On June 14, 2017, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) announced $15.7 million in POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization ) Initiative grants, including a $1.5 million award to Bluefield State College for the establishment of the Center for Excellence in Manufacturing Engineering (CEME). Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Technology and Engineering Management Jeff McFadden was the lead author of the proposal and will helm the project as its Executive Director.
The core component of the CEME will be degree and workforce training programs in Manufacturing Engineering Technology (MFGT). First to be implemented will be a 2+2 program, in which the student earns a 2-year associate degree in one of the other engineering programs offered through BSC's School of Engineering Technology and Computer Science, (electrical, mechanical) and spends an additional 2 years in MFGT coursework to achieve the bachelor’s degree. As course offerings build, a 4-year bachelor's-degree program will be added.
As well as appealing to young people preparing for their first career, the CEME has a specific intention to transition workers displaced from mining-sector jobs into manufacturing. The framework is to leverage the skills (welding, equipment maintenance and installation, knowledge of hydraulics, operation of computer controlled equipment, etc.) displaced mine workers possess as transferable to other areas of manufacturing and industry. On this foundation, the MFGT program will build field-specific and state-of-the-art skills such that the graduate is highly marketable to emerging industries. This degree program will provide graduates the opportunity to rebrand themselves for future infusion into both existing and new market areas.
In recognition of the fact that not all transitioning workers need or desire a bachelor's degree, the CEME will also offer certificate programs (seminars and workshops) designed to give non-degree-seeking students mastery over a narrow subject area or topic. In addition to courses on a number of general topics, such as computer programming, quality, solid modeling, robotics, and project management, the CEME will work with local manufacturers to design special courses on specific technical topics.
In addition to degree and workforce training, CEME activities will including consulting and research components. Just as individual workers have been displaced by downturns in coal mining, so have many businesses that provide manufacturing support to the industry. The CEME will offer consulting services to help these companies transition into new areas of manufacturing. Services will also be available to established industries in the form of advising in the streamlining and optimization of existing manufacturing operations.
The CEME will also serve as a research and development arm for local industry, with collaborative robotics as its major research focus. Traditionally, industrial robotic applications and installations have been required to be physically isolated from human workers. Collaborative robotics is an area of development that seeks to eliminate the cost and inefficiencies of this system by using advanced redundant presence sensing systems to allow humans and robots to work side-by-side without compromising worker safety.
By supplying expertise and a pool of highly-qualified workers, this program will help local companies innovate, successfully develop new product lines, streamline existing services, replace an aging workforce, and strengthen the existing infrastructure of manufacturing in the southern portion of the state and surrounding area as it repositions itself to become a center of manufacturing excellence.
Students and businesses interested in CEME activities should contact Jeff McFadden, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Technology and Engineering Management at 304-327-4128 or firstname.lastname@example.org.