes me want to complete that task. So I just liked it ever since, and it’s something I’ll probably stick with.”
Now, Kyle is the one using FANUC robots to paint the Scag mowers for Metalcraft.
Each Scag model has a unique rack setup for its parts and requires a unique paint path. Kyle is tasked with writing the most efficient program for each setup and then making sure operations run smoothly.
To help facilitate this, the company uses ROBOGUIDE PaintPro software from FANUC.
Using the software, Kyle can test various iterations in a simulated environment, saving the company time and money. It also validates the final program as the most efficient.
Eventually, his responsibilities will also include designing the various rack setups. And if he wants to go back to school or learn another discipline like weld robot programming, Metalcraft will support those endeavors.
When asked where he sees himself in 10 years, Kyle replied simply, “Still here.”
Kyle’s story is certainly not the norm, but the opportunities for similar experiences are everywhere in manufacturing today. Unfortunately, students aren’t always aware of them.
To his peers, Kyle’s advice is, “Check out every possibility. Go to job fairs. Do some job shadowing. Keep your eyes open.” It takes courage to go against the crowd, but it is undoubtedly paying off for him.
From the perspective of an employer, Kyle Gourlie recognizes the need to do more outreach among local students to let them know what opportunities are available.
“As we started putting these Metalcraft Learning Labs in schools, we’re filling out our minor league system. So when those kids graduate they know their avenues, feel comfortable and know what they can do. It’s important that we get the Metalcraft name out there, for students to know some of the plant managers and supervisors. Then you know the robots, what we do, and who we are. And if you’ve got a good heart and a good mind and want to work for a great company, there’s a way.”
There are countless strategies for outreach that encompass a range of investment levels: from donations of equipment like welding gloves and safety glasses with company logos, to full Learning Labs, to internship opportunities.
Every investment as an ROI that goes beyond the monetary: companies are inspiring young people towards rewarding careers. Hard-working students are finding fulfillment at jobs that invest in them.
And the face of advanced manufacturing is starting to get the positive recognition it deserves.
Whether you’re an educator wanting your students to get hands-on exposure to the same technologies they’ll see in the workforce, or an employer looking to invest in your local students, we can help!