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A student works on a machined part in the Machine Tool Research Center at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, during the ACE Bootcamp training

Summer 2022 bootcamps for America’s Cutting Edge (ACE) are under way in Knoxville, Tennessee. The initiative, led and funded by the US Department of Defense, has its roots in East Tennessee and is working to revitalize the machine tool industry as a central component of America’s global manufacturing competitiveness.

The ACE Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Machining Training Program was developed by Tony Schmitz, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who holds a joint faculty position with Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The pilot program was so successful in 2021 that it is now emerging as a national network of regional machine tool innovation and workforce development centers.

Chancellor Donde Plowman discusses CNC machining with instructor Jose Nazario and ACE bootcamp attendees, Brad Miles and Adonis Summerville.

“This program is a prime example of our innovation ecosystem in East Tennessee at its best,” said UT Chancellor Donde Plowman. “Our faculty are leading innovative solutions to real-world problems and showing the power of sharing knowledge and growing partnerships.”

The bootcamp is being held in UT’s Machine Tool Research Center, a state-of the art advanced manufacturing lab space located in the Tickle College of Engineering’s Dougherty Engineering Building. Since ACE launched in December 2020, ACE online has exceeded 2,400 participants from all 50 states, and 79 have completed in-person training.

Plowman and staff members representing Senator Bill Hagerty, Senator Marsha Blackburn, Representative Chuck Fleischmann, and Representative Tim Burchett visited Wednesday’s bootcamp to get a firsthand look at the hands-on machining training being carried out through this highly successful workforce development program.

L to R: Field Representative for Rep. Chuck Fleishmann Tammy Merritt, Chancellor Donde Plowman, Professor Tony Schmitz, Field Director for Sen. Marsha Blackburn Chelsea Ivens, Field Representative for Sen. Bill Hagerty Riley Lovingood, Community Outreach Director for Rep. Tim Burchett Sara Fansler.

A total of eight week-long bootcamps, hosted jointly by UT and Pellissippi State Community College, started in March and will run through July. Up to 80 participants will be trained in the latest machine tool technologies for metals and composites. Participants come from across the US and have diverse backgrounds, ranging from high school, community college, and university students to professional machinists and manufacturing engineers.

“I am so pleased with the community’s acceptance of the content,” Schmitz said, “but we are just getting started. My next target is 10,000 online participants. My goal is no less than eliminating the shortfall of US talent and workforce in the CNC machining ecosystem.”

To reach that goal, the IACMI–The Composites Institute, which is managing the ACE training initiative, 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 in Greensboro, North Carolina, 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 among all machine tool training centers as ACE grows.

“Machine tools are at the very core of advanced manufacturing capabilities,” said Joannie Harmon, director of workforce development for IACMI. “There is an urgent and growing need in the US machining and machine tool industry for skilled individuals—operators, engineers, designers, and more—in the 30,000 machining operations across America.”

About America’s Cutting Edge
America’s Cutting Edge
is a national initiative to restore the prominence of the US machine tool sector. Both the six-hour online course and the 30-hour in-person training, developed at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, by Professor of Mechanical Engineering Tony Schmitz, require no prior experience and are offered at no cost. ACE is supported by the US Department of Defense Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment Program in the Office of Industrial Policy. It brings together the scientific expertise of the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, advanced training tools and techniques developed at UT, and the workforce development leadership of IACMI–The Composites Institute. Machining and machine tools are at the foundation of America’s manufacturing capability and global competitiveness.

About the University of Tennessee, Knoxville
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has been advancing knowledge and enriching lives since its founding in 1794. Tennessee’s flagship public research university, UT is a diverse community whose shared commitment to discovery, creativity, and education combines with a tradition of service and engagement to carry the Volunteer spirit throughout the state and around the world. UT’s campus—home to around 31,000 students and 9,000 faculty and staff members—is part of the vibrant city of Knoxville, located on the Tennessee River with the Great Smoky Mountains nearby.

About IACMIThe 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, secure, and competitive US economy. IACMI is managed by the Collaborative Composite Solutions Corporation, a not-for-profit organization established by the University of Tennessee Research Foundation. A Manufacturing USA institute, IACMI is supported by the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office as well as key state and industry partners.


Chris Schmitz (865-974-8304,

Margaret Slattery (865-566-8894,