Sharpening Skills in Online Classroom

June 22, 2009
Smaller companies shape training strategies using Tooling University
Tooling U offers 500 online courses in machining, manufacturing, welding, and quality inspection.

Every week, for at least one hour, every employee at Truline Industries takes a break from their work and goes back to school. But at this university, the windows contain bits and bytes of information rather than glass.

Truline Industries, a Chesterland, Ohio-based manufacturer of machine parts and bearings for the aerospace industry, trains its employees at its own facility using Tooling University, a provider of online manufacturing training.

Truline rarely hires highly skilled machinists and designers. Most of the time, like an increasing number of manufacturers today, it has to develop its own specialists. For that reason, electronic learning through Tooling U has become a centerpiece of its training program.

While online education is hardly a new concept, Tooling U offers 500 courses that zero in on machining, manufacturing, welding, quality inspection and related areas. Many of those classes are also offered in Spanish or simplified Chinese. They are entirely interactive and move at the learning rate of its users.

“We tend to hire people who need the technical training, so we’re using Tooling U to provide them the fundamental theory of machining, which is the foundation of everything we do here,” says Stuart Watson, vice president at Truline Industries. “If I have an educated employee who knows the science behind the machining, then I’m going to have a better employee.”

Truline provides Tooling U services to each of its 60 employees in-house, during the work day, fully paid. The education is cultivated toward each individual’s level of experience – whether that be in mill or lathe training, geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T), or blueprint reading.

Truline recently purchased eight Haas Super Mini Mills and three Haas VF2 mills and used Tooling U to transition Truline’s operators to the new machinery. With lifelike graphics that show an exact replication of the control panel, the instruction program allows students to train on the machines without the danger of damaging the equipment.

That learning can be applied at the introductory level, refreshing old skills, or refining advanced experience to a higher proficiency.

When Tooling U is tasked with training a group of operators on a machine, the students must first undergo an intensive assessment, exposing what they know and what they don’t.

“What that assessment highlights is what they need help on, whether it is the fundamentals, tool geometry, or higher end topics,” says Chad Schron, vice president of operations at Tooling U. “We then offer them a custom curriculum. It’s highly tailored to what their gaps are in knowledge and skills.”

Sometimes, educating the workforce isn’t limited to those on the shop floor. Pryer Machine, a Tulsa, OK, manufacturer of aerospace parts and components, set out to make all of its employees more familiar with what the company produces. That meant sending everyone – the accounting department, human resources, even Information Technology – to Tooling U. “

We did it so even people in the corporate environment have a better understanding of manufacturing and why it’s important from their perspective,” says Cayla Brumble, training specialist at Pryer.

Schron says that one of the recent trends he’s noticed is the increasing number of manufacturing engineers using Tooling U. While they might have a degree in engineering, Schron suggests, they don’t have the shop floor experience of some of the workers they supervise. Tooling U can provide background in those shop operations.

Tooling U has launched a competency model for a variety of applications: assembly and welding, forming and fabricating, industrial maintenance, and machining. The blended approach combines online learning and on-the-job training for any number of specific job titles.

“We’ve mapped out a recommendation of online classes we suggest a person take, along with hands-on skills they should be practicing,” says Schron. “It’s a framework for blended learning, which can be custom-fit.”

Time for any company is a precious resource. Training employees takes them off the shop floor, often leaving valuable machine tools sitting idle. Online training can help counter that issue in being available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It doesn’t require a team – only an individual.

“If there’s downtime or someone isn’t busy, they have the option of going into our computer room,” says Brumble. “One thing that’s very cool is that you can access Tooling U from your mobile phone. Some of our techies use it that way. If you’re at your son’s ballgame, you can sit there in between innings training for work.

"One of our workers, whose mother was in the hospital, was just sitting around [in the waiting room] and took several Tooling U classes.”

One of the more valuable ways Truline Industries used Tooling U was in its shop safety accreditation. The company used online training to satisfy all of its Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandates.

“My safety inspector was able to knock out all the mandated ones, like House Mats, Lockout/Tagout and personal safety,” says Watson. “It’s great to be able to get all that documented course work so that if you ever get a visit from OSHA, you have it right there – completed and certified.”

Brumble stumbled onto Tooling U when she was hired a year ago at Pryer Machine. Tasked with finding more innovative ways to train the workforce, Brumble sought a method she’d seen before in her background of medical training.

“In the medical arena, there are all sorts of web-based online programs,” she says. “What I wanted was to find something that would make the training of new hires and crosstraining into new positions easier. The search started there, and we found Tooling U.”

Watson says one of the challenges for any employer is providing his workers with the best tools to do their job. Tooling U is an investment, and perhaps one that doesn’t have an immediate return. But in the long run, he says, it pays tremendous dividends.

“I understand the value of a worker being on a machine and how training takes them away from production for one hour every week,” says Watson. “But you know what? The return on investment from that one hour is beyond calculation. For them, getting that higher education, furthering their skills – it’s invaluable both to the individual and to the company.”

Latest from Shop Operations