How Jim Wright Went From Finance to the Shop Floor

There were two things I knew about Jim Wright before I met him. He lives in the country and is passionate about CAM. Both of these came through various Twitter conversations before we ever met in real life. At Solid Edge University, I chatted live with Jim to find out more about his career as a “CAMologist.” The main reason he chose a career in manufacturing:

 “The part I enjoy the most is seeing an idea that I have come into a physical real part. There’s such a joy I get. I think that is why I like this field so much.”

Here is our video interview and a follow up Q&A.

Q: What is your degree in and where did you go to school?
A: “When I first went to school, I wanted to be a banker so I chose a degree in Finance. However, I was working at night (to support my college expenses) in an aluminum foundry. I took a lot of classes in manufacturing technology because my company would pay for classes related to that work. As I progressed with college, I became less enamored of the Finance degree because it seemed those types NEVER got out of the office. I ended up with a bachelor’s of science in Business Administration with a heavy emphasis on manufacturing. I am now pursuing an MBA (kind of doubling down on the business side-LOL). University of Central Missouri (Go Mules) for both degrees.”

Q: What or who first introduced you to the “sometimes dirty” world of manufacturing? 
A: “I started working in an aluminum foundry right out of high school to earn money for college, but I knew a lot about mechanical things way before that. I grew up on a farm, and I always helped my dad with repairing things. I also took apart all of my toys to see how they worked. I think that is one disadvantage about the digital age – there are fewer mechanical things to examine and discover.”

Q: Is there anything in particular you learned in your finance studies that you find valuable to your career manufacturing?
A: “Yes, absolutely! So much of manufacturing is about Return on Investment:
– If I purchase this $500,000 CNC machining center, and then another $150,000 on installation, tooling, software, and user training, what is my payback?
– What is my shop overhead rate?
– How much should I bid this job at?
– Make/buy decisions
– What is the cost of quality? (hint-it isn’t free like some quality experts say)
– A very interesting question – what percentage of jobs that I bid should I win? (the answer is surprisingly low).”

Q: How has manufacturing changed throughout your career?
A: “It has moved from strictly mechanical to almost all electronic. In the foundry, all of the trigger mechanisms for the molding operation were mechanical. As the mold opened, a mechanical trigger would eject the casting out of the mold. Dog stops and cams were used to trigger the molten metal flow and mold tilt. In the machine shop, it was the same – mechanical machines run by cams and stops. Now the same types of things are being done but triggered by a computer and laser switches.”

Q: Do you have any engineering/manufacturing heroes?
A: “I think I admire elegant designs more than the people who made them. I find the one-button iPod a fascinating device. Modern jet engines are also fascinating. Allis Chalmers developed the original round baler (for hay) – that was a mechanical marvel too.”

Q: What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever cut on the shop floor? 
A: “I was very proud of the very first mold I ever wrote an NC program for. It was a very intricate lamp post base. You can see them in most large cities. I also programmed a very long wing spar for the F18 E/F variant – that was my first complex 5-axis NC program.

Jim mentioned Sandvik Coromat in our video interview. You might be interested in seeing this video on their view of PLM and follow them on Twitter. They have a great video series to inspire careers in manufacturing. Check out The Edge Factor.

So from finance to the shop floor – that’s Jim’s story. What’s yours?

– Dora

P.S. For those of you already in the cutting edge world of CAM (and for those of you considering a CAMology career), be sure to get on Twitter if you aren’t already and follow Jim.

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