Tuesday | 18 November, 2014 | 11:18 am

Virtual viewpoint

By Gretchen Salois

Students tour a manufacturing facility in real time with the click of a mouse

November 2014 - Field trips often trump the classroom experience, bringing theory to life. Now, students from anywhere can virtually travel to eastern Iowa to walk through operations teeming with technologically advanced production processes.

The Alcoa Foundation, in conjunction with Discovery Education, conducted its first interactive virtual field trip for National Manufacturing Day this past October. Middle school and high school students were given the chance to look inside a facility that has produced a number of aerospace applications, including space vehicles, and lightweight metal products that help make space travel a reality. 

Today’s students can become tomorrow’s breath of life into the manufacturing sector so Alcoa believes inspiring young people is important. “The manufacturing industry is an innovative place full of exciting potential, but we need a strong pipeline of talent to fill the increasing demand in the manufacturing industry,” says Suzanne Van de Raadt, director of global communications and program development at Alcoa Foundation. 

The tour students took of the Davenport facility in October took about 45 minutes (see the video here). It is one of Alcoa’s largest U.S. high-tech aluminum manufacturing facilities, which has produced lightweight metal and other materials for every American space vehicle, including material that made the first moon landing possible. Today, the company manufactures advanced products for major aircraft including the wings of Air Force One. 

“The tour also showcases the new revolutionary Auto Treatment line, which enables mass production of aluminum for cars—a growing trend in reducing vehicle weight for increased fuel efficiency,” says Van de Raadt. 

Real-time relevancy

Recently, Alcoa announced a $190 million investment to further aerospace material production at Davenport Works. The investment to the rolling mill includes the installation of a new “very thick plate stretcher,” according to the Pittsburgh-based company. The addition will allow Alcoa to serve the existing plate market as well as give it the ability to supply thick plate to make large wing ribs, fuselage frames and bulkheads.

Construction on the project starts next year with the first customer production expected to begin in 2017, according to Alcoa.

During the tour

Students toured the facility and listened to employees talk about their career development. The participants asked questions before and during the tour. “Most of the students wanted to know more about what classes and education would prepare them for the careers shown in the tour,” she says. 

A second virtual tour will be filmed for broadcasting in 2015. The basis of the program is to raise awareness and give students the ability to make informed decisions about careers in manufacturing. “An event like this creates a stronger impression than getting the information from a textbook and students can see how classroom learning translates into a career path,” Van de Raadt says.

The program involved a great deal of preparation, including ensuring the information shared in lesson plans is accurate and supported by industry experts and educators. Van de Raadt says Alcoa received support and expertise from Hope Street Group, The Manufacturing Institute and SME Education Foundation. MM

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