Parts made and shipped from the LoDolce Machine Company in Malden can be found on New York subway trains, in dental x-ray machines, on F-22 fighter planes, on trains throughout the country, and in IBM brackets used around the globe. LoDolce hose nozzles can be found in Saugerties firehouses.
In an effort to bring new hands to an industry that owner Michael LoDolce says is in danger of dying, the Saugerties manufacturing firm is offering a paid apprenticeship program. Apprenticeships are important to training the labor force of the future to learn the skills required in tech-based manufacturing.
LoDolce received state support and a $20,000 grant from the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency earlier this year for a program to enable the firm to qualify for certain federal contracts.
“Machinists are a dying breed, they’re very hard to find,” said LoDolce. “As I grow, I’m looking for more talent. You see less hands-on [work]. People would rather see [young people] go to college for the last 30 years.”
Thus far, nine machinist hopefuls have joined the firm since November, with four enrolled in a state-sponsored apprenticeship program. After four years in the program, a participant will earn a journeyman’s card after four years.
Although math proficiency is helpful on the job, LoDolce said that the most important criterion for those considering the training is “the desire to be a machinist.”
“I actually had no experience in machining, to tell you the truth. I was basically an independent contractor refurbishing houses,” said Zach Pillis, who among other responsibilities mans a $1.2-million laser that cuts 600-pound sheets of metal. “There was a little bit of a learning curve when I first came in to run the machines and get the offsets proper. The online classes that they have you take goes through every little thing step by step. The online courses are extremely helpful when you have zero knowledge. And obviously everyone around me helped me.”
Pillis has been training with the company for six months. He contends that the only type of people not fit for the program are those who “don’t like learning.” Many jobs at the plant are mechanized, requiring the workers to master a variety of skills.
Another employee, Damian Fitzpatrick, was programming a machine with a computer language called “G-Code” to cut a solid block of metal into a finished product. He said that the process took about 20 hours.
“We think this is a cannon that they mount on a Humvee, but we don’t know,” said Fitzpatrick. “A lot of the parts I make, I don’t know where they go.”
Armed with the online training program “ToolingU,” the apprentices are guided by director of manufacturing Mark Harris, who has taught machining at Boces and Dutchess Community College. “When cutting metal, people don’t realize the math involved,” explained Harris as he showed the ins and outs of a vertical mill machine. “You have to calculate the feeds and speeds at which you cut the different materials at. If I have a piece of aluminum and the speed is at 300 rotations per minute, it can’t cut efficiently — you need to be in the thousands. In manufacturing, time is money. If I do the same thing with titanium, I’ll burn my tools up.”
The company has its own line of fire-hose nozzles, which they manufacture on site and are used at fire houses and industrial plants in both the U.S. and Canada.
Harris walked me through the process of fabricating a fire-hose nozzle. At the beginning of the process, twelve-foot billets of aluminum are cut into smaller segments, called slugs, by a horizontal hacksaw. In the turning part of the process, these slugs are put into a lathe machine where parts of metal are carved away to create the finished shape (according to Fitzpatrick, the coding involved in this step can take up to 15 hours).
I had imagined that creating metal parts involved pouring hot metal into molds. In reality, hand welding of small pieces is the only process involving melting at the plant. Instead, subtractive manufacturing, which carves pieces of metal away from a whole until it becomes a final product, is the norm.
LoDolce Machine has been a family run business since 1962. It was started by William LoDolce, Mike’s grandfather, and at first made machines for glue and paper bag manufacturing.
In the business’s beginning days, it only took up one building. Now, employees can specialize in the sheet-metal department (housing the big laser), turning and milling, welding, or in the wet-paint, powder and cleaning building. LoDolce’s currently employs 45 people.
Interested parties can contact Mark Harris at 246-7017 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.