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Skilled to Work: New additive manufacturing facility aims to grow workforce using local colleges, high schools

Carpenter Technology's Emerging Technology Center allows them to manufacture metal products from atomizing metal powders to printing the final products.

Posted: Dec 5, 2019 11:46 PM
Updated: Dec 10, 2019 12:37 PM

The additive manufacturing industry in the Tennessee Valley added a new member to its midst: Carpenter Technology. The company officially opened its new Emerging Technology Center in Tanner, Alabama, this week.

The 500,000 square foot facility is adjacent to Carpenter's existing facility, which opened in 2014. 

Carpenter Technology displays some of its newest equipment in its Emerging Technology Center on Wednesday. Carpenter Technology displays some of its newest equipment in its Emerging Technology Center on Wednesday.

Some its newest employees are graduates of Calhoun Community College's additive manufacturing program.

"I was actually going for my degree in welding and I had to take a drafting class for that degree. And I just fell in love with drafting. So I decided additive is the new up and coming manufacturing and I wanted to be in it," said Michael Moore, a Tech 3 AM operator with Carpenter.

The 31-year-old graduated from Calhoun over the summer and started working at the new ETC. The building allows Carpenter to not only atomize metal powder, but also to manufacture that powder into finished parts with its 3D printing technology. They said that end-to-end capability makes its facility stand apart from others in the United States.

"We’re trying to create an area of expertise where we have the engineers being able to understand that full end-to-end process so that we can really start to develop those solutions for our customers," said Ben Ferrar, the general manager for Carpenter Additive.

Representatives with Carpenter Technology said as they work to grow its facility, they will greatly benefit from being across the street from Calhoun.

"That’s where Calhoun plays such a vital role in that, in kind of that skilled to work format. They see what’s going on in our industry, they know the skills that we want, so they’re designing programs to meet those skills so that we can go and get those skilled individuals right out of these programs and put them right to work," said James America, the vice president of human resources.

While there isn't a specific breakdown of the number of additive manufacturing employees in Alabama, market analysis by SmarTech Publishing said the as of 2018 it's a $9.3 billion industry after growing by 18 percent. Ferrar said within 10 years, it's projected to be an industry worth a quarter of a trillion dollars.

"The real challenge that this industry faces is the ‘how.’ How are we going to convert these opportunities into the reality where this digital technology takes over as the premier manufacturing technology," said Ferrar.

Back in October, Calhoun re-branded its additive program as the Alabama Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence." Calhoun's head additive instructor Nina Bullock said Calhoun and Carpenter will be sitting down at the start of next year to craft a new partnership.

She said it may bear some similarities to the FAME program.

"I would see us sitting down at a table and saying, ‘Hey, are there other classes that we’re not teaching right now that your students that are going to be working there need?’" said Bullock.

Carpenter said the ETC is projected to add 60 new jobs over the next five years. They said because there is also a good amount of unused space at the site, they have plenty of room to add future developments. 

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