New manufacturing program at Hartselle, Limestone schools
By Wes Tomlinson
For the Enquirer
Hartselle High senior Justin Patrick knows how to engrave logos into sheets of metal by using a plasma cutter, and Clements High junior Alex Moss can operate a skill boss robot to assemble toy cars.
Both students are in a pilot manufacturing program in north Alabama schools where they receive hands-on training and earn several industry certifications while still in high school.
Hartselle City Schools and Limestone County Schools are two of four school systems in north Alabama partnering with industry leaders and the nonprofit North Alabama Works this year to implement the Modern Manufacturing program.
Limestone schools manufacturing instructor Edward Hodges is teaching over 50 students this year from the Limestone district and Athens High. The Limestone district is partnering with plants operating in the county such as Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA, Polaris Industries, Steelcase Inc. and Electricfil Corp.
“In this program, they’ll go through” Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC), Hodges said.
Hodges said the council offers four certifications: safety, quality control, maintenance awareness and production.
“If they earn all four, then they get a CPT, which is a certified production technician,” Hodges said. “That is recognized anywhere in the United States. Even if you just earn one of those (credentials), it goes a long way with you getting hired by a company than if you had no credentials at all.”
Hodges said he has had manufacturing students in the past enter Calhoun Community College’s Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program known as FAME (Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education).
“If they get into the FAME Program, they’ll partner with one of those companies, whether it be Toyota Mazda or (Electricfil in Elkmont) or Steelcase (in Athens). They’ll go to school two days a week and they’ll go work at one of those plants three days a week,” Hodges said. “They’ll get paid a salary the whole time they’re in school and the manufacturer will pay for their schooling.”
Hodges said by earning one of the four MSSC certificates in the Modern Manufacturing program, students can immediately get hired in quality control or maintenance positions at area companies while going through the FAME program.
“This new (modern manufacturing) program will help them get their foot in the door for the FAME program,” Hodges said. “This gives them a platform where they can actually get to know some of our industry partners on a first name basis. These industries can put a face with an application now after meeting our students.”
Moss, the Clements student, has been working with a skill boss robot this month, which is a hands-on skill training & assessment system that can be integrated with any manufacturing program and is required for certified production technician certification.
Hodges said this year, his class will manufacture parts for toy cars they assemble themselves on their automated assembly line.
Moss is entering his second year in the Limestone manufacturing class and pursuing his safety certification with MSSC. Hodges said after he completes that, he will pursue his quality control certification.
“I really like (manufacturing) and plan on taking it again next year and it’s going to be my backup plan if whatever I’m pursuing in college doesn’t work out,” Moss said.
In Hartselle, the school board and its partners in the modern manufacturing program, Sonoco and Cerrowire, purchased $20,000 worth of equipment and tools, including an $18,000 plasma cutter they’ve used for metal fabrication projects.
“That’s one of the benefits of us joining the modern manufacturing pilot is the resources,” said Hartselle career and technical coordinator Elisa Harris. “North Alabama Works is also providing materials for us.”
Manufacturing instructor Christie Grillo said her goal this year is to help her students earn their MSSC certifications, and the Modern Manufacturing program will enable her to do that.
“These are the skills (companies) want students to have so when they walk out of our door, they’re ready,” Grillo said of the program.
The Hartselle manufacturing class consists of 45 freshmen and 18 sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Harris said she also has had students in the past attend Calhoun and become involved in the FAME program.
Patrick, the Hartselle student, said he wants to utilize the Modern Manufacturing training similarly.
“I’m definitely going to apply for the FAME program at Calhoun,” Patrick said. “I have to sign up by December and I’ve already talked to my counselor about it.”
Grillo said Patrick is the most advanced student in her class and he is also pursuing his safety certification for MSSC.
The plasma cutter Patrick uses is a melting process that uses compressed air or other gases to create plasma through ionization.
“We can take a photo and convert it in LightBurn software and use a 3D printer to print the design out and we’ll take that design and replicate it on a piece of metal using the plasma cutter,” Patrick said.
Patrick said he is interested in working for GE Appliances in Decatur when he finishes at Calhoun.