Machinist teaching the future of manufacturing
Paul Chaplin prefers not to talk a lot about himself. But ask him about his job as the machine technologies instructor at Western Nevada Community College and he has plenty to say.
“It’s very technical work,” Chaplin said from his modest office in the machine tools technology building of the college campus. “A machinist has to have a good understanding of mathematics, metallurgy, mechanical design and mechanics. It’s a very complex field. It’s not just pushing buttons.
“We try to give people who take our classes a very broad base of knowledge.”
A machinist makes metal parts, which go into machines that make virtually everything we touch in a given day from out ball-point pens to car components.
Chaplin, a Douglas High School graduate, started as a machinist apprentice at Bently Nevada in Minden before joining the U.S. Air Force.
After 17 years in the military as a machinist and aircraft mechanic, Chaplin returned to this area where he put his experience to work at various manufacturing companies.
Last year, he became the interim machinist technologies instructor and was hired for the permanent position this year.
His wife, Rosanna, works for Concept Packaging in Mound House. Daughter Rebecca Yagahazarian is the assistant librarian at Al Seeliger Elementary School and son, Jeremiah, will graduate from San Diego State in December and head to Naval Officer Training in Pensacola.
In his spare time Chaplin enjoys outdoor activities like camping and fishing.
“I have to get out and get the sun somehow,” Chaplin said. He noted that in the Air Force he worked outside most of the time, but the machinist classroom is enclosed.
A lot has changed in machinist technology since Chaplin began in the field.
“When I started doing this in 1976, there wasn’t a computer in the shop.”
Now a machinist not only needs to know how to manually create metal pieces, but how to program a computer to tell a machine how to do it, which increases the precision.
“We teach everything from the mechanical operation by hand to computer operation. But a machinist has to learn to do it manually to make it happen with a computer. It’s a crawl, walk, run thing.”
Most of Chaplin’s current students are working as machinists or apprentices, proof of the importance of the college program.
“There’s a pretty large demand for machinists,” Chaplin said. “With the recession because of the 9-11 terrorism, business has slowed down in the area. Right now we don’t have a real hot job market, but there are jobs out there.”
He’s also proud of the diversity in his classes. Out of 40 students in the program, four are women in the nontraditional program. That 10 percent rate runs pretty consistently each quarter, he said.
The community has done a lot to help Chaplin’s department keep up with progress in the field. Many of the lathes, grinders and mills in the workshop have been donated by local businesses.
Others have come from the Western Nevada Community College Foundation, he said noting a new heat-treating furnace.
By heating metal to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the oven increases the strength of the metal piece.
“It just came today,” he proudly. “It’s my new toy.
“What this will allow us to do is to expand the metallurgy department. The high temperature makes extremely hard metal.
“We’ve never been able to do that before.”