Ask GLE Precision coworkers to describe precision machinist Jerry Wellman and they might as well be reading from a thesaurus. He’s a hard worker. He’s a dedicated individual. A company guy who’s really into his work. He’ll lose sleep thinking through a new conundrum. He just kicks out work.
“I have a lot of respect for him,” fellow shop leader Ed Gerow says. “I’d like to have a shop full of him. He’s a quality guy. Anything we do that needs tight limits, we go to him.”
Jerry comes up with different ways to finish a product, works with extreme tolerances and high finishes and contributes his expertise to developing the prototypes that GLE handles.
“We are well-known in the industry for lapping and high tolerances,” general manager Clint Bucholz says. “It’s not uncommon for our competitors to refer us. That’s because of the skills Jerry has. He makes it so easy for us to sell that product.
“Jerry works hard every day. He’s going to be the dirtiest guy leaving the building. He doesn’t irritate anyone. People work at a higher level when they move into his area, both in quality and output. He doesn’t push it. He inspires it.”
A Machinist for Every Challenge
- More than 37 years ago, Jerry didn’t know that he wanted to be a machinist. “I just wanted a good job and I was willing to try anything. I had no idea I was going to get into machining,” he says. (A job with good benefits and air conditioning was a nice bonus.)
- Jerry had graduated high school and started building houses with his uncle when the opportunity came along to become a machinist at GLE. He learned — and still learns — everything in the shop. He applied a few times for jobs with other companies but that was 30 years ago and the projects that land on his workbench keep testing his skills, talent and resourcefulness.
“Almost every job is a challenge. Sometimes it can be overwhelming,” Jerry says. “I’m never doing the same thing all the time. I’ll do two or three different jobs in a day, so it stops me from being bored.”
Sometimes Jerry doesn’t know why the customer needs such a high finish and what the part will be used for but “we probably give them better finishes than they ask for,” he says.
“We get to work every day with individuals who are the top in their field — fiber optics, medical, tech — and a lot of that has to do with the finishes and tolerances that we provide,” Clint says. “Being in finishes, Jerry allows us to do what the other guys aren’t able to figure out.”
Sometimes Jerry does know what the part will do when he sends it out into the world. Lately, he’s been working on a prototype of a tool for a medical company that is seeking FDA approval for its invention. The tool would allow surgeons to clamp arteries through the ribs and perform heart surgery without cracking the chest open.
“Jerry has been right there, saying, ‘No, let’s try this other thing,’” Clint says. “He’s creative in trying different things. He’s essential to developing prototypes.”
“We haven’t quite figured it out yet but we’re trying,” Jerry says of the tool. “This is going to be one that if I can figure out, yeah, that’ll be very rewarding.”
Innovation Isn’t the Hard Part
Doing something another precision machinist can’t do isn’t the hardest part of the job for Jerry. It’s trying to stay clean to keep the different grades of diamonds from mixing. Working with oil and diamond, the new guys end up coated at first. There’s sludge in the machines and in the parts and you can’t wear gloves when handling a product with close limits.
“I don’t get people lined up trying to get my job,” Jerry says. “You have no choice but to get your hands dirty. I’m at the sink five times an hour.”
The best part, though, is meeting or beating the quota for the day and finally cracking a puzzle for a customer.
“You know when you get a really tough job, you’re not really happy but if you figure it out and you get it done right, that’s rewarding,” Jerry says. “We’ve had jobs that when we first started, I didn’t know if I was ever going to be able to do them. Eventually we do by adding different operations and doing this and that, now we get them all the time and they’re easy.”
For all his success, Jerry maintains a humble assessment of himself.
“I try to be a good guy. I try to get along and I try to keep the peace. I think everybody here likes me,” Jerry says.
At the end of the day, the dirtiest, hardest-working machinist goes home to his wife, son and a Maltese named Max. In the winter, he watches sports. In the summer, he likes to go camping, though his top priority is tending a large vegetable garden and canning his crops.
“Peppers, tomatoes, onions, peas — and every year I try to experiment with something new but a lot of times it doesn’t work out,” Jerry says. “I tried the lettuce thing. I already found out I’m bad at that.”