Schoolcraft College graduate Matthew Sweeney personifies the need to be flexible, determined and adaptable during challenging times. His path to success has been a bit circuitous to say the least, but now he enjoys a career as working for a company, KCS Advanced Machining Services, that supplies parts to a wide variety of high-tech industries.
Describing Sweeney only as an SC graduate actually does him a disservice – he’s earned three credentials from Schoolcraft College, including two Associate Degrees. The native of Farmington Hills started here in the fall of 2002 after being graduated from Schoolcraft Christian Secondary School.
“I had considered Engineering, but really wanted to go into the skilled trades,” Sweeney said. “I chose Schoolcraft because it offered a lot of what I was interested in at the time; what interested me especially was the huge investment the school was making into its welding lab. So, I enrolled in the Welding and Fabrication program and graduated soon after with Schoolcraft’s Certificate in Welding & Fabrication.
“I had a great experience at Schoolcraft! It was excellent having so much hands-on training from instructors who are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their subjects.”
Sweeney put his skills to good use as a fabricator until a slowdown in the automotive industry led to a layoff. As a next step, he considered joining the military before an ad for the Farmington Hills Fire Department caught his eye. So it was back to Schoolcraft College, where he earned his Associate Degree in Firefighting Technology.
Another career reinvention
He enjoyed working as an On-Call Firefighter/EMT for six years, but also wanted a full-time position. Unfortunately, no departments were hiring. “So I went back to Schoolcraft once more to reinvent myself,” as Sweeney put it.
Skilled trades were still appealing, but this time he was intrigued by the Machining Lab run by Gene Keyes.
“He helped me get into a special Department of Defense Grant class being offered at the time that taught G&M code, the programming language CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines use,” Sweeney said. “So I took that as I attended my other classes and earned my second Associate Degree from Schoolcraft – an Advanced Manufacturing Technology Degree.”
Sweeney then worked for a few different manufacturing companies making plastic injection molds, gears, components and tooling. He joined KCS Advanced Machining Service in Livonia in 2019 as a 5-axis machinist. (A very basic description of a 5-axis machine is one that can reach five sides of a part and machine features on it in one setup.)
Sweeney describes KCS as a high-mix, low-volume 5-axis machine shop that creates prototype parts for a wide variety of industries, including consumer robotics, aerospace, automotive, marine and firearms.
“We make a range of components for all of them,” Sweeney said. “All of the work here is interesting, generally complex and often requires innovative fixture designs and creative approaches to machine them.”
These high-tech industries need parts created on high-tech machines by skilled professionals.
“We use hyperMILL, which is top-of-the-line CAD/CAM software, to create out G&M code for our 5-axis machines,” Sweeney said. “Our machines are made by HURCO and MATSUURA, cutting-edge multi-axis machining centers. They are fast, powerful, and extremely accurate, capable of mass-production as well as short product runs.
“It’s great having new, state-of-the-art machines and software to work with — and a lot of times we push the envelope with both. Because of that we frequently find ourselves host to other industry leaders who are interested in what we do and how we do it.”
One particularly interesting project involves NASA.
“Two of our customers are developing NASA’s next-generation flight suits and extra-vehicular spacesuits as part of the Artemis program that’s headed first to the moon, then to Mars,” Sweeney said. “We’re the sub-suppliers making virtually all of the difficult components for the suits.”
Involved throughout the process
Sweeney said a unique aspect of KCS how one person will see a project through completion.
Being handed a print and a CAD model and taking it all the way to a finished part.
“All of us make programs, set up the machining centers, and then run the job,” he said. “Each of us programs, designs and builds fixtures, sets up machines, runs parts, and inspects them for accuracy.
“KCS’s owner, Kyle Szczypienski, continually invests in new technology, software and upgrades that constantly add to what we can do. He encourages all of us to continue learning, and it’s a very stimulating place to work because of it. I’ve been at KCS for three years now and have seen it grow rapidly. We don’t have worn-out machines and we don’t do things one way just because that’s how it’s always been done.”
Sweeney said manufacturing is a dynamic career with many opportunities.
“Automation is becoming more common in small businesses, so learning about that is very important and offers room for growth.”
“The impact of automation is only going to grow and accelerate.”
“New manufacturing processes, techniques and increasing capabilities of software are all happening at once, so the overall impact is magnified. Employers are eager for talented and enthusiastic employees. It’s an exciting environment and young machinists are getting into the industry at a great time. Anyone with a strong work ethic, a positive attitude, and a desire to learn and grow can do really well!”