Training at MAPAL

Tom Hoffmann describes what he's learned from scratch in his training as a cutting machine operator.

He was looking for a job where he could actively put his hands to use. In his training as a cutting machine operator at WTE in Ehrenfriedersdorf, Tom Hoffmann deals with a wide range of manufacturing processes used in the metalworking industry and the associated tools of the trade.

"We make the connecting piece between the machine and the tool – the chuck. In particular, my tasks include milling tool adapters like shrink chucks and hydraulic chucks," says Tom, describing the focus of his current duties.

He began his apprenticeship as a cutting machine operator at WTE in 2018. MAPAL's subsidiary is located in Ehrenfriedersdorf, Saxony, and specialises in the production of clamping technologies. The main task of WTE products is to clamp tools like milling cutters or drills precisely. For example, the products impact the surfaces of a workpiece or the tool life clamped tools enjoy. Since there are not the same parts on the agenda every single day, a cutting machine operator's working day is often very varied. "Depending on the order, you need to insert parts and check dimensions. However, you might need to set up machines, measure tools or set zero points as well", says Tom, describing his remit. He particularly enjoys facing new challenges which promote solution-focused thinking.

"Here, I can work freely and I'm treated with a lot of trust. In production, we're assigned a specialist member of staff who trains us on the machines and helps us when we need him."

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Doing something practical

Even while still being at school, Tom knew he wanted to pursue a manual, technical job later in life. A friend tipped him off that WTE took on trainees in a neighbouring town. When he read up on the cutting machine operator training on the website, he applied for the vacancy right away. "I then received an invitation to an interview very quickly. We agreed on a trial day. After that, I got the go-ahead straight away", says Tom, recalling his smooth application process. As well as the good apprenticeship wage and variety of opportunities to develop, he was particularly impressed by the company's own in-house training centre. This is a place where you can try things out and realise exciting little projects. So far, his own projects have included building a compressed air motor, which can be operated with a compressor and a steam engine, which can be powered by a "Räucherkerzchen" candle in authentic Erzgebirge style. He's been able to take the results home as tokens of his achievement. They still delight him every time he sets eyes on them. "We're certainly not just practising here. We're also making special equipment for machinery that's used in production – whether it's a clamping fixture or just a washer that needs to be ground. Optimising tools is another aspect, e.g. if a turning tool needs to be shortened. We deal with basically anything that can help production", says Tom. In the first year of his training, Tom worked exclusively in the training centre, where he learned the basics of metalworking and conventional turning, milling and grinding. Since he passed his interim examination, he's already been working permanently in production at Ehrenfriedersdorf.

A good environment to grow in

There are four apprentice cutting machine operators in Tom's year. All are roughly the same age and get along well. According to Tom, this certainly contributes to a relaxed working environment. He also respects the encouraging and demanding management style he's come to know at WTE. "Here, I can work freely and I'm treated with a lot of trust. In production, we're assigned a specialist member of staff who trains us on the machines and helps us when we need him." However, Tom prefers to solve the challenges he faces by applying the things he's learned. "I'm proud when I can set up a machine by myself, so that the order works". That's how he notices his training is paying off.

Giant steps towards the world of work

What does he think are must-haves for applicants who want to succeed as a cutting machine operator? "Good knowledge of maths and physics and an interest in working with precision", reckons Tom. As for him, he plans to spend a few years gaining professional experience first before considering further training to become a CNC programmer. One day, he'd like to be in a position to take on more responsibility and manage others. However, first of all, his next goal is his trade examination which he'll soon complete on the three-axis milling machine.

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