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May 31, 2017
The drafting table still shapes the public perception of what engineering design professionals do in manufacturing, architecture and other job sectors. These workers are still called drafters. But within their field, vast changes in technology have transformed the way they design and produce things.
These changes have led to a process that is almost fully computerized, requiring drafters to have a high level of training across various software and hardware platforms. At Piedmont Technical College, that training starts in the Engineering Design Technology program.
“More than 95 percent of our program is done on computers,” said Christina Knight, instructor for engineering design technology at Piedmont Tech. “The fact that this field is more immersed in technology allows us to know more about the product before it leaves the design phase.”
In fact, engineering design professionals can use design software to add variables to a project that will allow others in their business to know things like product weight and materials. The software also allows for product quality testing so that many issues can be identified before the production phase begins.
“The software being used is one thing, but the way we choose the software, and the other technology we train our students to use, is just as important,” Knight said.
The software platforms being used in the program are Inventor and SOLIDWORKS. Knight explained that these are the platforms students are being trained on because this is the software being used by industry in the region.
“Years ago, we were using AutoCAD, Auto-Trol, and MicroStation,” said Knight. “We noticed the shift in the demand for one software platform over another and we made the change in our curriculum.”
Knight and her colleagues also see the need for their students to know how to machine or manufacture an item, in addition to designing it.
“Through a new class, students in the program can now take a project from start to finish in order to understand facets beyond just drafting and design,” said Knight. “There are certain ways you have to design something in order to machine it properly. When students draw a part a lot of the time they are just adding material. In this class, they start with a virtual block, or stock size in the design process and remove material. It’s kind of like woodworking.”
Beyond the new course and the software, students work closely with 3D printing and scanning technology. They work with a laser engraver and learn about the metal casting process. They also work with milling machines, lathes and much more.
Twice a year, Knight and her colleagues meet with a program advisory board that is made up of employees from manufacturing companies in the region. While these meetings help Knight and her colleagues make important changes to their program in order to meet the training needs of local industry, the connections they make help them stay aware of employment opportunities for their students.
“Our goal is for our students to come out of the program job ready,” said Knight. “And our close relationships with industry allow us to connect graduates with jobs quickly.”
The college had a 93 percent placement rate for 2014-2015 engineering design technology graduates. The average pay for mechanical drafters in South Carolina is $62,920 according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some individuals in this field earn more than $100,000 per year.
For more information on the EDT program, contact Knight at (864) 941-8483 or go to www.ptc.edu/engineering.