Component Repair Technologies Inc. (CRT) of Mentor, Ohio receives turbine engine components and is tasked with identifying problems and solving them every single day. To stay competitive in the fast-paced industry of aviation component repair, innovation is a must. It is no different in how the company approaches training and development for its highly skilled workforce. “It’s a very difficult thing to find experienced machinists, experienced welders,” explained Cory Hutter, CRT’s training department supervisor. CRT specializes in turbine repair, having established itself as a go-to resource in the aviation industry since its founding in 1985. Since then, it has expanded into industrial and marine turbine repair. CRT performs extensive metalworking repairs on major engine components such as cases, frames, housings, and shafts.
Quality and speed are the two most crucial factors in helping turbine users keep their engines running and revenue flowing. The pandemic may have dampened demand to a degree in the airline industry, according to Hutter, but the need for these highly skilled roles is always present. CRT uses a variety of manufacturing processes, including precision machining, challenging TIG welding, and comprehensive inspection techniques for performing quality repairs on these critical components.
Quality Repairs with Speed Requires Talent
Even though CRT makes extensive use of advanced manufacturing tooling and machines—such as CNC machining and welding, robotics, and laser inspections—repair work is by its very nature different than production work. Each part is different. Damage or wear is often unique. Evaluation and manual control of these processes are needed. That means trained machinists, welders, and inspectors are vital for CRT’s business model. Finding these skilled technicians has been a growing challenge for a company like CRT. “Our largest department is the machine shop. Out of 450 people, I would say 60 to 70 of them are machinists,” explained Hutter. “If the machine shop is slowing things down, the rest of the repair process is slowing down.” This is typically true for the welding and inspection departments, as well.
Other concerns that Hutter expressed are the number of people approaching retirement age and the demand for these roles throughout manufacturing. Demand from other shops means more potential mobility for anyone with the motivation to become a skilled machinist, welder, or inspector. These two things make growing and keeping talent difficult.
Internal Development, External Partner
Finding someone with the right resume is one thing, but perhaps the key challenge is finding a person the organization knows well and trusts. This argues for developing people internally, which is something Hutter said CRT was inclined to do. But how best to upskill someone? “It’s not going to just be on-the-job training. You can’t take someone and put them next to an experienced machinist, and suddenly knowledge and skills are transferred,” he said. “That’s just not how it works.”
Schools and career centers do a great job with the foundation of manufacturing skills, but for the complexity of CRT’s repairs, more development is required. CRT must find a way to build upon that foundation and provide the knowledge and experience needed to become a highly skilled technician. “It’s one thing to be a machinist, but when you’re working on parts that are worth half a million dollars and you can scrap them out, it’s intimidating,” he said. That makes it a challenge to bring in a recent high school graduate even if they have the raw talent and capabilities. They need seasoning before taking on such high-risk tasks.
“We have to innovate to meet the needs of our business, and that is where Tooling-U SME is a big help,” said Hutter. He pointed to several advantages of working with Tooling-U SME that made it the right partner. First was the content and expertise Tooling-U SME could offer. With more than 300 different courses in machining and an extensive library available in welding and inspection, Hutter was pleased with the breadth of content.
Second was the proximity of its main facility to CRT and the personal attention given to CRT by Denise Ball, the Tooling U-SME representative. “The support we get from Denise goes way beyond the content we use,” he said, and with a Tooling U-SME facility nearby in Cleveland, access was easier.
Finally, Tooling U-SME’s connections via other SME resources, such as the SME Education Foundation or Membership was another draw. “We try our best to partner with other schools in the community, as well as businesses and pre-apprenticeships,” explained Hutter. “We really do push to get into high schools and hire high school kids and having [an organization like Tooling U-SME] with many other connections has just been huge.”
He stressed this as a lesson to other companies: Don’t focus only on content—be aware of the importance of tapping into sources of talent and other available resources, such as those from the non-profit parent of Tooling U-SME.
Practical Lessons in Lessons
Hutter reports that CRT typically has 30 to 50 individuals take advantage of the on-line courses offered to CRT by Tooling U-SME each year. New machinists and inspectors are required to take a set number of courses. An inspector needs 15 courses, while someone who wants to develop into a machinist needs an additional 20 courses. “All of our machinists are gauge-certified, which reduces the amount of their work that needs to be inspected,” he said, but it increases the amount of training they need, making the additional training resources vital.
In addition to required courses, CRT offers developmental opportunities for people who are interested in expanding their knowledge, perhaps with an eye towards eventually becoming a machinist or inspector. “For example, we have a bench tech position, which consists of a lot of component disassembly and assembly operations, and there are many courses that assist them in moving into that position,” he said.
He also noted that CRT is taking advantage of the state of Ohio program TechCred, aimed at helping Ohioans learn new skills with a state-funded reimbursement program. CRT and Denise Ball worked together to design technology-based certificates using Tooling U-SME content that upskills employees while satisfying the TechCred requirements. CRT began using the certificates in the summer of 2020 with great success.
Is there a best practice Hutter and CRT has learned in its experience? “Do as much as you can. There is no one program, no one way of training someone,” he advised. “I think partnering with as many people as you can when it comes to your local schools, identifying grant money, working with a content provider like Tooling U-SME, and coming up with your own internal programs and instructors will increase your chances for success.”
To learn more about how Tooling U-SME can help your organization, visit https://www.toolingu.com/about