Advanced manufacturing holds promise as a way for the US to return to its position as a global leader in manufacturing industries.
A recent series of camps teaching computer numerically controlled (CNC) machining focused on training the current and future workforces that will be using this emerging method of production. Held at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, and Pellissippi State Community College, the camps welcomed participants ranging from precollege teens to current professionals.
America’s Cutting Edge — A Formidable Partnership
The camps were offered through America’s Cutting Edge, or ACE, a national initiative supported through the US Department of Defense’s Office of Industrial Policy to train workers on the machines powering this new industrial revolution. ACE is a partnership between ORNL, IACMI—The Composites Institute, and UT, encompassing research and development as well as workforce training.
For a trio of graduate students working with Professor Tony Schmitz in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering in UT’s Tickle College of Engineering, participating in the camp was the opportunity of a lifetime—both for the experience itself and as a chance to mentor and train others while helping to fill a critical national need.
“Dr. Schmitz and the ACE team are doing a great job of highlighting the need and opportunity for people in the manufacturing space while also illustrating the reward that comes with working in an industry where you are producing something tangible,” said Emma Betters, a graduate student in mechanical engineering and a member of the research staff at ORNL.
“The US cannot be self-reliant without the capacity to manufacture goods for both public consumption and national defense. As a UT student and a researcher at ORNL, I see ACE as a way to develop a pipeline of future manufacturing researchers, machinists, and design engineers, all of whom are essential to a healthy manufacturing ecosystem.”
Jake Dvorak, another graduate student working with the project, spoke about the impact it could have on both current students and the future of manufacturing.
He said that courses like the ACE offerings come at a crucial time in a number of critical fields, noting that everyone who took part understood the seriousness of what they were doing and that a healthy thirst for knowledge was evident among the participants.
“Having a course like ACE would have helped to jump-start my knowledge in machining early on in my manufacturing career,” Dvorak said. “I enjoyed hearing the vast variety of backgrounds coming together for a common goal—to all learn about machining. Everyone ended up working together to help the group keep up with the training along the way. It has been an excellent example of the variety of strengths we have within the department and at UT.”
The hub of the research being done at UT is in Schmitz’s Machine Tool Research Center.
The camp participants had access to the latest in advanced manufacturing machinery and equipment, learning new techniques while shoring up their knowledge and understanding of machining practices.
Aaron Cornelius, another mechanical engineering graduate student, worked with Betters to help design elements of the camp. He explained that from the beginning they wanted the program to be relevant to the widest possible audience while maintaining the ability to discuss minute details when relevant.
“Our hope is that anybody who takes this class, from novice to experienced machinist, can find some new tidbit that they didn’t know,” he said.
“Lots of schools have machining classes, but they’re usually pretty focused on just the machine programming and operation, whereas we spend a lot of time talking about the whole manufacturing process, ranging from the physics of chatter to the statistical nature of metrology and measurement.
“We obviously couldn’t cover everything in just one week, but we try to dive deep enough into a bunch of different topics to inspire students to start going and learning more on their own.”
All three students spoke highly of the participants, noting their enthusiasm not only for the final work but also for the educational journey.
That eagerness to participate is reflected in the number of people who took part in the camp. Enrollment quickly exceeded all expectations and the initial series of sessions was extended well into late summer—showing the level of desire for current knowledge and highlighting the stellar reputation that UT and its partners have in the world of advanced manufacturing.
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