April 2009- When times are tough and belts have to be tightened, certain areas of a company are scaled back more often and more significantly than others. Unfortunately, employee training and education is frequently one of those areas, as the sentiment of "making do" with what one has tends to rise. This doesn't bode well for machining education programs, which have struggled for their footing in the academic world--even in good times. One western North Carolina program, however, hopes to convince area manufacturers of the benefits of keeping their workforces skilled and up to date.
Founded in 2006 and funded by a grant from The Golden Leaf Foundation, Rocky Mount, N.C., an organization dedicated to job creation, retention and worker preparedness in North Carolina, the advanced machining center at Haywood Community College, Clyde, N.C., is a cutting-edge, continuing education program for advanced metalforming, machining, and CAD, CAM and CAE. The training center also has an affiliation with the North Carolina Aerospace Alliance, making a large part of its focus the reverse engineering and machining of aging aerospace components.
"The North Carolina Aerospace Alliance set a goal to bring the capability for advanced machining in support of the aerospace industry into the state, particularly the remanufacturing and reverse engineering of aging aircraft parts for primarily military aircraft," says Howard Kline, project manager.
Although Kline has been impressed with the level of interest in the program by area businesses, actual participation levels haven't quite matched it, particularly since the economy started contracting last year. In the moment, putting the continuing education of employees on hold might seem logical and necessary, Kline feels the long-term implications of postponing the technical advancement of one's workforce could be detrimental to a company.
"We're offering tremendously advanced, state-of-the-art capabilities, so I think it would be good for [companies] to look at retooling for the future," says Kline. "Eventually they'll have to because their equipment will be limited to their current production line. And as things change, they have to be ready to adapt."
As for its high-tech equipment, Haywood's advanced machining center boasts several Haas lathes and mills, Haas CNC control simulators, an Omax 2652 waterjet, wire EDMs, an Accurpress 7608 and Accurshear 6250, an HE&Msaw, an injection molding machine and a computer workstation lab with more than 20 computers. It's also NIMS-accredited, offers train-the-trainer curricula and indoctrination for area high school machining programs, and machining training on up to five-axis contours.
"The interest has been high for this type of equipment," says Kline. "And Golden Leaf has put smaller versions of the equipment for training purposes at one of the high schools here. There are also similar pieces of equipment on a more limited basis at Tri-County Community College, as well as at a couple of the other organizations. I think the interest was high when we first started, but from the standpoint of an investment in this type of equipment and the training, the industry hasn't caught up with some of the capabilities that we offer."
The Haywood program, which has a sister program at Lenoir Community College, Kinston, N.C., hopes that in the fast-paced and ever-changing world of manufacturers, companies won't shy away from keeping themselves on the cutting edge, even during economically disagreeable times.
"We're trying everything," says Kline. "We're really working every avenue, and we remain optimistic and forward-leaning. Golden Leaf is supportive. I think the project has tremendous promise, so we're really pushing for it to succeed. I think everyone in this program remains optimistic." MM