Caleb Counter was one of the students chosen to help work on the structure that will be turned into the working place that will serve astronauts on the way to the Moon.
"I was amazed. I wasn’t expecting it. And just walking into this area here is very, not overwhelming, but just...I was in awe,” said Counter.
He has this opportunity thanks to an additive manufacturing (a.k.a. 3D printing) partnership that started about three years ago between Boeing and Calhoun. The company takes on about two students at a time, depending on their need.
Gregory Mobley oversees the additive program for Boeing at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). He said he happened to meet Calhoun’s additive instructor Nina Bullock, in Pittsburgh when they were both getting credentialed.
"Since we were just getting started in the area, we figured that was a great win-win situation for both of us because we could give the students some experience and get the knowledge that they have about 3D printing to us who were kind of new to the whole technology,” said Mobley.
Calhoun has been in the additive game since 2011, but revamped is program in the past few years after meeting with NASA and the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).
The college then more than quadrupled the size of its footprint for the program, going from about 900 square feet to more than 4,000 square feet in the Advanced Manufacturing Center.
Over the summer, it also launched a new curriculum in metal printing. That was done after General Electric awarded Calhoun with a direct metal laser melting printer valued at $250,000.
“We actually wrote a proposal and was selected by GE out of five other colleges worldwide. We were the only one that was a community college, but they felt like we would take this to the next level to help train the workforce,” said Bullock.
The other universities included West Virginia University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as well as the University of Limerick in Ireland and Coburg University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Germany.
On Tuesday, Calhoun will officially re-brand its program as the Alabama Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence (ACAME).
"Our goal has always been to probably be a center and to reach out for training, to reach out for taking and helping that individual if they’re wanting to build something and using that as an educational tool for the students,” said Bullock.
The space will also eventually allow for high school students to come and learn in the space as well.
Mobley hopes institutions like Calhoun and UAH can help companies get more types of materials certified for aerospace and aviation work.
"Hopefully the universities are going to be able to help us in that area. Are there ways they can help us reach material certification faster than us just going at it and throwing money and taking a long time to get it done,” said Mobley.
Meanwhile, Counter said the learning opportunity is a great way to turn a hobby into a needed part of the workforce.
"I mean if you do it for a hobby, you can incorporate a lot of that knowledge into what you do every day at work and that can be very fun,” said Counter.
To learn more about the additive manufacturing program, click here.