Mechanical Technician - Tool and Die – T143
Annie Lam found her way to the machine shop floor as a tool and die maker after much trial and error. By the age of 24, her resume included job titles like curator, caterer, hair stylist, makeup artist and graphic designer. None of these positions satisfied her yearning to work with her hands. “I kept failing because I hadn’t yet found my niche,” she says.
That all changed the first time she filed down a piece of sheet metal. She describes the experience of watching the splinters and cuts in the material soften and disappear, amidst noise and flying shrapnel, as “intense” and “joyful.”
“Before that, I had never had any contact with machining. I was surprised at how at home I felt,” she says. The Hong Kong native who arrived in Canada at the age of eight was pegged as a visual artist at a young age, and was streamed into a classical fine art education in high school. Three years into an undergraduate degree in fine arts, she grew frustrated with the lack of technical instruction being given to students, such as the proper molding and casting techniques for sculpting.
George Brown’s Mechanical Technician - Tool and Die program offered the practical education she sought.
“Tool and Die teaches you how to make a product with precision and finesse,” she says. “It’s more like a science of art. George Brown gave me the skills and understanding to know what is physically possible when creating something instead of just having a vision without knowing how to realize it.”
She has also redefined what is possible for herself as a small, petite woman working in a largely male dominated field. Her gender hasn’t deterred her from excelling in the classroom or in the workplace. In the third semester of her program, she qualified for an industry co-op with Prosin Molds, a company that provides injection molds to the plastics industry. She got her first job right after graduation working for 2Source Manufacturing as a Machinist Pre-Apprentice. The company supplies bushings for commercial aircrafts. While there she got hands-on experience using Computer Numeric Control (CNC) live machining.
“I owe a lot of my success to teachers who understood my passion about going into the field. They went out of their way to help me,” she says.
Today, she’s found her niche as a process engineer for Ben Machines, a fully integrated manufacturing facility. She is a key link between the engineers and the machinists, enabling both groups to recognize the needs and practical realities of the other. Her experience working as a tool and die maker enables her to understand processes beyond the plans. And even though the job takes her off of machines and into an office she remains fully involved with the process of creation.
“I still get to see things being made but I am learning to see it in a very different perspective through drawings and management instead of working with my hands,” she says.
That said she made sure to include a provision in her negotiations with Ben Machines which allows her to come in on Saturdays to work on the machines.
“They don’t need me, I just do it for fun,” she says. She adds with a smile, “It’s slightly an obsession.”