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Advanced Manufacturing Brings Big Changes, Big Opportunities

December 8, 2017

In a few short years, economic developers have seen advanced manufacturing go from a niche within traditional manufacturing to the standard for just about anything that gets made in America today.

“You don’t talk about manufacturing as something you want to recruit without talking about advanced manufacturing,” said Heather Simmons Jones, chief executive with the Greenwood Partnership Alliance.

Advanced manufacturing is growing in our area, with major announcements by companies such as Samsung Electronics America and carbon fiber manufacturer Teijin Ltd. With those hundreds of millions of dollars in investment comes jobs – opportunities for local residents with the right skills.

The Engineering and Industrial Technologies Division at Piedmont Technical College offers training for in-demand, advanced manufacturing jobs in areas such as industrial electronics, mechatronics, machine tool technology and welding. Piedmont Tech also works with readySC to create custom training courses for local manufacturers who are opening new facilities or expanding current capabilities.

Rick Farmer, who heads economic development for Newberry County, recalls touring a furniture manufacturer early in his career. The factory floor was packed with workers standing shoulder to shoulder on an assembly line.

“We just don’t see those rooms full of people anymore,” he said. “We use a lot more automation today and the workers that are there have to have a lot more skill training. They need to be able to read technical manuals and, in some cases, do advanced math.”

Even workers with a background in manufacturing may need to upgrade their skills to work at a new employer, or if their current employer adds new equipment or product lines.

“As companies change and adapt, they’re becoming more automated,” said Rusty Denning, interim dean of engineering and industrial technologies at Piedmont Tech. “If you haven’t had the hands-on training, you can’t operate the necessary equipment.”

PTC’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing, on the Laurens County Campus, is designed to support the training needs of local industry. The center houses CNC, CMM, mechatronics and welding labs and classrooms. It is also developing flexible training space for more specialized equipment and processes.

“Some folks may already have a manufacturing skill set, they just need to boost their skills in certain areas,” Denning said. “A lot of the training we’re doing is with current employees.”

Piedmont Tech is also developing the Sen. William H. “Billy” O’Dell Upstate Center for Manufacturing Excellence in Greenwood. That 45,000-square-foot facility, which is currently in the design phase, will house machine tool technology, mechatronics and welding classes while offering flex space for employer-specific training.

“Teijin will be able to utilize that space,” Simmons Jones said. “That was a selling point for Teijin and will be for future companies as well.”

PTC’s mechatronics technology program prepares students to work as a technician in an advanced manufacturing environment.

“That program has continued to grow,” Denning said. “For someone looking for a good career in manufacturing, mechatronics is one of the best.”

Newberry County has been a supporter of the mechatronics program.

“A lot of these students have jobs waiting for them before they graduate,” Farmer said. “We see lots of companies who like to reach out to young talent.”

And in advanced manufacturing, the opportunities don’t end with the first job.

“If you love hands-on work, you can quickly become educated and employable and make a very good salary,” Simmons Jones said. “And a certificate can lead to future study where you can advance your skills, often with financial support from your employer.”