Check out the women at Fairbanks Morse who are powering the world forward! In our Women in Manufacturing series, we're highlighting the inspiring women who are pursuing their manufacturing careers at Fairbanks Morse. This month we hear from Ashley Graves, who shares her highlight moments at Fairbanks Morse and what it’s like working in this industry.
Tell us a bit about your job and what your work looks like day-to-day.
I am a quality inspector in nuclear dedication, and I am responsible for verifying the conformance of aftermarket parts prior to shipment. These spare/replacement parts are for back-up power engines in nuclear plants all over the country and are therefore considered safety-related. This means they require a special dedication which may include a dimensional inspection, functional testing, hydrostatic testing, or a variety of other tests verifying that the material characteristics meet critical specifications. Day-to-day varies because I see such a diverse range of parts and each one has unique requirements. One day I might see several orders of small parts such as gaskets or cap screws which are a fairly simple verification. The next I may have an exhaust valve assembly which requires a more in-depth inspection.
How did you arrive at your current position? What attracted you to a career in manufacturing?
I started out in a position called hand operations within the machining department of the large engine building. In this role I was responsible for operations such as deburring, filing, grinding, polishing, and cleaning parts and engine blocks after machining. It was a great place to start because I saw a lot of components that go into an engine and I learned the importance of quality. My job was the final step of machining before the parts were inspected and sent to assembly, so I had to ensure they were clean and ready to go. The smallest amount of debris could be detrimental to the entire system. Before too long, I realized that I wanted to focus on working towards becoming a quality inspector.
My dad is the one that sparked my interest in Fairbanks Morse. He has been working here as an assembler since 2013 and he would get so excited every time he spoke about his job. He really loves the company and convinced me that I would too. I never really considered a career in manufacturing before that. I used to think of a repetitive, assembly line type of job whenever I thought of manufacturing and that didn’t sound appealing to me. He explained all of the different opportunities Fairbanks had to offer if I could get my foot into the door.
Have you had any mentors at Fairbanks Morse that have helped you achieve your career goals?
Yes, there are a couple of machinists that really helped me out to become an inspector. I’m the type of person that likes to ask a lot of questions and if I’m not sure about something I ask for help. These guys have decades of experience and I want to learn as much from them as I can. They taught me how to use a lot of the measuring equipment that I now use on a regular basis in my department. They encouraged me to take a drawing interpretation class and worked with me on memorizing symbols and applying what I learned to what we do here. I also had a couple of welders that taught me some basics about different weld terms and symbols.
For young women exploring career choices, how would you explain the benefits of a career in manufacturing? What advice would you give young women who are interested in the industry?
The manufacturing industry offers a wide variety of career paths and many companies are willing to help you develop your skills. If it is truly an interest don’t let lack of experience hold you back. Prove that you are committed and willing to learn and they will invest in your future. Whether it is through on the job training, mentoring, or tuition reimbursement programs, there are so many ways to grow if you are willing to work for it.
What’s your favorite thing about working at Fairbanks Morse?
The completed engines are my favorite. It still blows me away seeing how they come together. To witness something so huge being built and to know that I had a small role in it is very humbling. I am especially proud of the engines that are built for the Navy because they are so important to the men and women serving our country. Every time someone asks where I work they get this surprised look on their faces and they wonder what I do. Fairbanks is a very unique place to work as it is, but being a woman that is involved in the manufacturing here always intrigues people.
What’s been your best moment at Fairbanks Morse so far?
My best moment would be when Bob, my supervisor at the time, told me he was proud to have been the one to hire me. He was, unfortunately, leaving the company, but before he left he stopped by my work area to say goodbye. He knew he was taking a chance on me given that I did not have previous experience in manufacturing, but I did not let him down. He told me that because of me he was going to do what he could to recruit and hire more women in manufacturing. That meant a lot to me and still does. It’s not always common for someone to recognize your hard work and make the effort to let you know how much they appreciate it.
What are some of your favorite activities outside of work?
I love being outdoors, so basically anything involving sun and fresh air. Some of my favorite activities are hiking, kayaking, fishing, and hunting. One of my favorite places in the area is Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo because there is so much to do. I like taking my two dogs on the trails or for a swim in the lake. I have even been rappelling off of the bluffs before and that was an awesome experience. The views are stunning and the water is crystal clear. This summer I would like to take my kayak out on the lake. If you have never been, I highly recommend it!