By Nathaniel Cary, firstname.lastname@example.org – September 21, 2016
Greenville Technical College officially opened its $25 million Gene Haas Center for Manufacturing Innovation on Wednesday in a 100,000 square-foot space filled with classrooms and machines that some called one of the best advanced manufacturing education facilities in the nation.remove
The facility, paid for with a $25 million bond issued by Greenville County, is designed to attack the skills gap that exists in the workforce as manufacturers seek skilled technicians and engineers to fill positions at local manufacturers.
“When the state started to come out of the recession in 2010-2011, manufacturers stepped forward and started to describe the situation as critical,” said Greenville Tech President Keith Miller. “Critical that they could not find enough skilled workers.”
Greenville Tech taught many of the programs of study for advanced manufacturing skills, but it did so in smaller shops located at its Brashier Campus in Simpsonville and its Barton campus on Pleasantburg Drive in Greenville.
What the college sought, and manufacturers said they needed, was a space that could attract students, educate them on the differences between manufacturing jobs of the past and present, and train them to jump on or off the education wheel with the training they desire to obtain the technical jobs now needed to allow manufacturers to continue to innovate in the United States, Miller said. With the CMI now open, they believe they’ve found that space, he said.
Pete Selleck, chairman and president of Michelin North America, called the CMI an innovation in workforce education at a time when manufacturing executives say the country’s lack of skilled workers impact their ability to meet demand.
“We understand how important this project is to our company’s future success,” Selleck said. “This groundbreaking new education center represents a critical part of what higher education must continue to offer a growing segment of students today.”
The center, Selleck said, makes Michelin’s decision look “even better” when it located in Greenville 45 years ago. Other technical schools across the country will look at the CMI for inspiration, he said.
The future of manufacturing will only prosper if we see more schools such as Greenville Tech work together with the manufacturing community to create advanced manufacturing education centers,” Selleck said.
The center unveiled its new name Wednesday after two separate $1 million gifts from the Gene Haas Foundation, the private family foundation of the founder of Haas Automation and co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing.
One of the Haas gifts will establish a $1 million scholarship fund in perpetuity for advanced manufacturing students and the second will fund repairs and replacement of equipment (other than Haas Machines) in coming years, said Les Gardner, director of development with the Greenville Tech Foundation.
More facilities like it are needed across the country, even in Haas Automation’s hometown of Oxnard, California, if manufacturers are to close the underemployment gaps they’re seeing now, he said.
“Government leaders are beginning to understand the magnitude of the problem of underemployment in this industry in manufacturing,” Zierhut said.
The U.S. House voted to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 on Sept. 13, which provides $1.1 billion per year to career and technical education for grades 7-12 and in higher education though fiscal year 2022. The Senate still has to vote on the reauthorization.
“This really is the beginning of a renaissance in career technical education,” Zierhut said.
Students operating CNC machines, robotic arms and troubleshooting manufacturing lines on the ground floor of the sparkling open-concept center already understand the benefits.
The ground floor is filled with $7 million in equipment that includes a manual machine lab with lathes and grinders as well as a CNC manufacturing lab with three-axis and five-axis machining centers.
The machine labs are visible through large banks of windows immediately upon entering the building. That is by design, said David Clayton, CMI executive director, because part of educating potential students about advanced manufacturing is showing them it’s not like the manufacturing jobs of the past that parents of grandparents may have held in an old shop.
“The big challenge for manufacturing is getting people interested in the career,” Clayton said. “When they walk in, you want it to kind of hit them in the face ‘Wow, this is really cool. This is not what I expected.’”
To help change the view for future generations toward manufacturing, General Electric gave $500,000 to build a Bridge to Learning, which is still under design and will be an interactive tool that will allow students and visitors to use a touchscreen to see how tools in the manufacturing labs are used to make products.
Greenville Tech will teach mechatronics, CNC machining, metrology and robotics at the CMI as well as additive manufacturing through a partnership with engineering and technology company Renishaw, a first for a technical college. The facility will also house a first-of-its-kind Manufacturing Honors College, which will allow GTC and Clemson University students to work on teams to solve real-world manufacturing challenges.
The honors college partnership brings together 200 engineering graduate students at the nearby Clemson University-International Center for Automotive Research with GTC students who may be training as technicians or pursuing an associate’s degree before transferring to Clemson or other programs to pursue engineering.
Clemson will have space in the building for faculty and students to work on integrating curriculum between those training as technicians at GTC and those on an engineering path at Clemson, said Randy Collins, the executive director of academic initiatives in Clemson’s college of engineering.
Construction to a new entrance to the building from Millennium Boulevard should be finished in November, Miller said. The CMI was designed by LS3P Associates and built by Rodgers Builders.
The center opened for fall classes in August and has about 100 students in the associate’s programs, another 50-60 training for quick jobs in certificate programs and another 20-30 each week taking manufacturing training through corporate programs at the building, Clayton said.
It could house double the amount of students or more, Clayton said. And eventually, Greenville Tech may expand the facility and build others like it as needed, Miller said.
Another first for Greenville Tech is a 10,000-foot business incubator built at the facility that will house small businesses, likely from program graduates, who can rely on Greenville Tech instructors and CMI equipment to help launch their business, Miller said.