Women in Machining

Valerie Knupp is a production manager at Haas
Automation, responsible for several sub-assembly
departments, including tool changers, gearboxes,
spindles and, until recently, rotary products. The latter
department she just handed over to someone else, so
she could take on large VMCs and small and mid-size
HMCs. “I’ve done all the sub-assemblies, and now I’ll
be doing the actual machines – rounding off my
machine tool education, if you will,” she says.
Valerie’s first position at Haas was traffic
manager – she didn’t know a lot about machine tools
when she arrived nearly four years ago, but, having
been a general manager for a trucking company, she
knew how to ship anything. After running the shipping
department for a year and a half, she was asked to

manage the rotary department. “I was floored,” Valerie
says. “I didn’t know anything about it! But Bob
[Murray, operations manager] said, ‘You can do it,
Valerie. You’ve shown us you can do it.’ So I was a little
scared.” This didn’t deter her, however. “I’m never
quite satisfied with where I am,” she notes. “I’m always
looking at what’s next.”
At the time, the rotary department was in fine
shape in terms of quality, but it needed work in the
areas of process control and scheduling. “That’s what
I’m really good at – measuring efficiencies, measuring
the labor standards, and putting processes in place,”
she says. Next up was tool changers – and her
responsibilities have been increasing ever since.
Angelica Cardona is a mechanical assembler who
started at Haas a little more than three years ago,
bringing with her many years of experience in
manufacturing. Angie started out building subassemblies
for lube panels, then went on to building
the lube panels themselves. Next came the tool-release
pistons plus most of the assemblies that go in that
area – filters, check valves, through-the-spindle coolant
pumps. She loves her job: “This is one
of the best experiences of my life,
working here.”
For the last 10 months or so, she’s
been building the cam boxes for the
Haas side-mount tool changers
(SMTCs). Valerie Knupp, her
supervisor, says, “If I didn’t have Angie
doing that job already and somebody
asked me whether a woman could do it,
I’d say it was a man’s job. It’s very
heavy, it’s a difficult assembly – and she
does it hands-down. We never have
quality failures on those units.” The fact
that the quality is consistently top-notch
“speaks volumes for the design,”
Valerie points out, as well as for Angie’s
assembly skills.
The stainless steel component that
is the foundation of an SMTC cam box
weighs about 60 pounds. It has to be
heated for the first step in the
assembly process, so Angie lifts it in
and out of an oven. Building five units
at a time, she takes them out of the
oven in succession, lays them out and
does the first step in the process for
each one. She checks the quality at
every stage, and when each cam box is
complete, she inspects it again. “By the
time it’s finished, I’ve gone
through everything twice,”
Angie explains. The cam boxes
then move to the tool changer
area, where the SMTC
assembly is completed and
hooked up to a test box.
Ultimately, each one gets
mounted on a machine where
it runs for 36 hours to make
sure it works. It always does.
Norine Peters, Haas
Automation’s trade show
manager, is known in the
industry as the “Trade Show
Goddess” – a nickname, she
says, that “reflects my attitude
about working in a maledominated
industry.” She’s
been at Haas for nearly five
years, and in “show business”
for more than 20. Before coming
to Haas, Norine worked for various
computer and printer manufacturers,
managing their trade show and public
relations efforts. She managed booths
that were in the 7,500-square-foot range
and two stories high, with a staff of 150
to 200. This helped her make the
transition to working with machinery
that requires a large amount of exhibit
space. “Previously, my focus would be
on how to make the booth stand out in a
very sophisticated and glitzy show
environment,” she says. “The product
was secondary. The machine tool
industry is different in that the focus is
on the product.”
Norine’s biggest adjustment
was learning how to take a much
larger product line on the road
and get it set up. She used to
spend a week building a booth
and then just place the products
and plug them in. CNC shows,
however, require forklifts,
plumbing, coolant, air, raw
materials, extensive electrical
requirements, scrap removal and
more – all of which was new. “I
am not mechanically inclined, but
I have a natural curiosity about
how things work, and I am not
hesitant to ask questions or
doggedly track down the
information I need,” she says.
“Also, my background was being
able to multi-task and keep track
of millions of details.”
The team spirit at Haas is another
thing that made the transition easy.
“There’s a great support team around
here,” Norine says. She’s learned what
questions to ask, and the people she
asks are usually very patient and will
explain things in detail. “One of the
great things about working at Haas is
that the people designing, supporting
and selling the products are generally
excited about what they’re doing, and
more than happy to share that
excitement and pride with you.”
Ana Cruz is a machinist at Repair
Tech International (RTI) in Van Nuys,
California. She started learning the
trade about five years ago, while still in
high school, because the recruiter for the
Machine Tool Partnership Academy at
the school was quite convincing. “I
thought, it’s not going to hurt me a bit to
try something new,” Ana says – and she
