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Breaking gender barriers and shaping the future in CNC machining

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Aleigha Schulke, ANCA Applications Engineer, shares her career journey and experience on working in the CNC tool and cutter grinding industry

Growing up surrounded by the mechanical world, Aleigha Schulke's interest in machines started at a young age. Inspired by her unconventional grandparents and their hours spent on mechanical pursuits, she developed a fascination for understanding how things work. Aleigha said, “I liked tinkering with gadgets, and exploring the inner of mechanical devices. I often took things apart or watched my grandparents tear apart the ‘64 Chevelle for hours even if I had school the next day.”
This early curiosity paved the way for her journey into engineering. After enrolling in engineering classes during high school to become more familiar with the world of manufacturing, she fell in love with the potential she discovered. “The idea of bridging the gap between theory and practical application intrigued me,” Aleigha said.
Aleigha's decision to become an applications engineer was driven by a desire to creatively solve complex problems, and applications engineering perfectly embodied that balance of technical expertise and practical problem-solving. Starting out with sharpening blades in a toolroom, her career journey has been marked by continuous learning, hands-on experience, and a commitment to quality standards.
Empowering innovation at ANCA CNC Machines
Joining ANCA CNC Machines, an industry-leading company in CNC technology, was a significant milestone for her. “I first learned about ANCA through industry discussions of the company's reputation for pushing the boundaries of innovation. The prospect of contributing to ANCA's legacy and being at the forefront of advancements in tool and cutter grinding motivated me to apply,” she said.
Describing the industry's work environment, Aleigha emphasises its dynamic and collaborative nature with precision and innovation at the core of daily operations. “It's a place where professionals come together to solve intricate challenges, fostering an atmosphere that encourages continuous learning and the pursuit of excellence,” she said.
“The most enjoyable aspect of my role at ANCA is being part of a team that shapes the future of CNC technology. Contributing to groundbreaking solutions and witnessing their impact directly with customers in the tool and cutter grinding industry is both fulfilling and inspiring,” she continued.
While each tool and machine has its unique appeal, Aleigha finds a special connection with the ULTRA machines – ANCA’s premium range for delivering highest quality cutting tools. She said, “Their precise innovations and efficiency align seamlessly with the intricacies of tool and cutter grinding, making them essential in our pursuit of delivering high-quality solutions.”
As a woman in a historically male-dominated industry, Aleigha acknowledges there have been challenges. “Overcoming stereotypes and biases has been a part of the journey, but I've always approached these challenges as opportunities for inspirational growth and positive change,” Aleigha said. “I focused on building strong professional relationships, emphasising my skills, and being a proponent of diversity within the industry.”
While opportunities for female mentors in the industry have been limited, Aleigha highlights the influence of her grandmother as a strong and influential mentor. “I firmly believe that receiving guidance, insights, and unwavering support is essential, particularly from someone with whom you can relate and draw inspiration,” she said. “As my journey progresses, I've come to appreciate that my most significant role model is myself. It's immensely rewarding to inspire others to advance their careers in the industry, reinforcing the belief that excellence knows no gender boundaries.”
The future is bright…and female
There has been a positive shift in the industry's attitude toward gender diversity, with companies increasingly recognising the value of diverse perspectives and fostering more inclusive environments. However, Aleigha believes that continued commitment to diversity and inclusion initiatives through proactive mentorship programs, dismantling unconscious biases, and creating a culture that encourages and supports women at all career levels will contribute to a more balanced and innovative workforce.
Aleigha believes that success in a rapidly evolving field requires technical expertise, problem-solving skills, adaptability, effective communication, passion for innovation, and a commitment to continuous learning. While formal education provided foundational knowledge, it was hands-on experience, participation in projects, and a proactive pursuit of learning opportunities that were crucial in developing the skills required for her role.
“Over the years, I've taken on diverse projects, developed specialised skills, honed in on quality standards and now contribute to innovations in the CNC tool and cutter grinding industry. This dedication to quality has not only bolstered the reliability of my contributions but has also positioned me as a trusted professional in the industry,” Aleigha said.
“I find immense satisfaction working with customers firsthand and in projects that push boundaries and redefine what's possible. Developing innovative solutions, especially those that enhance efficiency and precision in tool grinding applications, is particularly rewarding,” she continued. “I am currently intrigued by the integration of artificial intelligence and additive manufacturing processes. Exploring these technologies and understanding their potential applications in enhancing efficiency and precision is a focal point of my ongoing learning journey.”
Aleigha’s advice for aspiring female engineers and machinists:
  • Navigating without a clear career path isn't a cause for concern; rather, it's an open door to explore numerous exciting opportunities.
  • Embrace your passion and expertise with confidence, knowing that each experience contributes to your growth.
  • Cultivate resilience when faced with challenges, actively seek opportunities for personal and professional development, and recognise the value of your unique perspective.
  • Remember that your contributions are not only valuable but essential for the industry's progress.
  • Engage in continuous learning, share experiences with others, and build a robust support system within the industry. Establishing these connections and actively participating in the exchange of knowledge will prove to be crucial as you navigate your journey as a female in industry.

26 February 2024