This really frosts my ass because there's a lot more to machining than our self-professed `betters' know.
When the newly appointed head of your [G.E.] division (not much older than myself at the time), while taking a guided tour of the shop, walks up to a Bridgeport and comments "Nice looking drill press!" It's time to worry...true incident that took place right in front of my astonished young eyes!
Metals/materials are like diseases and each one has different characteristics. You don't just slap a cutter in and have at it--unless you have a death wish.
You have to be able to gage surface finish by eye, measure by feel and the sound of the cut tells you so much about what's going on that a deaf person can not be a machinist! Sometimes smell betrays a problem before you see or hear it! (Although this is rare because most shops reek all the time.)
Like builders, we need to be able to successfully interpret blueprints and have a working knowledge of the engineering symbols that define datum points and tolerance zones.
Like surgeons, the only way to become proficient at our job is by doing the work. Unlike doctors, we also need to know programming code so we can adjust the programs to make good parts.
There's a lot of truth to the old assertion that a good machinist can do anything, and I do mean anything as we are quite often called upon to do the impossible with next to nothing...and do it on time too!
Thus when people like myself, who worked their way up from the shop floor, hear management types belittle our profession or take our skills for granted that we get pissed!
Nasty, dirty, stinking, thankless job made more so by ignorant college grads who blithely think 'anyone can do it'...fuckers!
Worse is reading in the media a description of our profession that makes us look like overpaid morons...just because a degree in the trade isn't offered, which is why the pay sucks. In this respect I would point out that the folks at GM we're the exception rather than the rule, most job shops pay spit and always have...for competitive reasons ironically enough.
Every finished good you touch or the machine that makes it, comes from a machine shop, bar nothing!
The real deal; machining is labor intensive. A Chinese machinist has to know the same things US machinists do, they just live in a country that pays them less to know it. There are no `college educated' machinists because the only way to learn the trade is on the shop floor.
Trade school can teach you the basics and provides some hands on but like most professions, you don't really appreciate what it takes to do the job until you do it every day, all day.
Which leads us to sports figures that many think are worth every nickel of their multimillion dollar salaries...for playing a fuckin' game!
If a sports figure maintains a five hundred average (only fucks up half the time) they're a legend. If you fuck up a handful of two-cent parts on the shop floor you'll be looking for someplace else to work. Of course job shops aren't sports franchises. They often quote the jobs so close that they cannot afford lost time or junk...none.
Then there are the hand tools YOU need to buy just to do the job. Filling a machinist's chest is about triple the cost of a mechanics because of all of the precision measuring equipment we need to personally own.
So much for the 'low skill/high wage' middle class. Even working for G.E. I never made more than $30k on the shop floor.
I worked in a `job shop' for most of 2004 and made a shade over $25k. I worked four ten hour days with one eighteen minute break (the only time you were off your feet) for lunch...running three machining centers at a time! (so you needed roller skates to keep all three running.)
Again, the inexperienced make piles of junk. You can pork a part by loading it wrong or putting too much pressure on the vise...but any idiot can do that.
Now try it with three different jobs that all have specific ways they must be loaded and flipped to come out right. It's a lot to keep in your head while your running between machines that have a 20 second cycle time and two or three stations to load and unload before restarting the cycle.
Oh how we longed for the days of one man, one machine, which is how it used to be in the old days.
Try and wrap your head around the concept that if it's man-made, the product or the machine/tools used to make the product came from a machine shop.
Yet since the trade employed so many, the skill was considered `common' and it's practitioners possessed of no more than `ordinary' talent, which led to the belief that `anyone' could do it.
But this is neither here or there as machining has become a trade that you can no longer make a living at. I recently received two calls from headhunters and both [temp positions] paid less than I make [from my steady job] driving executive sedan...how sad is that? I can make more money driving a car than I can employed in one of the most difficult professions out there!
This brings us to a larger problem good citizen. With the bean counters amongst us off-shoring anything that even smacks of production (long term, steady work.) Where doe this leave the displaced workers and more importantly, new entries into the workforce?
People who can't find work must either seek assistance, money extracted from an ever shrinking pool of people still fortunate enough to be working or they embark on a campaign of taking what they need...sometimes doing both.
Have you looked in the classified section of your local paper lately? The help-wanted section here is tiny, less than a single page where I live. Look a little closer. Are most of the open positions low skill/low pay? Nearly half of the listings are for wait staff in my local paper with a circulation of 125,000.
There is one machine shop looking for help...the same one I worked like a slave for in 2004. Did I mention that fifteen guys went in and out that door during my year there? I made it `til raise time, where instead of giving me a raise they hired three new guys (who were gone in a month) to replace me.
This neck of the woods is loaded with shops. The Northeast used to be heavily invested in defense work. These days the shops all live and die with the semiconductor market.
This is why you can't make a living machining. The production jobs are gone. All that is left is the small quantity, quick turn-around stuff that the buyers want for nothing...so the shops pay you spit because they aren't making anything themselves.
The race to the bottom is almost done. The loud splat you'll hear will be our economy falling flat on its face. That's what happens when you cut out the backbone of a society, it collapses like puddle of jelly it is.
The really bad news is we don't have the luxury of going back to the farm, not only is there no money to be made there but the farm itself was chopped up and turned into a subdivision.
This kind of compounds the problem of finding something to feed our starving children.
Sorry for the rant but as you can see reporting such as the piece I read last night really gets under my skin.
Thanks for letting me inside your head,