Meadville Tribune

March 20, 2013

RoboBOTS a 'feeder program' into area tooling industry

By Keith Gushard
Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — With at least an estimated 250 skilled workers needed each year in the local tooling and machining industry for the next five to 10 years, area firms are continuing to reach out to school students in creative ways to attract them to the profession.

RoboBOTS, a local competitive robot building competition for area high school students, is one way to get young people on a technical career path, according to organizers.

“Every production machine shop is looking for workers,” according to Patrick Faller, human resources manager for Acutec Precision Machining, a local firm with plants in Saegertown and Meadville. Acutec is a manufacturer of precision aerospace parts.

Skilled machinists can be make $16 an hour or more.

“I’m recruiting and trying to make students aware of the jobs that are out there,” Faller said. “We need people with computer programming skills, strong math skills, know units of measure.”

Started seven years, ago, RoboBOTS is sponsored by the northwestern Pennsylvania chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association, a trade group for the industry.

“It’s a feeder program for us, but it’s not a unique idea,” said Brian Deane, who coordinates the event for the northwestern Pennsylvania chapter of NTMA. “Scott Hanaway, our chapter president at the time, had witnessed it in another area of the country and suggested we try it to fill the pipeline (with future workers).”

The NTMA has been using the RoboBOTS program since 2006 to build interest among high school students in technical and manufacturing careers because of a looming shortage of skilled workers.

Manufacturers both here and nationally say the current work force is aging closer to retirement, meaning there is a need not only for machinists, tool and die makers, electricians and welders, but mechanical and electrical engineers and computer engineers.

“We’re hoping kids say ‘This looks interesting — let me check this out,’” Deane said of the program.

“It’s been working because we have a couple (of former RoboBOTS competitors) working here,” Deane said of his own firm, NuTec Tooling Systems, a company that builds machines for manufacturing.

There are an estimated 280 to 300 tooling and machining shops in the region covering Crawford and Erie counties.

Manufacturing is important to Crawford County since there is a heavier reliance on it here than in other parts of Pennsylvania and the country. About 22 percent of the jobs in the county are related to manufacturing, compared to 10 percent for the state and 11 percent nationally. Many of the area’s tooling and machining shops are suppliers of tools, equipment and parts to major manufacturers.

The local NTMA chapter estimates about 250 skilled workers will be needed a year for the five to 10 years to replace current workers who will be retiring, while also expanding businesses and integrating new technology into their firms.

“We need people with aptitude and attitude — they have to have the ability to learn,” Faller said. “I tell students that graduate high school or trade school they’re not done learning. Computer software programs are always changing and machines are changing.”

Machinists start out making a base salary of around $10 to $12.50 per hour, but their pay can climb rapidly, Faller said. “They can expect to make $14 to $16 an hour in three to five years.”

On top of that is an estimated $4 to $5 per hour in benefits, he said.

Employees usually can end up working overtime during a week and some can see as much as 15 to 20 hours in overtime in a week, he said.

You can go

The seventh annual RoboBOTS competition, sponsored by the northwestern Pennsylvania chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association, is scheduled Saturday at Meadville Area Senior High School. Admission is free. Doors open at 8 a.m. with competition beginning at 9.

From National Association of Manufacturers’ “A Growth Agenda”:

- Manufacturing supports about 17.2 million jobs in the U.S. — about one in six private sector jobs.

- In 2011, the average manufacturing worker in the U.S. earned $77,060 annually including pay and benefits. The average worker in all industries earned $60,168.

- Manufacturing in the U.S. produces $1.8 trillion of value each year or 12.2 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.

- Manufacturing has the highest multiplier effect of any economic sector — for every $1 spent in manufacturing, another $1.48 is added to the economy.

- Taken alone, manufacturing in the U.S. would be the 10th largest economy in the world.

The NWPA NTMA Education Foundation chapter currently offers five scholarships for training in the tooling and machining field.

The scholarships are:

- Kenneth and Margaret Deane Scholarship for $500

- J.O. Starn Scholarship for $1,000

- Starlite Group Inc. Scholarship for $1,000

- Byham’s Insurance Services Scholarship for $750

- Hagan Business Machines of Meadville Inc. for $1,000.

All scholarship applications are accepted until April 27.

At that time, the applications and all applicant criteria are reviewed and the committee makes a decision as to who will receive the scholarship(s) based on the guidelines set up by the organization, individual or business that has established the scholarship.

Checks for the scholarships are made out in the educational institution’s name that the applicant will be/or is attending. The Committee holds scholarship presentations at a coordinating northwest Pennsylvania chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association event during the summer and the scholarship winners, families and the scholarship donors have all participated.

- More information on individual requirements: Visit and click on the NWPA NTMA Education Foundation link.

Local businesses can get tax credits for supporting RoboBOTS

RoboBOTS was funded for its first six years through a combination of local business sponsors and grants made available through the Regional Center for Workforce Excellence.

Now, businesses are provided with Pennsylvania tax credits, which means a percentage of the dollars contributed to the NWPA NTMA Education Foundation will offset taxes, according to Tami Adams, executive director of the northwest Pennsylvania chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association.

It’s done with the NWPA NTMA Education Foundation now offering qualified programs through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) to support the promotion of manufacturing careers to local youth including RoboBOTS, Adams said.

Adams said a number of area businesses have taken advantage of NWPA NTMA Education Foundation’s EITC: NuTec Tooling Systems, Northwest Savings Bank, C&J Industries, Acutec Precision Machining, Starlite Diversified Industries, McGill Power Bell & Associates, Peters’ Heat Treating and PNC Bank.

- More information: Visit

Saga of a Toolmaker

By Larry Sippy

You don’t know me or what I do, but I am a toolmaker!

From the time you awaken, everything you touch in your day — I touched it first.

You press the snooze button on your alarm clock — I touched it first.

You use your cell phone, or open your refrigerator — I touched it first.

You start your car or your lawnmower — I touched it first.

This evening, when you use your TV remote or your toothbrush — I touched it first.

From the time you get up each morning to the time you go to bed at night, I have touched your life.

Remember me, I am a toolmaker! And I touched it first!

Larry Sippy, a retired toolmaker with a 50-year career, was a local leader in the tooling industry and a former national chairman of the National Tooling and Machining Association, an industry trade group.

He completed his tool and die maker apprenticeship at Sipco and spent his 50-year career growing with Sipco to become partner and president through the time of its sale in 2006. He was president of the northwest Pennsylvania chapter of the NTMA in 1984; served as the national NTMA Chairman in 2003; and retired to the golf course in 2009.

He devoted countless hours to apprenticeship and training programs by sponsoring more than 60 apprentices at Sipco, working with the community to build National Institute of Flexible Manufacturing, now known as Precision Manufacturing Institute, and partnering with national groups to develop the National Institute for Metalworking Standards.

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at