Competition was once again fierce at the National Tooling & Machining Association (NTMA) Annual Apprentice Competition, but Howard Heitger III of Uniontown, OH-based McAfee Tool & Die - a manufacturer of precision metal stamping tooling and specialized advanced machined components for the Aerospace & Defense industries - proved himself a winner when he snagged the award last April.
According to Michael Francek, vice president of McAfee Tool & Die, Heitger was excited about competing - which he demonstrated through his positive attitude. "He also showed a lot of dedication by practicing and honing his machining skills on his own time and asking questions and seeking assistance from his co-workers and instructors at the Akron NTMA Training Center (Akron, OH)," Francek notes.
McAfee Tool & Die has been in business for more than twenty-five years, with President Gary McAfee on the Board of the Akron Chapter of NTMA/Akron Machining Institute for approximately twenty years. "Our company tries to keep several apprentices enrolled in the apprenticeship program each year and the company plays an active part in all chapter functions," McAfee notes. "We had two of our fourth year apprentices in the local competition this year. Both of our apprentices placed in the top three positions in the Akron Chapter local competition, Randy Genet placed third. We felt both of our apprentices possessed excellent machining skills and shop knowledge and had a good chance of doing well in the competition."
The competition is a contest that measures various machining skills of each contestant along with their knowledge of mathematics, decision-making and problem solving, engineering drawings, measurement and metalworking theory. The contestants fashioned metal parts using their skills on selected machines - such as manual milling machines, lathes and grinders. Each local chapter of NTMA holds an annual competition for fourth-year apprentices and the first place winner of each local chapter goes on to compete on the national level.
The contest - now in its thirty-first year - consisted of eighteen contestants and was held in Meadville, PA. As the national winner, Heitger received a number of prizes - including a check for one thousand dollars, and a wooden tool chest from tool chest manufacturer H. Gerstner & Sons (Dayton, OH) along with various tools. As the employer of the winner, McAfee Tool & Die Inc. receives an EDM machine valued at thirty-two thousand dollars or a fifty percent discount off the price of selected other machines with retail value up to two hundred thousand dollars from Charmilles Technologies (Lincolnshire, IL) - an EDM equipment manufacturer.
Heitger - a graduate of Northwest High School (Canal Fulton, OH) - attended the R.G. Drage Vocational School for Machine Trades (Massillon, OH) and worked as a machinist at a metal stamping plant for nine years prior to coming to McAfee Tool & Die Inc. He has been with McAfee for the past three and a half years as an apprentice tool & die maker while simultaneously attending the Akron Machining Institute at the Akron Chapter of the NTMA. "I was very surprised and excited when I won," Heitger recalls. "I was confident that I did well, but the other competitors were very good and I did not think that I would win."
He adds that the competition was very tough, consisting of two full eight-hour days, during which each contestant completed three projects to test their machining skills. "The machining portion consisted of everyone working on identical machines producing a part on a lathe, milling machine and grinding machine," he says. There also was a written exam that took four hours.
Heitger credits his coworkers as well as his instructors at the Akron Machining Institute for providing him with the wherewithal to win the competition. "They all have helped me improve my machining skills, machining knowledge and math skills," he stresses. "Without them, I wouldn't have had the knowledge or skills to win."
As for what Heitger's future holds, he hopes to stop burning the midnight oil soon. "My short-term goal is to be moved to day shift, so that I can take up the Akron NTMA's offer to teach an evening class in the apprentice course," he says. "This will prepare me to pursue a possible teaching career at a vocational school five to ten years from now!"