SANFORD - High school students looking for careers and other visitors from across the community packed Central Carolina Community College's Innovation Center early Friday morning to get a rare look inside local industry.
The fifth-annual Manufacturing Day, held on October 6, was produced coast-to-coast by the National Association of Manufacturers to help people understand how contemporary manufacturing works.
Student groups from Chapel Hill to Fayetteville arrived at The Dr. Paul Howard and Dr. Barbara James Innovation Center throughout the morning for tours that focused on industrial training. The open house also gave students a chance to meet representatives from area industry showcasing their products.
The building was already buzzing when one group from Jordan-Matthews High School in Siler City arrived after an earlier stop at Mertek Solutions, where they learned how that local company designs and produces automated machines.
An integral part of Manufacturing Day from its beginning, Mertek suspends production each year to welcome guests and give them the chance to see interactive robotic cells at work and demonstrations of advanced technologies like 3D printing and design.
The student's first stop at the Innovation Center was the simulated work environment, an assembly line used by companies like Caterpillar to train employees in continuous improvement and how to eliminate waste throughout the manufacturing process.
Later, they learned about hydraulic and pneumatic systems in an industrial skills lab and how to operate a forklift, another skilled job that requires specialized training.
But it was the welding simulator that really grabbed their attention.
Bryan Reyes was first to take his crack at making an effective weld. He put on a high tech helmet, positioned the MIG gun and steadily pulled it down the weld coupon to simulate joining two pieces of metal. Everyone else watched intently on a video screen above.
When Reyes was done, CCCC welding student Danny Collins gave him a quick critique and Jannelly Carcamo got her chance.
Manufacturing Day made an impression. "I enjoyed it," said J.C. Dooley, a senior from Siler City who is considering mechanical engineering or welding as a career. "It was cool to talk with all of the instructors and ask questions that I had. They just informed me with all of it."
Steve Heesacker, a Career and College Advisor who led the group, says Manufacturing Day is valuable for many students, but especially those who aren't headed to a four-year university right away. It helps them understand what opportunities are available nearby for a rewarding career that earns enough to make a good living.
"It's the exposure to the various manufacturers that show the different types of systems that are available, as far as electronics, hydraulics, robotics and pneumatics -- the various types of technological occupations they can consider," said Heesacker. "When you get everything in a compact area, where they can go from spot to spot and see everything, it pulls it all together for them that there are a lot of different opportunities."
About 300 students from the Lee, Chatham, Harnett and Cumberland county school districts and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools passed through during the five-hour open house.
CCCC Director of Industry Services Cathy Swindell, who arranges industrial training for major local companies, believes the twin open houses at the Innovation Center and Mertek Solutions combine to give area residents a true and comprehensive view of manufacturing.
As a world-class training facility, the Innovation Center focuses its open house each year on how visitors might prepare for a career in manufacturing. It also stages what Swindell described as a small "industrial expo" highlighting about a dozen of the area's largest and most influential companies. This year's participants were Arauco, Boon Edam, Caterpillar, Coty, Frontier Spinning, GKN, Magneti Marelli, Mertek, Pfizer, Static Control and STI Polymer.
Just a two-minute drive away, at Mertek, visitors see how training is applied in a state-of-the-art company that designs and builds machines used nationwide to manufacture a wide range of commercial products.
"Many people are surprised at what they see," said Swindell, enjoying a quiet moment before the first group arrived. "Manufacturing is essential to our local economy, and when the last statistics were published about two years ago, it contributed more than 460,000 jobs statewide.
"But what's most important to the students is that employees with advanced skills are in high demand and average wages are one-third higher than other fields. So, manufacturing is good career option."
For information about Central Carolina Community College and its programs, visit its website, www.cccc.edu or call the college at 919-775-5401.
Central Carolina Community College Director of Industry Services Cathy Swindell speaks to students at National Manufacturing Day at CCCC's Dr. Paul Howard and Dr. Barbara James Innovation Center.
Bryan Reyes (right) works at a welding simulator while Central Carolina Community College welding student Danny Collins watches during National Manufacturing Day at CCCC's Dr. Paul Howard and Dr. Barbara James Innovation Center.
J.C. Dooley (right) works at a welding simulator while Central Carolina Community College welding student Danny Collins watches during National Manufacturing Day at CCCC's Dr. Paul Howard and Dr. Barbara James Innovation Center.