Impacting Industry: Beehive

ACE Program Success Stories

September 08, 2023 — “I’m having a blast!” Hunter Kelley–that’s Kelley with an “e”–has a smile that lights up a room, an energy that proves he’s usually having fun, and a level of respect that’s ingrained in his Southern upbringing. “Yes, ma’am, this training came at a good time. I’m learning a ton that’s going to help me in my job.”

Hunter is a Senior Manufacturing and Facilities engineer at Beehive Industries in Knoxville, Tenn., but he’s only 26 years old. He’s quickly risen in the ranks through two manufacturing companies since graduating with a Mechanical Engineering degree from Tennessee Tech just two and a half years ago. “To my knowledge, I’m the youngest mechanical engineer in Bridgestone Americas’ history to change a mixer out, a $1.4 million project. I did that at 24 years old.” He was then snatched up by Beehive, which specializes in additive manufacturing—3D printing really special parts—for defense, aerospace, and aviation industries.

In his current job, Hunter is primarily responsible for driving and maintaining Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) of all current equipment from the maintenance/facilities perspective. In his last role with Beehive, he designed work holding fixtures, but he also worked directly with operations to help them overcome hurdles in the manufacturing process. Recently Beehive purchased a Makino Wire EDM machine, a Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machine that specializes in incredibly precise tolerances and finishes. Hunter picked it out, is setting it up, and will be teaching the operators how to run it so that they can increase build removal capacity and bring processes like spline cutting aerospace alloys in house.

New Skills, ACE Training

That might seem intimidating to someone who up until a few weeks ago had never run a CNC machine. Engineers spend most of their time designing, not machining. That’s the power of America’s Cutting Edge (ACE), because it gives hands-on training in an educational setting when there’s often no time to offer that in industry. “I’m going directly from here on a Saturday to the plant to get this project off the ground,” shares Hunter.  

After completing ACE online, Hunter signed up for a multi-weekend, hands-on course designed for working adults at Pellissippi State Community College. The training was in a convenient location, he could complete it outside company hours, and it was zero cost. No brainer. “Knowing these machines better will help me with my designs and help me work more directly with machinists. Design engineers are always asking, ‘Can I make this, yes, or no?’ Seeing it from a machining perspective helps me answer that more quickly, with more certainty.”

ACE lays out the full spectrum of manufacturing—from digital design to computer code to cutting. CNCs are a subtractive form of manufacturing, which is often essential to accomplish the necessary tolerances for additive techniques. Hunter says, “When customers require that we hit 10,000ths of an inch, I partner with the machinists directly to design work holding set-ups that will allow them to hit those tight tolerances. The beauty of doing both additive and subtractive is that we’re lowering waste significantly and getting tolerances that only subtractive machining can hit.”

Helping Companies, Boosting Careers

No matter what role you play in manufacturing, learning the other roles gives valuable perspective. Hunter is the perfect example of how ACE is impacting industry. More knowledge opens more opportunities to streamline production. Hunter says,I’ve been doing 3D design for a few years now and have always been interested in CNC machining, but never had the opportunity to get hands on. ACE has allowed me to finish the loop that I haven’t been able to do on my own.” 

Hunter first learned about ACE when Beehive’s Chief Manufacturing Technology Officer Jonaaron Jones suggested he enroll. After hearing about ACE from curriculum developer, Dr. Tony Schmitz, Jonaaron had signed up for the 6-hour online training to see how it might benefit the company. “I thought the content was great,” says Jonaaron. “I believe ACE could provide a baseline exposure for newer or inexperienced employees on topics like machining, additive manufacturing, and GD&T (Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerance). I have found a lot of our engineers fresh out of school have not had much exposure in these three areas, and this is a good start.”

Operations Manager Kevin Disney adds, “Finding and hiring experienced, well trained, CNC machinists and programmers is always a challenge, and I think it will continue to become more difficult as time goes on. Certifications like this are good to see on a resume, especially for those just starting out in the trade.”

Legacy of Innovators

So how does a kid from a small town in Tennessee find himself on the cutting edge of technology? Hunter credits his dad and grandpa. “I’ve worked really hard, but I’ve had such incredible role models. My grandpa has a collection of patents, having served as an electrical engineer in IBM’s support of the Navy and space program. Meanwhile, my dad has transitioned from a highly adept mechanic to a successful manager in his field. And he’s a Lieutenant Colonel who is highly proficient in logistics coordination for the Army National Guard.” Hunter’s father saw the potential in his son to become an engineer. He guided him to learn technical intricacies but also to value wisdom of practical experience.

Hunter talks with his dad every day—sometimes about work but mainly about trucks and fishing. Working on an old Bronco together when Hunter was 15 years old cemented their common passion for figuring out how stuff works. How to make it better. Now he’s turning that into a lucrative career. Hunter concludes, “It’s a lot of problem solving and critical thinking. You’re starting from nothing. We go from a blank page to holy crap, look at that! It’s all about imagination.”

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