By Simon Boas, Herald Writer
“AUBURN — Before a wing rib manufactured by the machines at Arlington’s AMT makes it to the Boeing Co. to be installed in a 737, it must first travel across the street to the human hands at Skills Inc.
Mainly, the sharp edges that AMT’s machines leave on the aluminum parts need to be taken off. This process is called deburring, and it’s Skills’ specialty.
But the hands that the company hires to smooth the rough edges are not those typically found at a commercial aerospace manufacturer. Of the company’s 340 employees, 65 percent to 70 percent have some kind of disability.
“The perception could be that they have a disability and therefore cannot perform as well, so we strive to prove that that is wrong,” said Robert Copeland, director of finance and administration for Skills. “We provide the accommodations so that they can perform the job as well as anybody else.”
Accommodations could be as simple as having people do jobs that aren’t affected by their disabilities.
Skills started 40 years ago in Ballard. It now has locations in Arlington and Auburn.
Sometimes the parts Skills receives need more than just deburring. These parts go to the company’s facility in Auburn for finishing, which includes chemically treating the metal, testing the ribs for flaws, and coating them with a primer. The result is a product that will last for the life of the jet.
While it is possible to deburr large quantities of standard parts automatically with a machine, this would not save AMT any money. “Deburring is an art,” Copeland said. “There are so many different angles and edges, so if you have a skilled deburrer you can do it a lot quicker.”
The deburring process is labor-intensive, but this is part of why it is a good fit for Skills. “Our mission is to employ people with disabilities,” Copeland said. “So if we can do it with labor, it’s a win-win.”‘