Machine shop team works for service, education
It takes a lot of moving parts to make a lot of moving parts.
In the MechSE Machine Shop, five staff members specialize in making parts for professors and graduate and undergraduate students, along with the occasional loyal alumnus working in private industry.
Everything they create in their job shop on the first floor of the Mechanical Engineering Laboratory is original and custom-made.
“They’re not just producing parts,” said Damon McFall, MechSE’s director of facilities and operations. “They’re meeting with the client, talking to the researcher, asking ‘Ok, what do you need and how can we help,’ and it’s always something customized, something that you can’t go and buy on the Internet. They are creating it here from scratch.”
The shop staff rises to each challenge of providing whatever a client needs, and they meet those challenges thanks to years of combined experience.
Cliff Gulyash, shop supervisor, uses his extensive shop and fabrication experience to lead the team. He consults with the customers about their designs, looking for ways to improve them and reduce costs and machining time.
“Folks come in with neat ideas. We look for what really is going to work and what we can build,” Damon said. “Cliff is that man who knows what’s coming in. He’s worked with many different projects and so he has an idea of what they’re going to bring and the solutions that he’s ready to give.”
Damon said Cliff’s personality helps him in this role, as he is known for being friendly and flexible.
“Cliff’s a personable guy,” Damon said. “He’s outgoing. He’s willing to help them when they come. These guys are very flexible, and Cliff takes the lead in that. They’ll do whatever it takes.”
When Cliff is out, Kyle Cheek steps in to take his place. Kyle used to run an assembly line, which has helped him increase efficiency in the shop. Damon said that, with Kyle’s help, the shop was able to cut production time on one product from six hours down to just one hour.
“Kyle figures out techniques and brings those techniques to the table,” McFall said. “That’s his talent.”
All of the guys in the machine shop have previous experience in the private sector. Gary Sedberry brings with him 29 years of experience in the machine field.
Gary used to be a supervisor at Harlan and Lash, and he has utilized that experience to teach students what they might not learn in class.
“He bridges the gap. They come with a theory, and he brings it to reality,” Damon said. “He likes the education component. The machinists are providing an education to these students. Gary’s attitude is, ‘I want to talk about your ideas, I want to figure it out, and then I’ll build it.’”
Gary’s previous jobs also give him diversified experience working on the majority of the 40+ machines in the shop. He and the others have been training one another on the different tools so that they can all run each one and have a full understanding of the shop’s capabilities.
Jeff Smith’s background in private industry also brings a special set of skills to the team. Jeff worked with Electrolux and The Eureka Co. before coming to the machine shop. He helped develop and make the machines, but also gained experience in sales, marketing, and industrial design.
“When he talks about numbers it is really the business side because he’s done so much on the business side in the past,” Damon said. “They are showing him the charts on the board—‘here’s our sales, here’s our revenue, here’s our contribution margin’—they have all of that and he’s very familiar with how that works.”
The team is rounded out by Dave Williams, who led teams of up to 50 machinists during his time in industry. Dave now works in both the machine shop and the College of Engineering’s Engineering Student Projects Lab. In each of these roles, he tries to create a positive and memorable learning experience.
“He likes working with the students. He enjoys mentoring and education,” Damon said. “He doesn’t want to be in the shop all day. He likes to spend time now passing on what he’s learned.”
Damon said that this commitment to education is shared among all of the machine shop staff. They are not simply making parts to assist with research but are creating better engineers by teaching clients which part they really need and why.
The team’s attitude when it comes to education and working with clients highlights how well they work together, Damon said. Although their workday does not begin until 8 a.m., most of the group arrive early, discussing projects and having a cup of coffee.
“That’s remarkable that you can have that much unity,” Damon said. “They work together and help each other. There is no competition. They figure, ‘We are all here to serve this department so let’s figure out how we can do it the best.’”