CLEARWATER – St. Petersburg College has launched a new center that partners closely with the local manufacturing community. The Collaborative Center for Emerging Technologies opened on Aug. 17 and began classes on Aug. 20 at its Clearwater campus on Drew Street.
Pinellas County ranks second in the state for manufacturing employment and third in the state for number of manufacturing firms, said Brad Jenkins, associate dean of engineering technology.
“This has been one of our main objectives for the past year, to have our own center that we can have for a manufacturing and a workforce development center for both our engineering tech degree and college certificates as well as a training center for anything in advanced technology,” Jenkins said.
The 5,000-square-foot building is laid out just like a manufacturing floor, Jenkins said. There are not traditional labs and classrooms – all the lab equipment, electronics, computers, metrology, inspection, rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing is just like it is in the workforce, he said.
There are numerous programs and degrees offered. Certifications include Manufacturing Skills Standard Council’s Production Technician; Rapid Prototyping and Design; Lean Six Sigma Green Belt; medical Quality Systems; Computer Aided Drafting and Design (CADD); and SolidWorks.
Many of the mentioned certificates also transfer to the associate in science degree in engineering technology, plus the Engineering Technology Support certificate. There are also options to earn a bachelor in applied science degree in technology management, as well as the following associate of science degrees: Aviation maintenance management technology; or engineering technology with specializations in biomedical systems, electronics, quality, or digital design and modeling.
“We’re the first (school) in the state in our rapid prototypes and additive manufacturing,” Jenkins said. “We have the best facility in the state in a college, and we have all sorts of folks in our program and also coming from across the Bay.”
What some of this means in more layman’s terms is that the center deals with 3D printing and manufacturing using plastics. There is also a full-quality inspection and metrology lab, which means the science of weights and measures.
“We also have a full electronics work cell,” Jenkins said. “We have the latest in electronic test equipment, and we also have a solid works designer for solid modeling.”
The modeling helps for prototyping, he said, designing a part or component using a computer. Then, one can take that drawing and put it into a machine that will make a 3D part of whatever was drawn.
“For instance, a company here, they had a technical problem trying to set up a mold at their company,” Jenkins said. “On a mold, you kind of have to reverse things, so one of their employees was taking one of our courses, and they were able to take their drawing and take the fixture that they needed. They were able to take that plastic part as a prototype and do all the measurements that they needed, all the specifications, and when they refined it, they were able to then put that particular part into production, and it saved them thousands of dollars.”
With additive manufacturing, students learn about equipment that can reverse engineer parts, Jenkins said.
“What that means is we can take, for instance the mouse that you have with your computer,” Jenkins said. “We can scan that mouse with a hand scanner and pick up all the data points and put it into a computer, and from that drawing, you can make a duplicate mouse exactly. That’s really something.”
The new center is located in what used to be a daycare center for a church that was recently sold to the school. Two other buildings on the 4.5 acres of land are too old to be saved, but this building worked out well for the center’s needs, Jenkins said.
The engineering center has state-of-the-art equipment and technology that is directly related to what is being used and needed in the workforce, and this is part of what makes it work so well in collaboration with local companies.
“On the collaborative side, we work with a lot of Clearwater industries in our manufacturing area,” Jenkins said. From both a technical standpoint as well as having their employees take our courses. Those employees have to do projects in our classes, and they can do company projects. So this has been a boon to our local industry because they can do prototypes here, and that saves them a lot of money in the long run in prototyping work. And as a result, we’ve had donation of material and supplies and expertise from our local industries.”
The center works with many local employers and business partners, including Bioderm, Cavaform, ConMed Linvatec, Draper Laboratory, GE Aviation, Honeywell, Johnson Controls, Motion South, Raytheon and TSE Industries. In 2010, there were 30,000 people in Pinellas County alone working in manufacturing, making it the fourth largest industry in the county. It is also an excellent industry to get into, especially in this economy, Jenkins said. Students have various options at SPC, from AS degrees in engineering technology and numerous specializations to simply earning certificates. With this center, it adds the newest specialization in rapid prototyping and design, which is also an individual certificate. These certificates can be completed in two semesters, which is about nine months, Jenkins said. With only the certificates and no job experience, people can find entry-level jobs starting off at $17 to $22 an hour, he said. Later on, with experience, they can make $50,000 to $70,000 a year.
“I have people with four-year degrees who are coming back to get a technical certificate,” Jenkins said. “…The most jobs that we see in demand right now are people with experience in solid works, solid modeling, rapid prototyping, the six sigma and in electronics.”
It is an excellent partnership because local manufacturing companies can send their employees to the center – which offers night classes as well – to learn new skills and improve the company’s efficiency and learning new techniques. It also gives the companies an opportunity to try out new equipment to see if they want to purchase some for their own company before making that monetary investment. SPC also offers weekend training courses for businesses, and of course, if they need new employees, there is a ready source of skilled workers streaming out of SPC.
“In this area, the manufacturers know where to come in order to advance their employees and to look at our equipment,” Jenkins said.
There are about 200 students in the AS degree, Jenkins said, with 50 to 75 people a year getting their certificates. Another 20 will get their AS degrees. In the new collaborative center, there are already 80 students enrolled, he said.
“A lot of jobs are not advertised,” Jenkins said. “A lot are word of mouth. So when folks come in, they’re like, wait a minute, you can do this? We can send our employees here? We can hire from your program? We’re just trying to help out that industry with their work needs, and I think we’ll be very successful.”