found that she liked machining.
In the first year of the Academy
program, Ana learned how to operate
manual machines, and by the third year
she was taking CNC classes at Los
Angeles Valley College in Van Nuys.
She started working part-time for RTI in
1996, and has been full-time since July
1998. Ana still has a few more CNC
classes to complete – she loves
programming, and is looking forward
to learning more about how to write
programs for the parts she runs.
At present, Ana mostly runs manual
machines on the job: lathes, mills and a
drill press. She also supervises several
students who came from the same
Academy program she did. This is a
group of boys who were initially
reluctant to listen to her – she’s not much
older than they are, and she’s a woman.
This wasn’t a problem for long, though,
as it quickly becomes obvious that Ana
knows what she’s talking about. Her
aim, she tells them, is to make them selfsufficient,
so they can work without
needing her supervision. “I tell them it’s
all about teamwork,” she says.
Isaura Miranda, who goes by her
last name, has been a machinist for
Prompt Machine Products in
Chatsworth, California, for three years.
Miranda happened upon the machine
tool trade because she was looking for
work, and her brother-in-law, who also
works for Prompt Machine, told her the
company needed machinists and that
they would train her. Although she
didn’t know anything about machine
tools when she arrived on the job, she
now runs two Haas lathes. At present,
she works mostly on setting up and
running parts. “She’s very good at it and
very reliable,” says her supervisor, Tim
Sullivan. “We can give her a shop order
and she takes it from setup to running
parts off.” Miranda is particularly
interested in programming. She knows
how to modify existing programs, and
has asked to learn more about it, so
Prompt Machine plans to send her to
school. “She likes to learn,” Tim says.
Joyce Hayes has been a machinist
for more than 20 years, and has also
been teaching machine shop classes at
Simi Valley Adult School for nearly 10
years. As a young widow with six
children, she went to the Adult School
to learn a trade so she could support
her kids. The machine shop class was
new – and she was the first student to
sign up for it.
Joyce attended school full-time for
a year and then started working for
Fairchild Industries in Chatsworth. She
became lead person after 6 months, and
then was promoted to “factory
specialist,” which meant she set up all
jobs, did inspections and supervised
other people in her area. She’s also
worked for Rocketdyne and the Jet
Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena. As a
full-time machinist, Joyce ran CNC
mills, lathes and EDM machines. She
now teaches all of these, sometimes
working 14-hour days.
The Adult School offers morning,
afternoon and evening classes so that
students can attend no matter what
their work schedules. About 98% of
Joyce’s students have full-time jobs and
take classes part-time, mostly in the
evenings. Students with no experience
start out in her conventional machine
shop class, where they learn all the
manual tools – lathes, mills and
grinders. Her CNC offerings include a
class on MDI (manual data input), one
on PC-based Mastercam and Gibbs
CAD/CAM software, an advanced class
on tool and die making, and a class on
CNC controls that covers Haas, Fanuc,
Fadal, Acu-Rite and Dynapass controls,
among others.
“We know you can do it.” “We
never have quality failures.” “She likes
to learn.” “It’s all about teamwork.”
Such comments are common where
these women are concerned. And
though they entered the world of
machine tools through different paths,
each of these women shares a common
conscientiousness – every one takes her
job very seriously, and does it very well.
Their consensus is that women are
very well suited to work in this
industry, because women tend to be
detail-oriented, good at having back-up
plans and “winging it” when nothing
goes as planned, and they’re team
players. Now, we could argue all day
and into the night about whether
characteristics such as these are inherent
or learned – or both – or neither. One
thing is clear, though: these women all
possess these particular traits!
To them, being female in a mostlymale
business has not been a
disadvantage – reactions from men in
the industry have generally been
unbiased. “They might have
reservations at first,” Valerie Knupp
observes, “but then they learn, guess
what, she has a clue. She’s doing a good
job.” Variations on this theme came
from every woman interviewed.
Although there have been rare
instances of true male chauvinism (one
woman was actually told, 15 or so years
ago, that she should go home and let a
man have the job she was not entitled
to), in general no one feels that she’s
had to deal with much gender
discrimination. “You have to earn
respect no matter who you are” was an
oft-repeated motif.
So, despite being dominated by
men, the machine tool and
metalworking industry appears to be
an equal-opportunity profession. As
Norine Peters noted, “Women have a
lot to offer this business. As long as
you’re willing to work hard in a fastpaced
environment and you’re not
afraid to stand out in a crowd – you’ll
fit in quite nicely.”

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3 thoughts on “Women in Machining

  1. I am 50 years old woman, and I am try ing to learn Mchine Tool Technology because I love it and have experences for that. But my family everybody doesn’t agree with me. They think this major is not for woman. Do You think so?

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