Nicole Petta, General Manager of Schafer Livermore Laboratories, recently spoke with Larry Adams of MICROmanufacturing Magazine to discuss the challenges that manufacturers have in identifying qualified candidates to work in their respective fields. Highlights from the article pertaining to Schafer are provided below. You can view the entire article at MICROmanufacturing.

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Microparts and parts with micro features produced at Schafer Corporation’s Livermore laboratory.

While these applicants are likely smart, capable people, odds are they do not have the requisite skills. Unless the applicants come from within the industry, it is rare that Petta finds the person with the right skills to immediately do the job.

At Schafer, the only thing rarer than finding that “right skills person” is finding that person coming right out of college. Only one graduating engineer has joined Schafer’s staff after being trained in micromanufacturing at the collegiate level. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University and Carnegie Mellon University, both of which offer a micro- and nano-engineering curriculum.

While many companies offer in-house training, Schafer takes it to a new level. It is not uncommon for Schafer engineers to go through a year of training prior to getting the opportunity to oversee the production of a new part, project or process. During that time, they learn the company’s processes and available technology, working with veteran employees and often undergoing training hosted by suppliers.

Currently, the company is looking for a precision engineer for microscale manufacturing to work in its Livermore laboratory, where it researches, develops and fabricates targets with tight dimensional tolerances for use in laser experiments by Department of Energy national laboratories, universities and other institutions, Petta said.

The company is not looking for just any recruit. The ideal candidate will have experience in ultraprecision machining and 5-axis milling. (The company uses Precitech lathes and Microlution multiaxis milling machines.) Experience in part design, machine programming, fabrication, assembly and metrology are musts.

But that’s not all. The successful candidate must also lead Schafer’s R&D efforts involving experiments with micro- to nano-scale fabrication of 3D polymer structures using two-photon polymerization and 3D micro sterolithography.

These are just some of the technical skills the company needs; they do not include the management responsibilities typically attached to the job.

While quantifiable talents and experience are important, they may not even be the most important attributes needed for the job. “The person must have creativity”, Petta said. “You have to be able to think out of the box and come up with problem-solving techniques to address the challenges we routinely face.”

For example, the company is working on a 20um part with flatness of 1 milliradian. “Consider that the part is diamond-turned on both sides, so it has to be flipped on the lathe. Just holding the part so that you can meet the parallelism spec is very difficult”, she said.

“Then, the question is how do you characterize the part feature because there is no commercial tool out there that can do the job, “she continued. “Usually, you would put the part on a known surface and characterize the top of the part and infer that the back of the part is flat, but that is not always true when you are working at this scale. It would introduce too many errors and  might damage the part.”

The outside-of-the-box solution? A dual confocal measuring microscope designed and built in-house by Schafer engineers that simultaneously measures both sides of the part. Measurements will require accuracies of ± 0.01 um to meet Schafer’s specifications, she said.