Smithfield Herald

JCC retools machining program

Josh Sutton of Kenly uses a new mill to drill holes into a piece of metal. He is in JCC's machining program.
Josh Sutton of Kenly uses a new mill to drill holes into a piece of metal. He is in JCC's machining program.

Students in Johnston Community College’s machining program walked into their first day of the fall session to a renovated building and new, industry-standard equipment.

Just five years ago, JCC’s machining program didn’t exist; the college had shut it down because interest had disappeared as manufacturing jobs moved overseas. But with changes in technology, interest returned, and JCC restarted the program in 2011 with three students. Enrollment jumped to 12 students in the spring of 2012 and 32 students this fall.

This growth is largely thanks to JCC’s investment in the program, said Brian Worley, who oversees the machining curriculum as director of technology and vocational education at JCC. Over the last three years, JCC has spent $371,000 in state funds on 11 new pieces of equipment. The school also received a $275,000 Golden LEAF grant, which paid for another two pieces.

“It’s allowing our students to be trained on the most modern technology that’s out there,” Worley said. “So when they leave here, they can walk right into a shop.”

JCC shut down its machining program after interest waned in the early 2000s, Worley said. People became discouraged with manufacturing because all of the jobs were going overseas.

“Now they’re coming back to the United States because of the integration of computers with the machines, making them operate faster,” Worley said. “Therefore we can be competitive with foreign markets on our labor costs because we can produce parts faster.”

The renewed interest in machining, coupled with the closure of machining programs at other community colleges, created a vacuum that needed to be filled, and JCC filled it, Worley said.

Many people don’t understand what machining is, he said. Simply put, machinists shape metal into parts needed in a manufacturing process, he said.

“People don’t really understand what machinists do, but they impact your life every day,” Worley said. “When you brushed your teeth this morning, a machinist made the injection mold that molded your toothbrush.”

JCC’s machining curriculum takes two years to complete and teaches not just manual skills but also modern techniques such as computer-integrated machining and computer-aided manufacturing. Students also learn computer-aided design and how to read blueprints.

“All those together create a well-rounded machinist that can go out into the industry,” Worley said.

Last year, students even placed in SkillsUSA competition, ranking first in the state for precision machining and CNC programming. They went on to place 14th and 15th in the nation.

The industry’s technology is constantly advancing, Worley said, because of the use of computers. Machinists used to shape many parts by hand. Now they program a design into a computer-controlled machine that shapes the part. Those machines need monitoring rather than constant hands-on work, Worley said.

JCC’s new machines include a computer-controlled water jet, a tool that can cut a variety of materials using a high-pressure jet of water or a mixture of water and an abrasive substance. Eleven of the new machines are already in place, and two more should arrive by December, in time for the spring semester, Worley said.

Worley said he hears many success stories from graduates as they begin work in shops. “The owners see their potential and keep increasing their duties as well as their pay,” he said.

Mitch Day, owner of DayCo Manufacturing in Clayton, gives the JCC program high marks. Day hired Christopher Anderson, who has just one class left before graduating.

“It’s been great,” Day said. “The program really has prepared him for working here. He’s got a lot of knowledge and a lot of basic understanding of concepts and stuff, so he was able to pretty much jump right in and get going.”

Day first hired Anderson part-time last summer, between his first and second years of the machining program. “I could tell based on how he performed that summer that he was getting a pretty good knowledge of a shop environment,” Day said.

Anderson said he was impressed with JCC’s program. “Everything that I learned in the school I used in the industry,” he said.

Second-year student Josh Sutton of Kenly said he feels confident about his job prospects after college. He said the new equipment is invaluable.

“It just opens up so many doors of opportunity, like what we can build and design, just as far as our imagination can go, really,” he said. “We have the capabilities to push it that far.”

Fellow second-year student Patrick House of Clayton said the technology changes in the machining program have been extensive. “The more tools, the more things you can actually accomplish,” he said. “The tools that we had three years ago wouldn’t even compare to the tools that we have now.”