‘Good, Honest’ Business Relationship Boosts Successful Machinist Training Program

CLIFTON SPRINGS, N.Y. – OptiPro Systems, a machine tool manufacturer and distributor in Ontario, Wayne County, has provided a computer-controlled lathe for use in the Finger Lakes Community College – LISK advanced manufacturing machinist training program.

The machine, valued at more than $200,000, ensures that students will learn how to use the most up-to-date equipment. “It’s tough to buy a machine just for training,” explained Dave Phillips, LISK’s training manager. Modern machine tools are so sophisticated and expensive that taking them out of production for training can be cost-prohibitive. The Nakamura-Tome lathe, he said, “means more hands-on time on the machines for our students.”


Don Miller, left, technical sales engineer for OptiPro Systems, shakes hands with Scott Cummings, director of machining at LISK in Clifton Springs, N.Y.

Don Miller, technical sales engineer for OptiPro, said he understands the value of the training program and its needs. “We have to be partners in this if we want to have well-trained workers. Everyone has to be a winner,” he said.

The partnership Miller arranged between OptiPro and LISK is an example of increasing cooperation within the advanced manufacturing sector as it strategizes for the coming retirement of the Baby Boom generation.

Scott Cummings, director of machining at LISK, said about 20 percent of the company’s workforce will reach retirement age in the next five years. It’s an added challenge for an industry that is already having trouble finding skilled workers. Political talk about the decline of manufacturing is usually a reference to “rust-belt” assembly line production. Advanced manufacturing, characterized by computerized equipment, climate-controlled workspaces and the design and production of precision components, has quietly grown in the background. LISK has added more than 100 employees in the last seven years. OptiPro has added 50 employees during the same period, doubling its workforce.

Advanced manufacturing has become too high-tech for people with no experience to learn on the job, and employers cannot afford errors that damage pricey equipment. LISK’s leaders realized several years ago that they needed to do more to ensure a steady supply of skilled workers.

The company reached out to Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua, N.Y., in 2009 for help in establishing a formal, six-month training program. FLCC worked with LISK to identify the knowledge and skills entry-level workers needed, everything from technical math to shop safety to what are known as “soft skills,” which include the ability to meet deadlines and work as a team.  FLCC focuses on outreach and administration of the program while Phillips handles the hands-on training.  Neither could have done it all.

“Community colleges cannot afford to buy all the high-tech equipment needed to train people for today’s advanced manufacturing environment, and manufacturers don’t have experience in setting up and operating formal education programs,” said Marcy Lynch, director of workforce development for FLCC.
The first class launched in 2010, and all the students had a job offer before graduation in March 2011. Succeeding classes have all had job offers prior to graduation as well.

The challenge to provide students with the most realistic work environment remains. Miller, whose company does business regularly with LISK, said he wants students to experience more than the lathe. “OptiPro is all about good, honest, solid business relationships. It is good for students to see the level of cooperation in this industry,” he said.

OptiPro designs and builds computer controlled grinding, polishing, and measuring equipment for the precision optics industry. It is also the exclusive New York state distributor for a leading importer of high quality machine tools, Methods Machine, as well as Mastercam software. The lathe OptiPro has provided for use in the G.W. Lisk training program is a Nakamura-Tome AS200L, which rotates metal on an axis so it can be shaped by cutting, grinding or other actions into a precision component.

LISK manufactures valves, flame arrestors and solenoids for military, aerospace, transportation and other industries. G.W. Lisk-made solenoids were part of the emergency backup system Capt. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger used to land a disabled U.S. Airways jetliner in the Hudson River in 2009. The story of that famous landing is the subject of a movie featuring Tom Hanks to be released Sept. 9.

The six-month advanced manufacturing machinist training program at LISK runs September to March every year. The next class of approximately a dozen students – class sizes are small to ensure plenty of supervised hands-on instruction – has been selected. In another example of industry cooperation, LISK has shared the curriculum with ITT Goulds Pumps in Seneca Falls, which runs a training program in cooperation with FLCC from March to September.

For information about this industry and community college training program, call (585) 785-1906 or email to Andrea Badger, custom training specialist for FLCC, at Andrea.Badger@flcc.edu.

By Lenore Friend
FLCC Community Affairs Director