When I left school, I was keen to combine college classes with hands-on experience that could lead to concrete career opportunities in the engineering manufacturing sector. This is exactly what I got when I started an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) Traineeship that is run jointly by the forklift manufacturer Combilift and my local Further Education College in Monaghan, which is close to Combilift’s new global HQ and manufacturing facility.
The Traineeship covered a wide range of topics and skills including engineering and manufacturing processes, fabrication, welding, electrics, electronics and health and safety.
It was good to learn the theory behind these processes and to watch practical demonstrations, but for me the real learning happened when I was actually carrying the various tasks out on the factory floor, when it all came together for me.
Combilift manufactures a very wide range of different products on four assembly lines, these include electric, diesel and LPG models, machines with lift capacities from 1.5 tonnes up to over 80 tonnes, and the majority are built to customer specifications. This means that no truck is ever the same so from my point of view this made the whole course even more interesting and challenging.
During the first year I did ten placements and worked in different sections of the factory each time. This gives you a really good understanding of the stages that go into manufacturing a Combilift truck from start to finish. Initially you start off with fairly simple tasks such as greasing the masts and inserting batteries but I then progressed to making up mast carriages for the 4.5 and 6 tonne machines in the carriage section. A placement in the engine bay involved installing the drive pump to the bell housing on the engine, putting heat shields around the exhaust manifold and engine. I also got experience finishing cabs in the cab assembly area, this entailed installing light switches and dash instruments along with the associated wiring to the cab.
Working on gear boxes for the 4 tonne and 6 tonne machines during my placement in the swivel section helped me make the connection between the theory taught in the classroom and its practical application. On the assembly line for the STE forklift (these are stand-on electric models) I worked on the build of the machine from the ground up, starting with the bare frame through to the final programming of each individual controller and wheel motor through the pump, slave and master cables on the loom. This was quite exacting work but an achievement when you realise that you have been responsible for getting the machine fully operational.
When Combilift opened its new 46,500 sq.m factory last year it invested in a lot of new machinery which included a Peddinghaus multi-function plasma cutter, which is an amazing, powerful piece of equipment. It can take 90mm sheets of steel and drill, tap and countersink holes in just minutes compared to the weeks it used to take to process by subcontractors. In my second year I was offered a new role in the machine shop office and had the opportunity to work with this machine. I learned how to nest parts, which is basically taking in orders for parts to be manufactured on the Peddinghaus and putting them onto sheets of raw material. In technical terms this involves setting up the parts i.e.: hole dimensions, drilled or tapped holes, counterbored holes etc.
When I bring the part file in from the archive on the computer and onto the Peddinest software, the first thing I have to do is set the specific amps for that part as each thickness of steel has a different amperage for example, 8-20mm is 130 amp, 20mm is 260 amp, 25-50mm is 400 amp etc. I apply different layers for different jobs for example, the green layer means tap, the purple layer means plasma cut, the yellow layer means endmill etc. Once the part has been set up it is ready to be nested onto the sheet from which it will be cut.
This is really interesting and at times challenging and when I first started my Traineeship I never thought that I would end up working with million dollars’ worth of machinery! The College tutors and specially appointed supervisors really support all the trainees throughout the course and we found that if you have the drive and enthusiasm there are exciting and rewarding employment opportunities. All of us who completed the Traineeship and graduated successfully in 2017 were offered a full time job with Combilift and I am looking forward to my future with the company and to develop my expertise even further.