New Technologies Shape the Future
A vision that was nearly a decade in the making came to fruition this fall for Forsyth Tech faculty, students and local employers when the doors opened to the Center for Advanced Manufacturing at Forsyth Technical Community College.
Following years of progressive training in many of the latest technologies and processes, Forsyth Tech now has a dedicated center which will act as a hub for all manufacturing education.
When you step into the labs in the Center for Advanced Manufacturing, it is like you are stepping into a modern, state-of-the-art, highly-advanced manufacturing facility. The rooms are bright and clean, with software, controls, and machines up to industry standards—what students will see in companies such as Progress Rail, a Caterpillar company. Here, students can learn everything from the foundational skills of critical thinking, engineering processes, and design theories to automated welding and computer numerical control (CNC) machining. Led by engineers and technicians and through a convergence of connectivity, automation, and the Internet of Things (IOT), machines with sensors can now communicate with computer software to manufacture products.
Students work on machines that are calibrated so precisely, they produce and measure up to five decimal places. This level of accuracy is now the standard in manufacturing industry careers jobs. In the labs at Forsyth Tech, students work in a collaborative atmosphere that simulates a team-centered work environment, so that they complete their course of study with the ability not only to program the machinery, but with the skills to thrive in a professional setting.
One of the highlights of the facility is the additive manufacturing lab. Students use engineering design software to create parts which can then be brought to life as a production grade 3-D printer builds up successive layers of material. These machines build custom, intricate parts from a variety of materials, in over 300,000 color variations.
Forsyth Tech has been using 3-D printing for design and prototyping for the past 13 years, but through a generous donation from The John Wesley and Anna Hodgin Hanes Foundation and the James G. Hanes Memorial Fund, the college was able to create a new lab with six new 3-D printers.
The new printers are state-of-the-art, and their manufacturing company, Statasys, has awarded Forsyth Tech with a Statasys “superlab” designation. Forsyth Tech is the only community college in the region with a “superlab” designation.
“From the capabilities of our machines alone, we are far ahead,” said David Dinkins, program coordinator of Mechanical Engineering Technology. “With these tools to enhance our curriculum, we have begun to offer students a unique opportunity not only to learn new technology, but also to participate in projects with collaborative partners such as Wake Forest University Medical Services.”
Having one of the most advanced 3-D printing labs in
the nation will allow Forsyth Tech to give students an unparalleled, interdisciplinary educational experience for years to come.
The Need for Advanced Manufacturing Technology Was the Origin for Forsyth Tech
Looking back, one of the reasons Forsyth Technical Community College was founded more than 50 years ago was advancements in technology at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company that necessitated a highly-skilled workforce.
The college was formed as the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Industrial Education Center. Today, the changing technology at Reynolds and other manufacturers requires even more advanced skills. President Dr. Gary Green looks at Reynolds American as, “an example of the evolution in our community towards skill-based employment, promotion and advancement.”
This continuing emphasis on technology is what sets Forsyth Tech apart from other community colleges. While many community colleges have dropped “Technical” from their names, Forsyth Technical Community College made a deliberate decision to keep “Tech” in its title. The Foundation’s Executive Director of Development, Dr. Corey Miller, thinks this decision is extremely important, calling it, “a commitment to ensure that we are offering the best kind of technology to support the education and training of our students.”
In order to continue to produce highly-skilled employees, Forsyth Tech and the Forsyth Tech Foundation understand that students need to be able to work with the most up-to-date, cutting-edge equipment. One of the Foundation’s main goals is to be able to provide technology for the college’s programs and to ensure that students interact with technology that can be found in any major manufacturing corporation.
And, experiencing the quality of technology and technical skills partnered with an understanding of the soft skills employers require will make Forsyth Tech students indispensable employees.
Learning How to Manage and Secure Data
Because many manufacturing processes are now programmed on computers, data has become a fundamental factor. And, as technology becomes more advanced, data management and cybersecurity are becoming more critical issues that need to be addressed and resolved.
Forsyth Tech is spearheading the conversation by asking the question, “How are we going to understand data management to keep technology secure?” To help find that answer, college faculty has recently developed a new curriculum focused on data analytics and data analytics reporting. Students at Forsyth Tech are learning how to read and understand data, research where data is coming from, pinpoint what data is at risk, and plan for the use of Internet of Things (IOT) technology by learning how to look at analytics and the fundamentals of advanced manufacturing.
