FuzeHub is following five millennials who are making their mark in manufacturing. Meet Kyle Wood, Optics Fabrication Manager at OptiPro Systems in Ontario, NY. Kyle was a $1,000 winner of FuzeHub’s 2019 Millennials in Manufacturing Award.
Name: Kyle Wood
Education: New York State Apprenticeship Program; Classes at Monroe County Community College
Joined OptiPro: 2008
Please describe OptiPro. First and foremost, OptiPro is a machine manufacturer. The machines that we make are for the optics industry. That is everything from commercial optics to the optics in your phone, the optics in a Cannon camera, all the way up to really, really high-end optics that are used in military and space applications. With anything that would be an optical-quality application, our machines are generally involved. We do everything: we wire the panels, we do all the mechanical, we write our own software. So, we are very self-sufficient in that respect.
What is your role at OptiPro? I serve as the Optics Fabrication Manager. Day-to-day I have five or six direct reports, ranging from a technician skill level to a beginning operator level. My department is multifaceted. We do process development for either existing or potential customers and, typically, the main goal of our process development is geared toward the sale of machines. We also do R&D for prime contractors. We are heavily involved in SBIR funded research. We hold three or four of those currently and are always applying for more. It is what we consider the bread and butter of our department.
OptiPro is still operating while many other businesses are shut down because of COVID-19. Yes. On top of the obvious military applications, OptiPro touches a lot of pieces of the medical industry. We manufacture stuff for making ventilators, for making shields [and] for making masks. Plus, our machine shop not only makes parts for our machines, but we represent Fanuc Robodrill and Fanuc Automation. We are currently doing an automation project for a medical company.
ou were rather young when you joined the company. Tell us about that. I’ve been with OptiPro for 12 years. I started working here through what my high school called the World of Work program. I got credit for working. I initially chose OptiPro because my father works here. At the time it was quite small. I was the 21st employee to ever work at OptiPro when I started in 2008. At that time, I was working in what they call the build area, where they assemble the machines. After about two years in the build area I transitioned to the Optics Department and fell in love with it. I found that first and foremost, it was interesting. Plus, I had a good paying job at 18. I turned 21 and I started getting a 401(k). I had good health benefits. I just slowly started to realize that what I used to envision as sort of a stale career was not. I don’t think I imagined thoroughly enjoying manufacturing in the way that I do.
What was your original plan? I actually was supposed to go to the Arts Institute of Pittsburgh. I wanted to do a little more glitz and glam stuff, like graphic design or marketing or photography. I thought that would be a fun career. But my father has been at OptiPro for 30 years now; he is one of the head guys in the service department. He is very mechanical, so I kind of grew up in a garage if you will. So, it is no surprise that I became involved in it and fell in love with it. But to say that was my focus at 18? Absolutely not.
What is your advice to young people considering a career in manufacturing? You have to get past the need for instant gratification. It isn’t instant. It’s a lot of hard work, but it builds up to a lot of satisfaction. It really does.
What do you think millennials like yourself bring to manufacturing? I would say it is probably of breath of fresh air. We do think differently. The more we get our age group, and even the younger age group, involved in manufacturing, I think it is only going to benefit it. By keeping the industry young, I think it keeps the industry healthy.
Where do you see your future? I will absolutely stay in manufacturing. Aside from the fact that I have already committed 12 years to OptiPro, let alone to manufacturing, I only see manufacturing getting stronger in America and in the Rochester area. I don’t know why it wouldn’t and I don’t see any path for it not to. I think people are waking up to the fact that we need more manufacturing.