NSF Grant Will Help Modernize ECC Manufacturing Programs
With the integration of artificial intelligence and advanced robotics in manufacturing, preparing our workforce to work with these technologies is critical. That’s why Edgecombe Community College is working to align its training programs with Industry 4.0, what many are calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The college recently received a National Science Foundation three-year grant of more than $306,000 to train current and future technicians to a higher level of technology.
Central to the grant, titled “Preparing Manufacturing Technicians for the Challenges of Industry 4.0,” is a collaboration with local manufacturing employers and the Tar River Region Boys and Girls Club. Tutors and mentors will meet with Boys and Girls Club members with an advanced training machine designed to develop Industry 4.0 skills.
The machine, called Skill Boss Logistics, is a tabletop system that teaches and assesses real-world operations related to torque measurement, alignment, belt drives, electro-pneumatic sorting, and other supply chain automation systems. The grant also will pay for a Vibration Analysis Trainer, which will teach students about the principles of mechanical vibration.
“Obviously, vibration is bad in manufacturing,” explains Doug Parrish, department chair of Industrial and Technical Trades at ECC. “This higher technology training focuses on preventive maintenance and identifying the problem so it can be fixed.”
The college also will set up training programs with manufacturing employers in the area. “In addition, we’re looking for technicians who are interested in strengthening their skills,” Parrish says.
Over the next three years, the college plans to recruit 40-60 underemployed manufacturing workers and high school students who have an aptitude for science and technical subjects.
“We primarily want to recruit Edgecombe County residents to put them in positions of electrical or electronic technicians in manufacturing,” Parrish says. “We’re also looking for under-represented segments of the manufacturing workforce so we can help strengthen any low socioeconomic-economic status in the region.”
Because Rocky Mount and its surrounding counties are a hotbed for manufacturing in the country, the need for more advanced trained workers continues to grow – even at the entry level.
“We want to prepare people so they can succeed in these jobs,” Parrish says.
Edgecombe Community College’s efforts to put more highly trained manufacturing workers into Eastern North Carolina’s workforce began several years ago when the college began aligning its manufacturing and electrical systems programs with Industry 4.0 needs.
Thanks to the National Science Foundation grant, the strengthened STEM-focused curriculum will be further tailored toward the data-intensive needs of Industry 4.0, which relies increasingly on smart sensors, cloud computing, data acquisition, and cloud analytics.
“Right now, we teach manufacturing 2.0-3.0, and we want to teach 4.0,” Parrish adds. “This grant will help us move from ‘old school’ manufacturing into manufacturing that deals with machines to robotics and AI.”