“Our goal is to train the next generation of technologists, cyber warriors, and engineers to fill the gaps that the manufacturing companies now have,” said Dr. Deanne Wesley, department chair of the Davis iTEC Cyber Security Center. She admires the relationships that Forsyth Tech is forming with companies. “We’re all working together—employers are feeding us what we need and we are producing what they need. The whole community can have jobs that can provide for families,” said Wesley.
One of Six Community Colleges in the Nation to be Named A Cybersecurity Regional Resource Center
Forsyth Tech is a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense and is already thinking ahead. “I don’t think people realize the importance of data analytics and securing the IOT and manufacturing,” said Wesley. “The Center is an initiative with the National Security Agency (NSA) to provide awareness, training, and education regarding cybersecurity issues to industry, educational institutions, and professional organizations. Her prediction is that all our devices, from our refrigerators to our cars, will soon touch the Internet of Things.
Manufacturing Intersects with Biotech and Nanotech
To understand advanced manufacturing—manufacturing driven by science and technology—and prepare for upcoming industry trends, one must also become knowledgeable in core sciences—chemistry, physics, and even biology.
Essentially, biotechnology uses living organisms to create something that is useful for man and nanotechnology manipulates matter on a molecular scale. Today, biomanufacturing uses the power of organisms to create pharma-centered products, or even manufacture living tissues. While this may sound like science fiction, things such as laboratory grown organs and cell therapies are happening now and Forsyth Tech students are in the middle of this transformation.
As medicine becomes increasingly personalized, the ability to manufacture tissues has the potential to transform the way we view health care. Today in Winston-Salem, additive manufacturing and 3-D printing technologies are being used to manufacture organs by laying down rows of cells.
Michael Ayers, dean of the Math, Science, and Technologies Division says, “It’s manufacturing in that we’re building things, but manufacturing today isn’t like when I was a kid.”
“At some point in the future, I envision someone who needs a new liver, placing an order, and in a couple of weeks they’ve grown you a new liver,” imagines Ayers.
Similarly, nanotechnology and its application can be used across fields from biology to engineering, often working in an area as small as a part of a cell. Being able to work at a level that is smaller than ever before to create mechanical structures that can be used as centers is proving to be very useful in understanding disease.
“If you can imagine, there are switches and devices small enough to work within a cell and signal what is happening inside the tissue,” explains Ayers.
All of these new scientific and technological advancements have unleashed a need for new standards in the laboratory setting.
“When we’re thinking about manufacturing in the biological realm, not only does it need to be clean, but sterile,” Ayers explains. “Something as small as a piece of dander or dust could impact the ability of that machine to work,” he says. Because these very small mechanical structures are being designed on a nano-level, Forsyth Tech has responded by developing sterile, clean rooms dedicated for biotechnology and nanotechnology.
The Benefits of Advanced Technology Programs
Forsyth Tech is empowering our community’s citizens through such tech-focused learning as advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and cybersecurity. The implications of Forsyth Tech’s advanced technology benefits not just the college, but the whole community. Forsyth Tech provides opportunities that empower students to take what they have learned in the classroom, and make their communities stronger. “The work that we do at Forsyth Tech ultimately makes the world a better place because we’re delivering this kind of learning,” said Ayers.
Additionally, since Forsyth Tech provides innovative educational opportunities for potential employees and supports our economy with a skilled workforce, companies are attracted to the area. As Winston-Salem becomes more of a business destination, when workers and their dollars stay in Forsyth County, the whole community is elevated.
Manufacturing companies, such as Progress Rail, a Caterpillar company, Deere-Hitachi, and Herbalife could have chosen anywhere in the world to open a new plant but they chose Forsyth County to a great extent because of the training programs at Forsyth Tech.
Dr. Green said that, “having a readily-available, skilled workforce is critical to drawing companies to the area; it’s what drives decisions.” Therefore, Forsyth Tech must stay current on industry trends because as new technologies emerge, students will need increasing skill levels and proficiency.”
Because of Forsyth Tech’s emphasis on supporting technology of the future, graduates are not just going into jobs—they are going into high-paying careers relevant to the technical and data-driven world we are experiencing.
“The future is approaching faster than you realize,” says Dr. Green, who already is thinking about how Forsyth Tech can prepare students for technology in development, such as the arrival of autonomous cars.
With the college’s dedication to supporting advanced manufacturing, students are equipped with the skills to take on the rapidly changing labor market, while simultaneously driving economic development. Forsyth Tech is supporting the community by making Winston-Salem the most productive community for companies to thrive.