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Jun 24, 2013

Machine Maintenance with Pat Pritchard

Today's post features a Q and A with Pat "The Machine Doctor" Pritchard. Pat's an instructor in Green River's exciting new Machine Maintenance program. A former Boeing employee, he brings a wealth of industry experience to the college, and has a number of insightful comments to share about the program and the maintenance field in general.

Pat Pritchard
Hi Pat. Thanks for joining us on the blog. To start, can you tell us the story of how you became an instructor at Green River?

Pat: I worked as a mechanic in various industries, ship building, oil refineries, and chemical plants before I ended up in Aerospace with Boeing. Boeing was a fascinating place to work because it offered such great opportunities to learn and grow. I took some personal computing classes at Green River which really changed my career because I was quickly put to work on a variety of computer based machinery. Since computers are a part of more and more machinery everyday, I was very busy. I found  that I enjoyed passing on what I learned to others, and that caused me to move around a lot at Boeing. I eventually ended up as a full-time maintenance instructor at Boeing. I heard that Green River was entering the Maintenance Training arena, so I came down to see what type of program they had in mind. Once I talked with them, we realized I might be the right person to help them build their program. I wasn't looking for a new job, but the idea of starting a brand new program really intrigued me. It has been really hard work but it has also been an awful lot of fun.

Can you provide an overview of the Machine Maintenance program?

Pat: Our classes supply the basic skills and knowledge that are needed to understand and maintain machinery. The best way to think about modern maintenance workers is to think of them as machinery doctors. Just like doctors, we spend part of the time practicing preventative maintenance, and part of the time responding to unexpected problems. Our training program is much like medical school since we start by studying what machines are made of. It is quite different than most other maintenance programs because we do not specialize in any specific type of machinery. We operate on the idea that all machines are devices that use various types of energy.

Can you describe your approach to teaching Machine Maintenance?

Pat: Our class starts with the idea that any machine is simply a device that controls and uses various forms of energy. From the simplest application of mechanical energy on the end of a lever, to the most advanced CNC machine tool, they all use various types of energy to perform work. We study the most commonly used types of energy in class: hydraulic, pneumatic, and electrical, for example. Once you understand the energy in a machine, there is not much you can't figure out.

In your opinion, what type of student will be successful in the Machine Maintenance program?

Pat: Curiosity is very important. If you want to know how things work and enjoy solving problems, you will do very well in maintenance. If you're looking for a job in which you do the same thing every day, maintenance is probably not the place for you. In the maintenance world, you are given a task and it is up to you to design the method to solve that problem. We use math often but mostly for proportions and ratios. Reading is an essential skill because you will need to learn new machines and technologies throughout your career. One thing I didn't realize until I started teaching is how much creativity is used in solving the multitude of problems that confronts maintenance workers every day.

Finally, why is the maintenance field a good career choice?

Pat: Most people don't realize that 5 to 10% of the technical workforce is in the maintenance field. People also don't realize it is one of the highest paid jobs in the workforce. When Washington State government leaders asked the Aerospace community how they could help keep work in the Puget Sound, one of the things the Aerospace Industry said was that what they really needed was trained maintenance workers. The Machine Maintenance program at Green River is a direct result of that industry-wide need.
$$$ Tip! Three Workforce Education funding programs support Machine Maintenance training at Green River, including BFET, Worker Retraining, and WorkFirst.