LEETONIA, Ohio – It’s hard to believe that a 3,200-pound bag of sand could be used to make solid, sturdy components for the energy, transportation, aerospace and health care industries.
But that’s precisely what happens within the walls of Humtown Additive. Parts are made at the Leetonia plant using sand-based 3D printing technologies, then shipped as far as South America, India and Europe, says CEO and President Mark Lamoncha.
“We’re printing the new future for these OEMs,” he says. “We were limited by design. Now we’re only limited by what even Disney called ‘Imagineering,’ where we can make a better future for many of these industries.”
Lamoncha joined HR coordinator Kate Pieplow for a Brain Gain Navigators webinar March 21. Navigators events are designed to show youth and adults the skills needed for manufacturing jobs. Lamoncha and Pieplow discussed additive manufacturing at Humtown and opportunities with the company as it expands. They also answered questions from those who attended the webinar.
3D-printing equipment at Humtown runs 24/7 using a combination of specific chemicals and sand, as well as other granular media, such as ceramics and metal. Each week, the company consumes about a railroad car worth of sand, which is stored in bags at the back of the shop, each weighing about 3,200 pounds.
During each work day, 3D cleaners and finishers go from machine to machine, ensuring chemical and printing media levels are satisfactory to keep the projects going. Workers must be able to replenish materials. Sometimes they use a forklift to remove large empty sand hoppers and replace them with full ones.
About 99% of the designs are provided by the OEM (original equipment manufacturer), Lamoncha says. Workers program the machines to produce as many parts as possible in each print job. Lamoncha compares it to the classic video game Tetris.
“If you have good spatial perception, then you’re going to be able to nest those in as close as you can together and optimize the print,” Lamoncha says.
When parts are completed, workers extract them from the print box and use airguns and brushes to remove excess sand before returning them to the production room to be fine-tuned and packaged for shipping. Leftover sand is vacuumed from print boxes between jobs to ensure a clean printing environment for the next project.
For the most part, items are removed from print boxes by hand. A crane is used to lift heavier objects, sometimes in excess of 70 pounds.
Humtown has openings for 3D cleaners and finishers at its Leetonia plant, Pieplow says. These are the starting positions for new hires and there are openings in all four of its shifts. Humtown runs four six-hour shifts Monday through Saturday with opportunities for overtime, she says.
To apply for a job at Humtown, visit Humtown.com and click the red employment application link in the upper left hand of the homepage.
Tasks depend on the jobs running. A worker might spend his entire shift running the vacuums to clean out the loose sand. Other days, he might extract the parts and prep them in the production room.
“That’s one of the awesome things about this type of position,” Pieplow says. “What somebody’s day would look like kind of depends upon the work that we have done.”
The longer an individual works at Humtown, the more knowledge and skills he picks up, she says.
James Burgess started as a 3D cleaner a little over a year ago. A 3D-printing hobbyist at home, he was surprised to learn Humtown was printing on a larger scale in his hometown. Burgess, an electrical field technician by trade, is able to apply some of the skills gained from his 20-year career to the work he does at Humtown.
“This is kind of one and the same in many aspects,” he says.
Burgess hopes to eventually learn to perform electrical maintenance on the machines and repair them. He credits the company, its leadership and his co-workers for creating an environment that’s allowed him to make the transition from his previous career and grow in his new one.
“I’ve worked several handfuls of jobs throughout my days,” Burgess says. “And this is by far one of the more exciting.”
As he’s worked there, Burgess learned how to clean the machines and get them ready for the next job coming in, Pieplow says. Having that kind of aptitude and willingness to learn can open doors for Humtown employees, she says.
“A passion for learning will get you everywhere in the world,” she says. “If you’ve got a passion to learn the next thing, that’s kind of how we do it and how, as opportunities arise, we’re able to train people.”
New hires aren’t required to have a 3D-printing background to work at Humtown. The company’s production coaches and line coaches, as well as current workers, train new employees on the process.
Pieplow likens it to a sports team, where the coach calls plays from the sidelines and each member of the team has his individual role, she says.
“If we have a new employee who’s working in the production room and they’re finishing parts, the coach is going to come and check on them,” she says. “But the person they’re probably going to be relying on is going to be the person working at the station next to them who can help them through their day.”
In addition to developing skills, Humtown workers gain firsthand experience with problem solving and predictive maintenance with the machines, Lamoncha says.
The constant flow of sand will inevitably wear on the mechanical components and workers have to employ predictive maintenance to replace those components before they wear too much, “and make sure that during the next 18 hours, that part isn’t going to break,” he says.
As such, individuals like Burgess with interests in mechanical operations can be a good fit for Humtown, Lamoncha says.
Prospects are given a phone interview and assessment. Then in-person interviews include a walkthrough so they can see the shop and its environment “before they ever make a commitment,” Pieplow says. That’s beneficial for someone who might be considering a career change.
“If you’ve never worked in manufacturing and you want to make that change to manufacturing, it can be scary,” she says. “So doing things this way allows us to take the fear away.”
On average, 3D finishers and cleaners started at $15.90 an hour in 2021 with incentives built in, she says.
Humtown also has openings in its production and packaging departments. Workers can also be cross-trained. If they aren’t enjoying the 3D cleaner or finisher jobs, they can be moved when there is an opening, or even ascend to part of the leadership.
Others can be moved to positions at Humtown Additive’s sister plant, Humtown Products in Columbiana.
“Mark is really great about giving people opportunities to learn as much as they want to. He has the door open for people to be able to cross-train and learn between the two facilities,” Pieplow says. “There’s opportunities for people to follow their passions.”
Brain Gain co-headline sponsors are Farmers National Bank and Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition. For more exclusive content, visit BusinessJournalDaily.com/braingainyoungstown.
Pictured: James Burgess monitors a project underway at Humtown Additive in Leetonia.