Central Carolina's 'mini-factory' helps train students

Grant-funded automated assembly system focuses on troubleshooting

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 12/19/17

Central Carolina Technical College's newest industrial training gadget will help students in its advanced manufacturing program, and local industry representatives are tickled pink to have the equipment in place.

In technical terms, the new …

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Central Carolina's 'mini-factory' helps train students

Grant-funded automated assembly system focuses on troubleshooting

Bert Hancock, academic program manager for Mechatronics at Central Carolina Technical College, shows off the college's new four-stage, flexible manufacturing system recently to industrial and community leaders.
Bert Hancock, academic program manager for Mechatronics at Central Carolina Technical College, shows off the college's new four-stage, flexible manufacturing system recently to industrial and community leaders.
MICAH GREEN / THE SUMTER ITEM
Posted

Central Carolina Technical College's newest industrial training gadget will help students in its advanced manufacturing program, and local industry representatives are tickled pink to have the equipment in place.

In technical terms, the new contraption is a four-station, flexible, integrated manufacturing assembly system. But in layman's terms, you could just call it a "mini-factory," according to industrial officials.

Bert Hancock, academic program manager for Mechatronics at CCTC, illustrated the new automated training system to local industry officials and other leaders recently at the college's Advanced Manufacturing Technology Training Center, 853 Broad St.

The college acquired the training equipment a few months ago, and the "mini-factory" helps simulate a present-day manufacturing plant filled with automation and robotics. Today's manufacturing plants are becoming more and more focused on automation with advanced technologies in place as opposed to a traditional worker production line setup, Hancock said. The benefits of these advanced technologies are increased product quality, speed and labor-cost savings, he said.

Students training today for the advanced-manufacturing workplace need to be able to troubleshoot all that machinery and problem solve because down machinery means money lost.

"Every plant manager today knows when their plant is down how much it's costing them by the hour and down to the minute," Hancock said.

With the advanced technologies, a growing percentage of jobs in the manufacturing sector today require education beyond the high school level, such as what's being offered in the technical college's Mechatronics program. Students train for in-demand careers as electrical/mechanical maintenance technicians in the program.

CCTC's "mini-factory" consists of a four-station product assembly system and represents a real manufacturing setting because it includes numerous sensors and switches, a motorized system, air-operated components and a conveyor system.

Assembly on the "mini-factory" consists of programming part placements to include various bearings, shafts, caps and other items, Hancock said. Different steps in the assembly process depend on previous steps, so a malfunction noticed at stage/station four might trace back to stage/station two.

For the industrial technology division at the college, the "mini-factory" is the most advanced system it's ever had. Hancock said the four-station assembly system cost about $150,000 and was paid for through grant funding.

Plant Manager Kevin Johnson of BD, one of Sumter's largest and most advanced manufacturers, is happy to have the new training system in place at CCTC. He said the automation equipment system is close to what he has in place at his plant.

"Getting students to understand programmable machinery that picks and places and does other tasks and then to troubleshoot for problems there is a tremendous skill that has tremendous value," Johnson said. "Previously, the only way to learn troubleshooting was for someone to show you through experience, until now. Now, we have a technical college setting that sets these students up to come walk into a place like BD and be value-added immediately, and that's attractive to us."