22 / 10 / 2014
Roman Zenger, a polymechanic in the 4th year of his apprenticeship, achieved an excellent fourth place in the discipline polymechanic/CNC milling at the Swiss Vocational Skills Championships (SwissSkills) from 18 to 21 September 2014.
After finishing eighth in the national trials, Roman Zenger overtook four of his colleagues in the championships. This is a great performance in a very highly ranked competition. “I am very satisfied with fourth place. After starting eighth, I didn't expect such a well-placed finish,” said Roman Zenger.
Werner Gerber, the master craftsman for polymechanics who teaches Roman Zenger, was also very satisfied: “Over the four days of the competition, the candidates provided outstanding performance at the highest level. I'm proud that Roman Zenger, one as one of the youngest, was able to keep pace with the best polymechanics in Switzerland in the highly exacting mechanical discipline of CNC milling, thus achieving a sensational fourth place.”
Milling one workpiece per day
At SwissSkills, the candidates had to complete one workpiece to specification on each of the four days. They were given a technical drawing and the raw material in the form of aluminium. Based on the drawing, they defined the machining tools and milling strategy. They then programmed the machining processes on a computer, and created the CNC program. Once the milling machine had been set up, they then made the workpiece. In a subsequent quality control phase, they corrected the CNC program and optimised the manufacturing process. At the end of the set time, the workpiece produced was measured by a measuring robot and evaluated. The assessment considered both the precision of the workpiece and the programming. The candidates' expertise was also tested through other tasks.
“It was a very intense time. Working up to 13 hours a day was really draining. Despite this, the atmosphere was good, even among the contestants, and we laughed a lot. This helped us support each other and we would usually have a little time to sit together and chat after the competition. By Sunday, we were all pretty much tired out,” said Roman Zenger, describing the competition days.
Four days of full concentration
The competitions were held in large halls or tents. Visitors, fans and supporters were able to witness the events first-hand. However, the many spectators and the noise level were also a stress factor for the candidates. “The biggest challenge was concentrating. The work is unforgiving when it comes to mistakes. We had to keep our concentration levels up for the entire four days, all under time pressure and in unfamiliar surroundings with lots of people and noise,” said Roman Zenger.
Werner Gerber was also on site throughout the four days of competition: “The competition days were very exciting for me, and I had the impression that I was more nervous than Roman at times. As an event, the SwissSkills really impressed me. In almost 30 years as a master craftsman and educator, I have never seen anything comparable on this scale. Seeing more than 1,000 highly motivated young people working on their challenging projects was really thrilling, and it also motivated me to push forward with training future professionals under the dual vocational training system.”
Narrowly missed out on third place
Despite the unfamiliar surroundings and the time constraints, Roman Zenger achieved an excellent result. At the end of the competition, he missed out on third place by only 1.9 per cent. The first two spots were taken by competitors with far more on-the-job experience in milling than Roman.
“Roman mainly lacked the experience needed to take one of the top places. The training of polymechanics apprentices at HUBER+SUHNER is multifaceted with a broad focus and thus does not include great production depth in a specialist field area such as CNC milling. Thus, Roman has learned the basics of CNC production after three years of training, but has not had the opportunity to gain extensive manufacturing experience. After making it into the top eight “from a standing start” in the trials without special training, we stepped up the preparations for the professional championships. We were aware that he would be facing competitors at SwissSkills with up to three years more experience,” explained Werner Gerber.
Satisfied with his work
To prepare for SwissSkills, Roman Zenger trained for about a month. One advantage was that polymechanics apprentices at Pfäffikon learn MASTERCAM programming as part of their basic training: the same programming system used at SwissSkills. Thus, Roman was able to train intensively with this software program in the teaching workshop for about three weeks. He was also able to spend two days outside of HUBER+SUHNER to complete machine training on a machine identical to the one used at SwissSkills. On this occasion, he also became familiar with the latest machining tools currently on the market and how to use them. The special preparations also included an advanced course in MASTERCAM X7 with x-Data.
Unfortunately, the intense and well-planned preparations were not quite enough to make up for Roman Zenger's lack of experience in milling. Despite narrowly missing out on the medals, Roman Zenger was satisfied: “On the whole, it went really well. Of course, there were some minor errors, a broken milling tool, or a mess up with the tool list. But this can happen when you're working under stress. I always finished in good time, and didn't make any major mistakes. Others unclamped the workpiece or milled into the bench vice. I am very satisfied with my work.”
We would like to congratulate Roman Zenger wholeheartedly on this fantastic achievement and his excellent fourth place.