Hands-on training in Knoxville teaches essential machining skills, addresses U.S. machining workforce gap
Knoxville, TN /PRNewswire/ - Summer 2022 bootcamps for America's Cutting Edge (ACE) are underway in Knoxville, Tenn. The ACE initiative, led and funded by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), has its roots in Eastern Tennessee and is designed to revitalize the U.S. machine tool industry as a central component of America's global manufacturing competitiveness.
The pilot program for the ACE training on Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines was so successful in East Tennessee in 2021 that it is now emerging as a national network of regional machine tools innovation and workforce development centers.
Hosted jointly by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) and Pellissippi State Community College (PSCC), a total of eight weeklong bootcamps, which started in March and will run through July, will train up to 80 participants in the latest machine tool technologies for metals and composites. Participants come from across the U.S. and have diverse backgrounds, ranging from high school, community college, and university students to professional machinists and manufacturing engineers.
"Machine tools are at the very core of advanced manufacturing capabilities," says Joannie Harmon, director of workforce development for the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), which is managing the ACE training initiative. "There is an urgent and growing need in the U.S. machining and machine tool industry for skilled individuals – operators, engineers, designers and more – in the 30,000 machining operations across America."
In May, 11 ACE participants got hands-on experience in PSCC's machining lab fabricating four components for an oscillating piston air engine. "All ACE in-person training follows the same curriculum," says Andy Polnicki, the Megalab Director at PSCC. "Though this week's camp served professionals already in manufacturing jobs and looking to expand their skillsets, other PSCC camps will be geared for high school students and will focus more on job opportunities and career pathways."
After organizing ACE bootcamps for a year, Polnicki has found it helpful to group similar ages and experiences for each PSCC camp. Students and professionals are covering the same content but are often impacted differently. "Young people are surprised they can create things that they imagine, on equipment they've never heard of before. Machine operators are surprised how easy it is to learn the software, load the program and make something. They realize that next step isn't such a stretch."
The ACE bootcamp at UTK this week, is hosted by Dr. Tony Schmitz, a mechanical engineering professor who also developed the ACE curriculum. Since ACE launched in December 2020, ACE online has exceeded 2,400 participants from all 50 states, and 79 have completed in-person training. "I am so pleased with the community's acceptance of the content," Schmitz says, "but we are just getting started. My next target is 10,000 online participants. My goal is no less than eliminating the shortfall of U.S. talent and workforce in the CNC machining ecosystem."
To reach that goal, IACMI is leveraging its workforce development expertise to expand ACE in a hub and spoke model across the country. North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (N.C. A&T) in Greensboro, NC is the first hub beyond the initial testbed in East Tennessee. In addition to leading more bootcamps, Schmitz and his team of CNC instructors are giving personalized "train the trainer" guidance to ensure a continuity amongst all machine tool training centers as ACE grows.
America's Cutting Edge (ACE) is a national initiative to restore the prominence of the U.S. machine tools sector. Both the 6-hour online course and the 30-hour in-person training require no prior experience and are offered at no cost. ACE is supported by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment (IBAS) Program from the Office of Industrial Policy. ACE brings together the scientific expertise of the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), advanced training tools and techniques developed at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), and the workforce development leadership of IACMI – The Composites Institute. Machining and machine tools are at the foundation of America's manufacturing capability and its global competitiveness.
About IACMI – The Composites Institute
IACMI – The Composites Institute is a 130-plus member community of industry, universities, national laboratories, and federal, state, and local government agencies working together to accelerate advanced composites design, manufacturing, technical innovation, and workforce solutions to enable a cleaner and more sustainable, more secure, and more competitive U.S. economy. IACMI is managed by the Collaborative Composite Solutions Corporation (CCS), a not-for-profit organization established by The University of Tennessee Research Foundation. A Manufacturing USA institute, IACMI is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Manufacturing Office, as well as key state and industry partners. Visit www.iacmi.org.