Within the first hour of the grand opening of Stiles Machinery’s new Northeast Regional Training Center in Bristol, PA, customers were already asking to begin training programs through the facility.
The training center, featuring a 12-seat computer lab, touch-screen white boards, a CNC machine and an edgebander, “brings the ease of learning to the forefront,” said Thomas Allott, manager of Stiles University, at the event in November. The first class at the facility, on Nov. 13, sold out within about two weeks of customers learning of it on the company’s web site.
“We like to balance 50% classroom and 50% machine (training),” Allott explained. “We can break our machines and don’t have to worry about customers breaking their machines.”
Stiles, based in Grand Rapids, MI, sells machinery cells, integration, software, tooling and even refurbished parts for competitors’ machines, explained John Mauro, director of the Northeast Regional Training Center. The company’s Stiles University is the only accredited university within the woodworking industry.
The grand opening featured presentations on streamlining operations, finding and motivating machine operators, and saving money on new machines or wear and tear on old ones with training that includes innovative ways of using 3-axis equipment.
“Don’t always think you need to buy more machinery,” Mauro advised. “Learn how to use the one you have; (with) $800 worth of tooling and $8,000 worth of software, you can (approximate) five-axis stuff that will awe the public. I want people to start realizing that $80,000 edgebanders could have up to 10- (or) 11-axis controls on them.”
To illustrate Mauro’s point, James Swanson led three demonstrations using the facility’s HOMAG Vantech router. Machine makers are spending more money to make equipment faster when it is not cutting, Swanson noted.
Meanwhile, Steve Jones told the roughly 130 attendees about applications using magnetic linear drive technology, more nimble end-trimming units, advances in gluing units for PUR and EVA adhesives, and how to achieve multiple radiuses with servo controls adjustable to hundredths of millimeters.
Keynote speaker Guy Bucey, plant manager and COO of Inova, stressed that expensive machinery alone will not ensure quality products. Finding and training people who are driven to continually improve processes is essential.
To Bucey, an Inova operator’s job description is to improve on his process “until the end of time, not just run the machine.” At Inova, the first hour of every day is dedicated solely to allowing employees to refine whatever processes they control — and no production work is allowed in that time.
The two-day grand opening included a tour of Eastern Millwork, a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Jersey City, N.J., directly across from lower Manhattan. Eastern has been a Stiles customer for more than two decades. About four years ago, founder Andrew Campbell asked Stiles to assist in a major investment including a new building with all new machinery that would be as integrated and automated as possible.
“We got a chance to start from ground zero with him,” Mauro said. Stiles urged Eastern to purchase some larger equipment to stay ahead of trends, as well as some smaller equipment to use for a shorter period as technology evolved. “It’s an incredibly right-sized project,” Mauro concluded.
The newest addition to Stiles’ regional training facilities addresses travel costs and potential weather interruptions that can dissuade companies from sending employees for training or significantly curtail their classroom time.
Stiles University maintains its educational edge by continually refining its curriculum, Allott explained. Stiles also maintains a partnership with Pittsburg State University in Kansas City.
“We take the machines that are coming in — the new and the latest and greatest — and we update our manuals, we update our programs, we update our computer systems, everything,” he explained. “Our instructors go to the factory back in Germany at least once a year. From there they come back with the information to reconstruct the manuals. They also do installs of machines, so they know what these guys are going through. They do calibration, they do FSR visits — they do everything that everyone else in the company does to make sure that they are getting the right practical learning in to the employees.”
Ultimately, proper operator training is vital to a company’s bottom line, said grand opening attendee Mike Mamrak of Lewis Lumber Products (Picture Rocks, PA).
“We’ve traditionally gone to training in North Carolina,” he said. “Any time we can train our guys closer to home and faster is a big thing. My biggest fear is not having the right guys on the machines. Our molders are our biggest (earners). A guy who is running a molder can either make you money wildly or lose you money wildly real quick. Having those guys trained to use the machines makes all the difference when it comes to increased profitability.”
To find out more about Stiles Machinery or to sign up for Stiles University, visit www.stilesmachinery.com.