Employee Spotlight: How Erin Cunningham is Shaking Up Technical Sales at KMM

Our team is integral in helping us achieve the impossible every day. However, their names and faces are largely behind-the-scenes – until now. In this ongoing series, we’ll introduce you to some of our critical team members who give their all to innovate and produce groundbreaking solutions that matter.  

Today’s post features Erin Cunningham, KMM’s Technical Sales Engineer with 38 years of manufacturing experience. We asked Erin to answer a few questions about himself and his work. Catch all the details of our interview below.

How would you describe yourself?

EC: I would say that loyalty is a core value that guides my actions and decisions. I strive to approach problems with intelligence and honesty, and I am not afraid to push back if I feel that an answer or approach doesn’t make sense. Ultimately, I prioritize the needs and desires of our customers and work to deliver the best possible outcomes for them.

Why did you choose a career in precision machining? 

EC: My passion for precision machining started at a young age, as I was raised in a family business heavily involved in the machining industry. My grandfather patented a dial punch in 1962, which led to the creation of several companies, including Twin City EDM, Mate Punch & Die, A&B Tool, and Northern Die Casting. These companies served a variety of industries, including automotive, medical, and die-casting tooling. I had the opportunity to work alongside my family, counting parts and learning about the manufacturing process. While working for my family’s business, I learned the importance of hard work, dedication, and humility.

As I became more involved in precision machining, I realized I was passionate about finding innovative solutions to complex manufacturing challenges. I am dedicated to bridging the gap between machining and inspection through fixturing and hard gauging. I constantly seek new ways to improve the process and verify complex setups and parts. Quantifying all in-process dimensions is essential for ensuring the quality of the final product, and I am committed to helping achieve this goal.

Who inspires you?

EC: My grandfathers were inspirational figures for me, as they were patient, intelligent, and respected businesspeople who participated in various fundraising events for organizations like the Boy Scouts and 4-H Club. They taught me to be humble, authentic, and genuine in all situations, which has helped me earn the respect of others throughout my career.

What is your leadership approach at KMM?

EC: My approach has always been to lead by example and offer help to anyone who needs it. If someone asks me for assistance, I’m always happy to lend a hand or guide them toward the appropriate person to assist them further. While my job description has evolved since I started here in 2016, my goal remains the same: continuous learning and growth. At KMM, we believe that the customer is always right, and we make a concerted effort to listen generously to their needs and requests. We strive to understand the customer’s message to us, so we can continue to improve and provide world-class solutions to mission-critical manufacturing challenges. Above all, on-time delivery is a core value we uphold at every level of our organization.

What is your most memorable project? 

EC: I have worked on many memorable projects, but one that stands out to me is the “605” pacemaker part. This part was made from an expensive combination of platinum and iridium for the medical industry, which required high precision and micromanufacturing. Initially, we had limited data on machining this combination of metals, so we had to start from scratch and determine the best tools and techniques for the job.

Through a collaborative effort, we took a methodical approach, testing one tool at a time and reporting back to each other on what worked and what didn’t. We encountered many challenges, including material loss and chips going through the pumps. To overcome these challenges, we implemented screens everywhere in the pumps, set up a safe for the material, and installed a camera to monitor its log-in and log-out. Following federal mandates, we also developed a reclamation process to capture and dispense precious metals with documented, controlled guidelines.

As a result of this project, our team developed multiple programs for unconventional materials with different mechanical properties, which helped save precious metals from being scrapped so they could be used for prototyping efforts. Over several months, we Swiss machined the blank and captured the feeds and speeds for machining 90/10 platinum-iridium. We then developed a carbide end mill with a diamond coating to complete the milling process, which involved creating a slot in the blank. We also developed a fixture to hold the part and welded a stylet to the blank with a wafer and a cable.

We achieved our goal through process control and excellent communication and created a consistent part that helps people with heart conditions. This project taught me the importance of perseverance, collaboration, and problem-solving in achieving complex manufacturing goals.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

EC: The most rewarding part of my job is helping our customers and ensuring their needs are met promptly and efficiently. I have been involved in programming and machining for over three decades. I enjoy using my expertise to ask customers the right questions and provide solutions that meet their budget and manufacturing requirements. I believe in Design for Manufacturing (DFM) and Design for Excellence (DFX) and have provided manufacturing solutions for many years.

Effective communication and problem-solving are critical in my role, and I work closely with customers to ensure we understand their needs and provide solutions that work for them. I am not a salesperson, but rather, I help remove roadblocks and provide ideas for how to fixture a part or optimize manufacturing processes. I also work with colleagues to ensure we are all on the same page and supporting each other’s efforts.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is when we can capture tribal knowledge and control the manufacturing process from start to finish, leaving our customers with accurate and reliable facts. I believe in continuous improvement and strive to improve my personal and professional life every day. Ultimately, I find fulfillment in helping others and positively impacting the industry.

What effect do you want to have on the industry with your work?

EC: My goal is to positively impact the industry by producing micro parts at both the prototype and production levels, focusing on precision, excellent quality, and consistent repeatability. This involves utilizing advanced fixturing, tooling, and process control to quantify dimensions and ensure the quality of the final product.

Where do you see the future of manufacturing heading in the next 30+ years?

EC: Looking ahead, I am excited about the possibilities for manufacturing and machining in the next 30 years. One exciting development is the potential for personalized medical solutions, such as being able to MRI someone’s shoulder and machine a personalized reverse shoulder replacement socket for them on the spot. Our industry is constantly evolving and looking for ways to innovate, from developing algorithms to personalize socket solutions to building sterilizing divisions into machine shops for quicker turnarounds and better health outcomes.

Many other exciting manufacturing developments are on the horizon for the medical field, including solutions that can streamline surgeries and make them quicker and safer. We are currently working on a project with Mount Sinai Hospital, and I look forward to sharing more details in the future.

At KMM, we aim to be the elite machine shop and guidewire grinder for every manufacturing need. To achieve this, we focus on getting paid to think and constantly evolving our processes to stay ahead of the curve. We strive to be a reliable source for our customers and help them when things aren’t going right by being honest and communicating throughout the process. Because we specialize in intricate, complex parts, we continually seek ways to retain and capture knowledge. Whether working with grants in the medical or space industries or developing parts for a fighter jet flight simulator for aerospace companies, we constantly push the boundaries of what is possible in manufacturing.

What is your advice for someone interested in pursuing this line of work?

EC: For anyone interested in pursuing a career in manufacturing and machining, I suggest starting by learning the basics. Spend time learning how to set up a CNC lathe and mill efficiently, and take a machine shop math class to understand the formulas you’ll use daily.

From there, I recommend learning how to set up a mill-turn and Swiss machine and spending at least six months getting comfortable with these machines. Enrolling in a CAD-CAM class during your off-shift can also be helpful, as can taking a Geometric Dimension & Tolerancing (GD&T) class every two years to stay current on the latest techniques. Most importantly, you should have fun with the job and approach it with a detective-like mentality. Pursue the facts relentlessly, and always create a baseline to work from. Ultimately, respect the facts and continue to learn and grow in your role.


We thank Erin for sharing his thoughts and perspectives with us. You can check out more of our employee spotlight articles on our blog, including profiles of Precision Grinding Floor Supervisor Doug Bloemker and Manufacturing Engineer & Turning Dept. Supervisor Sean Kennedy. 

We empower world-class manufacturing professionals with the career-advancing resources to excel. If you want to join our ever-growing team of forward-thinking manufacturing professionals, visit our employment page or contact us to learn more.