Lena Risse: ANCA's Female Machinist of the Year

Like many people, Lena Risse didn't know what career to pursue when she entered young adulthood in 2017. Now she's won ANCA's inaugural Female Machinist of the Year contest.

Lena studied media technology at a university for a time, began a related apprenticeship in supporting trade fairs and concerts, but it didn't suit her. Then, at 19, she decided to give tool grinding a try, an option that seemed simultaneously obvious and crazy. Obvious, because her father Horst Risse was running a one-man tool grinding company with such love and dedication that he routinely says he'll be standing at a machine when he's 85. And crazy, because to this day, Lena finds so few females in the field, though she'll convincingly explain why that should not be the case.

Lena had helped out at Risse Werkzeugtechnik GmbH (Risse Tool Technology GmbH) in Erkrath, Germany, as a teenager, doing things like packaging and laser marking. But she'd never touched the tool grinders. That changed as she started her apprenticeship in 2018. She took immediately to her father's four ANCA machines and found that the more she did, the more she liked it.

Her curriculum called for cycles of six weeks of practical work in the company combined with two weeks of classroom theory. By the beginning of 2022, Lena passed her exams to become a fully qualified machinist. By then she was also responsible for all the company's regrinding, which is roughly half their business, plus many additional duties. On top of that, she's pursuing a master craftsman qualification -- the only woman in the region to do so -- and is on track to finish this summer. That would certify her to manage and train production teams.

It's not the diplomas that motivate her though. It's the satisfaction of things like starting a week with hundreds of diverse, damaged or worn-out tools, wondering how you're going to sharpen them all, and then measuring, programming, grinding, and delivering them all to happy customers by week's end. Or the satisfaction of inventing a dead stop for their automatic chuck, so they could hold a tight tolerance on length when regrinding a series of unequal end mills.

What’s next? Lena envisions continuing to stand alongside her dad for years to come, and they're discussing the option of taking on an apprentice when Lena gets her master machinist certification. She's also considering the possibility of adding the role of teaching other grinders at a nearby school or business.

Whatever she does, Lena is adamant that it’s a wonderful career for women and she decries the fact that virtually everyone she meets in the field, and all her instructors and company managers, have been male. As she sees it, "tool grinding is about patience, precision, logical thinking, and just finding solutions for problems. And I don't think that men are better at this than women. I never have a day at work where I say 'I don’t want to do this. This is a job for a man,' or anything like that." She adds that while she thinks women can do dirty or strenuous work, they should know that tool grinding is pretty much the opposite, "and I would like to see more women have the courage to just do it."

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