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Second Chance Futures Begin with Training at Pioneer Industries

Jim Lorincz
By Jim Lorincz Contributing Editor, SME Media

Imagine applying for a job where your past mistakes are overlooked. Where there’s no stigma associated with a criminal record or struggles with drug abuse, and where everyone is given a helping hand on their road to a new life. If you’re applying at Pioneer Industries, a division of the social enterprise Pioneer Human Services (Seattle, WA), you’ve come to the right place. Employees are provided the tools for a second chance in life and an opportunity to get trained and work in aerospace and commercial manufacturing utilizing CNC mills and software.

At Pioneer Industries, senior CNC programmer Will Slota says it is company policy that every job is run through Vericut before being released
to the shop floor.

Jack Dalton, a reformed alcoholic and once-successful attorney, walked out of the Washington State Penitentiary in 1963. Like so many before him who had served a prison sentence, he found it difficult to rejoin life on the outside, beyond the bars. Dalton refused to settle for the status quo, however, both for himself and others who had done things they later regretted.

He decided to make a difference and founded Pioneer Human Services, which began as a halfway house. Not long after buying the home and opening its doors to those who had been previously incarcerated, he witnessed the difficulty and discrimination that formerly incarcerated individuals faced when looking for employment. He began talking with aircraft manufacturer Boeing about forming a company that provided manufacturing training and employment. Pioneer Industries was formed by working with industry leaders in the Seattle area, and Dalton continued to expand the social services of the organization also. Today, Pioneer provides counseling and substance abuse treatment, housing, job training, employment, and youth and young adult programs to over 10,000 individuals struggling with criminal histories or in recovery across Washington State each year.

This story isn’t all about rehabilitation and second chances, though. It’s about manufacturing. The organization has introduced or trained people in new vocations and either helped them find a job or hired them outright. Many have gone on to open their own businesses or moved on to other meaningful careers. That’s because Dalton leveraged his dreams and talent to build a world-class machine shop and fabricating company.

From a single machine in Dalton’s garage, Pioneer Industries today boasts $30 million in annual revenue, 110,000 ft2 (10,219 m2) of production and office space across three plants, and employs more than 200 employees, with approximately 64% of the workforce having a criminal history or in recovery.

Justin Phillips is group lead Boeing/apprentice. Boeing was an early supporter of Jack Dalton and his Pioneer Human Services group.

The equipment list at Pioneer Industries is impressive. A pair of Makino A61 horizontal machining centers. A twin-spindle Doosan lathe with C-axis milling. Nearly a dozen high-speed Mazak vertical mills, most with 12,000-rpm spindles and tombstone-equipped rotary tables. A CNC router with a bed bigger than a utility trailer. These are just some of the CNC machine tools that Pioneer uses every day to produce aerospace and commercial components from aluminum, titanium, Inconel, and other challenging metals. Yet Pioneer goes well beyond high-performance milling and turning. A complete sheet metal shop boasting CNC lasers, including a fiber laser, waterjets, press brakes and punch presses stands at the ready. Together with welding, assembly, and NADCAP-certified finishing processes, there’s little that Pioneer can’t tackle.

Despite these extensive capabilities, Pioneer deals with the same challenges faced by any manufacturing company. In the machine shop, setup times must be kept to a minimum. Acceptable tool life and part quality must be assured. Machining processes must be continually improved. Above all, crashes on expensive machine tools must be avoided. That calls for simulation software.

“I’ve only been here a couple years, so I wasn’t around when Pioneer first bought Vericut,” said general manager Dan Hawkins. “But I assume the people responsible purchased it for the same reasons I did at several other shops I’ve worked at. It’s quite simply an excellent software package for toolpath simulation and collision avoidance.”

Pioneer has four full-time employees in the programming office, split evenly between machine shop and sheet metal duties, and uses a CAM system for all of its milling and turning work. Senior CNC programmer Will Slota said it is company policy that every job is run through Vericut, developed by CGTech, before being released to the shop floor.

“I actually worked for our CAM provider for 12 years before coming to Pioneer,” he said. “Mastercam is a great programming package and has good simulation capabilities, but it doesn’t read the posted G-code like Vericut does. That can make a difference.”

For example, Will Slota, senior NC programmer, and his team have seen a couple of instances where someone tried to use the wrong toolholder, or deviate from the setup sheet and attempt to machine something with a shorter tool than they should have. In another instance the fixturing design wasn’t adhered to. By running the Vericut reviewer session on the floor before pushing cycle start, the machinist can see the difference between what is supposed to happen and what is actually on the CNC, he said. “That’s why we double-check everything with Vericut—those mistakes wouldn’t have been caught without it.”

Production Manager Les Mayhall said the ability to accurately simulate toolpaths is especially important at Pioneer, where many of the employees are hired on with little or no experience in manufacturing. “Everyone has trouble finding skilled machinists these days and we’re no different,” he said. “We participate in a state-sponsored apprenticeship program called AJAC, and also provide tuition reimbursement for anyone wishing to take night classes, but a lot of our people learn on the job. Vericut gives us the confidence that our CNC programs are clean when they get to the machine operator, who might not yet have the ability to spot a problem until it’s too late.”

Machinist/journeyman, Sean Masters operating a turret punch press at Pioneer Industries.

Slota said NC code verification is a painless process. Because Vericut interfaces directly with Mastercam, toolpath simulation “takes only minutes” depending on the length of the program. Tool libraries and part data are easily and quickly exchanged between the two systems. When a new machine tool comes along (as was the case recently with the Doosan turn-mill center), developing a 3D machine model is easily accomplished within the Vericut interface using data provided by the machine tool vendor. And, of course, CGTech is available to lend a hand.

“Due to time constraints, we supplied the CAD models and kinematic information to CGTech,” explained Slota. “They built the simulation model and sent it back to us. We ran some test code and it worked flawlessly. Their support has always been phenomenal.”

Dan Hawkins agreed. “With Vericut, what you see is what you get.”

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