A long-standing challenge the manufacturing industry has faced is filling the skills gap. While more jobs are being created due to advancing technology, there aren’t enough individuals trained for these positions. Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute anticipate U.S. manufacturing will have 2 million unfilled jobs by 2028, a record-high.
Taking the concepts of lean manufacturing and 5s, Mississippi- based Meridian Community College (MCC) aims to close this gap. In the Gene Haas Advanced Manufacturing Center, located in the MCC Workforce Development Center, there are classrooms and fully equipped lab space featuring state-of-the-art computer-aided design (CAD) and machining equipment. Students gain hands-on training and learn highly technical skills to give them an edge as soon as they enter the workforce, ensuring they are qualified and ready to hit the floor running.
“We’re tracking time on jobs when they are assigned a project, and we try to incorporate all aspects of lean manufacturing into the curriculum,” says Brian Warren, program coordinator of Precision Machining and division chair of Industrial Technology at MCC. “Our goal is to provide them with an environment where they can get a real idea what it’s like to work for an advanced manufacturer.”
Building technical skills
Advanced automation and technologies are major driving forces behind manufacturing today, especially in the medical market. Designing products and components requires CAD, CNC machines, and inspection tools.
The lab allows students to learn these machining and CNC techniques by training on and operating various pieces of equipment, including a 5-axis Haas UMC500SS, a Haas ST-30Y turning center with Y-axis and live tooling, a Tsugami B0205 Swiss-style CNC lathe, a Zeiss coordinate measuring machine (CMM), and 11 additional CNC machines, along with a variety of manual lathes, mills, drill presses, and band saws.
A main focus of students working with the machines is operator setup and how to understand and correctly store information. Warren explains that students graduating from the program often start in positions as an operator or setup tech, so they need to know how to respond if a failure occurs. Working with these tools also allows the students to focus on efficiency and minimizing setup and changeover time in a production setting.
“It’s important they actually recognize what they’re doing and why, so they’re not just repeating a sequence,” Warren explains. “We’re making sure they understand what this offset means and why it’s crucial to have a setup. The students are also using the machines to design and build their own fixtures.”
Students also handle Blaser Swiss coolant, learning the proper way to mix and maintain machine coolant.
“I have worked for small shops where mixing coolant was as simple as pouring some soluble oil into a pail of water,” Warren explains. “We have now integrated coolant cleaning and mixing strategies into our daily routine with the students. When we change coolants, we flush the systems and clean the tanks. We use reverse- osmosis filtration for our tap water supply and precisely mix the Blaser to the proper concentration.”
Students check the concentration daily with refractometers using tank samples from all machines, and levels are adjusted as needed. Oil skimmers are also used to keep the machine coolant performing safely at optimal levels for all the students.
Rethinking our approach
Preparing for the future and being equipped to meet the increasing needs of the industry require an alternative approach to education. Warren emphasizes that to have enough skilled workers, it’s critical to build up support. MCC partners with several industry leaders – bringing in manufacturers and suppliers of tooling and machine tooling technology – who help train the students and allow them to run tests on software and various pieces of equipment.
“One of the main things we need right now in our industry is support, not only for training and to have more jobs available, but to provide the latest educational tools for our members.”
Students’ mindsets have also changed when it comes to selecting a school. More are turning toward community college programs, not because of proximity, but because they offer highly ranked curriculums that are best suited for their trade.
“It’s really interesting to watch these students grow because they start out kind of hesitant about it, but gradually, by the third semester they are walking and talking like experienced machinists,” Warrens adds. “I keep in touch with our graduates and one of my favorite things is getting a call from them and hearing about how well they’re doing out in the field, explaining recent scenarios, and talking about a run they just had. The graduates are happy and they love their jobs.”
Haas Automation Inc.
Meridian Community College