North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (N.C. A&T) and The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) announced today a new partnership aimed at revitalizing U.S. manufacturing with a focus on the machine tool industry. Machine tools are a foundational element of America’s advanced manufacturing capabilities, which are essential to the country’s national security and continued economic vitality.
The new partnership will advance America’s Cutting Edge (ACE), a joint Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Energy (DOE) initiative launched in 2020 to reestablish American leadership in the machine tool industry through transformative thinking, technology innovation, and workforce development. IACMI, through an agreement with DoD’s Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment (IBAS) program, is leading an ACE industrial skills training program to scale workforce pipelines with a focus on machine tooling and advanced machining.
“We have a critical workforce skills gap in this country when it comes to machine tool resources,” said IACMI Workforce Director Joannie Harmon. “The training component of ACE is intended to help our nation recover, advance, and sustain technical and manufacturing positions – all to enable a strong, resilient and responsive U.S. industrial base.”
The nation’s largest historically Black college and university
N.C. A&T, the nation’s largest historically Black college and university (HBCU) will become the newest home to an ACE regional machine tools workforce training and development center. The center will be housed in the College of Science and Technology Department of Applied Engineering Technology. The university will collaborate with local industry and community college partners in and around the Greensboro, North Carolina, area to implement a proven machine tool training model developed at the University of Tennessee (UT) and currently in use at UT-Knoxville and at Pellissippi State Community College. Additional ACE machine tool training centers are being planned across the U.S. as ACE partners scale up this workforce initiative.
“Industry demand for machine tool operators, engineers, designers, and entrepreneurs far outpaces our manufacturing workforce supply in the U.S.,” said Aixi Zhou, Ph.D., chair and professor in the Department of Applied Engineering Technology. Zhou will serve as director of the new hub. “At North Carolina A&T, we are leveraging this opportunity with America’s Cutting Edge to better serve our students and community. We stand ready to address the overall manufacturing skills gap in this country and directly bolster our nation’s machine tool workforce to help DoD meet its supply chain needs. This partnership with DoD is a great opportunity for many high school and college students in the region to receive hands-on education and strengthen North America’s national competitiveness in manufacturing.”
The engineering technology programs at N.C. A&T provide an applied approach for engineering education with an emphasis on learning through hands-on activities, including CNC machining in its Applied Engineering Technology curriculum.
“The Piedmont Triad region plays an important role in some niche manufacturing industries, such as aerospace, automotive, bio-manufacturing and furniture,” added Zhou. “As the country’s largest historically black university and leading producer of African American engineers, North Carolina A&T is uniquely positioned to increase diversity in manufacturing, particularly machining.”
World Machine Tool Report
According to Gardner Intelligence’s 2020 World Machine Tool Report, America’s capacity to design, make and use advanced machine tools has been in steady decline since the 1980s due to the migration of advanced machining and manufacturing overseas. As a result, the U.S. has not been the global leader in machine tool production since 1982. An industrial skills gap and aging workforce have led to a lack of the reliable training resources needed to produce the highly skilled and diverse workforce required to manufacture tooling and parts that serve as the essential foundation of America’s manufacturing capability.
“Research proves that nations that design and manufacture products are far better at innovating,” said Adele Ratcliff, IBAS program director. “The decline in U.S. advanced manufacturing and machine tool technology and capacity has significantly impacted national and economic security. The United States must be able to conceive, design, build, and use advanced machine tools in order to produce many of the products that are used in modern society and that our country so vitally needs to defend our nation.”
The ACE approach
Using advanced computing, robotics and material design capabilities, ACE is rapidly developing innovative machine tool technologies that dramatically improve precision, efficiency and productivity, all key to restoring America’s global competitiveness in the machine tool sector and, by extension, in advanced manufacturing. The ACE approach puts manufacturers at the center of its strategy. ACE focuses on training new experts, improving cost effectiveness especially for small and medium manufacturers and machine shops, researching and developing productivity innovations, and developing partnerships to commercialize advancements.
ACE uses free online and in-person, hands-on training to connect top national experts with students and incumbent industrial workers from all backgrounds, levels of education, and work experience to catalyze awareness and interest in all facets of machining, including software development, metrology, design, operation and entrepreneurship. To date, ACE has created and delivered free courses and bootcamp style training in the automated control of machine tools to more than 2,100 students from 49 states.
ACE is already transferring resulting technologies to U.S. machine tool manufacturers. One ACE-developed tool has saved small and medium U.S. machine tool shops more than 55,000 machine hours and $5 million in costs—with potential savings for the broader U.S. industry reaching into the billions across the roughly 30,000 machine shops in the U.S.
“To effectively produce tomorrow’s machining and manufacturing professionals, we must increase awareness and instill a passion for creativity in manufacturing,” Ratcliff added. “I look forward to following the progress of our newest ACE machine tool training hub at North Carolina A&T. I applaud the university for supporting the training necessary to bring machine tool prominence back to the U.S.”