The world of manufacturing is changing rapidly and to get the next generation ready for how things are done now, Danville Community College is updating its precision machining and manufacturing programs.
Troy Simpson, director of advanced manufacturing at DCC, updated members of the Southern Piedmont Technology Council on new trends and ways to prepare the workforce during a meeting at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research on Tuesday.
Simpson explained that manufacturing has changed a lot since it was first possible due to mechanization, the availability of steam power and the invention of weaving looms.
He called that phase Industry 1.0, with it being followed by Industry 2.0 when electric energy made mass production and assembly-line production possible.
Soon, though, computers, automation and electronics changed manufacturing practices, bringing on a third phase of manufacturing, which Simpson called Industry 3.0.
“There weren’t blazing changes, and it was a long trend,” Simpson said.
But technology is changing, bringing on robotics and the ability of the various steps of manufacturing to talk to each other through the Internet, networks and other cyber systems.
It will be Industry 4.0 and the next evolution of manufacturing, Simpson said.
Information technology and manufacturing, once completely separate departments, are blurring, he said, and workers in the very near future will need a knowledge of both.
Simpson talked of completely autonomous robots handling all phases of manufacturing, communicating with each other and generally troubleshooting on their own.
But, he said, there will still need to be machinists to create the robots, and they will have to understand how the whole cyber system works, as will the technicians who will have to jump in when problems happen beyond the abilities of the robots.
“And, as devices communicate with each other, cyber security will be big,” Simpson said, noting that protecting the various systems in play will be critical.
No one wants a hacker to break in and steal their processes, or, even worse, bring their plants to a screeching halt.
This change in manufacturing will “create jobs there’s not even any training in place for yet,” Simpson said.
And by 2025, it is estimated that in the U.S. alone there will be 900,000 new industry jobs looking for people who can take on the new challenges.
Currently, through partnerships between the public schools, colleges and the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, high school students can get a jump on precision machining training, earning up to a year’s worth of college credits toward being certified in various aspects of advanced manufacturing.
Training needs to start even sooner, Simpson said.
One of the things being worked on locally is setting up Go-Tec Career Connections Labs in sixth-grade classrooms to introduce younger children — who are already digitally connected, many far more so than their parents — to industrial-grade robots and let them learn how they work.
Even teachers could see some additional training.
“School superintendents are saying it is hard to hire teachers with a tech background,” Simpson said. Additional training programs could help ease that problem.
Brantley Hanks, a retired NASA employee who has taught locally at the Governor’s School and DCC, asked what would happen to older workers who have not been trained beyond the current manufacturing standards.
“I remember when computers killed typewriters,” Hanks said. “A lot of people lost jobs.”
Simpson said there will be huge challenges, but those workers can take advantage of the available training, hopefully with their current employers supporting those efforts.
But the bottom line, Simpson said, is that the workforce has to be ready for what it coming in the next few years, or manufacturers will simply close down and go somewhere they can find skilled workers.
The students in the DCC programs, and in the collaboration between DCC and the Institute at the machining programs at the Gene Hass Center at the Institute, are netting jobs, many locally.
Simpson said Kyocera SGS Tech Hub, which is due to open in the next 60 days, has already hired students who have gone through the program.
“They are also recruiting students to come back to the community with the engineering degrees they’ve earned after completing this course,” Simpson said.
One such student is Conner Lester, who went into a DCC precision machining program straight out of high school.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I do like to make things,” Lester said. “I met [Simpson] and decided to do it.”
Lester earned his certifications in precision machining through DCC, but decided he wanted to take it a step further, and had just graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in engineering.
Last summer, he interned at Kyocera and he begins his new job with the company on July 16.
“I’ll be designing parts rather than making them,” Lester said. “I’m looking forward to it.”