Excitement is running high as the faculty, staff and students in Ferris State University’s manufacturing programs recently installed nine new automated machines for use in their advanced machining lab. These machines, referred to as computer numerical controlled (CNC) machines, represent the latest in machining technology and the most significant capital investment in the programs 57-year history.
According to Dean Krager, Manufacturing program coordinator, “This investment is the result of a long-term effort to better serve our students and related industry. Over the past seven years, we’ve chosen to embrace change and, as a result, we’ve completely overhauled our curriculum, adopted numerous best practices and implemented some of the most advanced computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) technology available. Today, our programs are truly the best in the state and among the top manufacturing programs in the country.”
The machines, valued at just over $1 million, include four 4-Axis machining centers; one 5-Axis machining center; two 2-Axis turning centers; one 5-Axis turn/mill center; and one 4-Axis Wire Electrical Discharge Machine. With an additional 3-Axis RAM, EDM also in the works, these upgrades will go a long way in preparing for the future.
The timing couldn’t be more perfect, said Krager. “Recent industry projections identify a serious shortage of highly-skilled, tech-savvy manufacturing technicians and engineers through the next two decades. This demand is fueled by three primary factors. First, tooling and component production that was previously outsourced to other countries is coming back to the U.S. at a rapid rate; second, more than 60 percent of our current manufacturing technicians and engineers are baby boomers who plan to retire in the next 5-to-15 years; and finally, as a result of previous outsourcing, very few young people have pursued these careers during the past 20 years. This has created a shortage of manufacturing technicians and engineers under age 40. Each of these factors alone is reason for concern, but when you put them together, the result is essentially a national crisis that is hindering the growth of American manufacturing companies.”
“Manufacturing technicians and engineers are key to the growth and development of these companies because these are the men and women responsible for the development and implementation of production processes, tooling, and equipment,” said Krager.
Ferris offers an Associate in Applied Science degree in Manufacturing Technology and a Bachelor of Science in Manufacturing Engineering Technology. Additionally, the university offers two manufacturing-related certificates including one in Basic CNC Programming and Machine Operation and another in Quality Technology.
The Manufacturing Technology program provides a choice of concentrations. In this two-year program, students can choose to concentrate on either “tooling technology” or “processing technology.”
The “tooling technology” concentration is the only university-level program in the country that provides an intensive, applications-based education in applying precision machining technology, CAD/CAM, and CNC to a variety tooling types. The design, build, tryout, and troubleshooting of precision fixture assemblies, metal stamping dies and plastic molds are all covered in this concentration.
The processing concentration allows students to customize their education by selecting a variety of other, manufacturing-related courses of interest to them. These may include: welding, plastics and fluid power, to name a few, or possibly a certificate in product design technology or even a minor in electronics and automation controls.
Both of these concentrations require the same number of credits and both serve as the first two years of seven bachelor's degree programs making either choice a great stepping stone.
Keeping with this dynamic theme, the Bachelor of Science in Manufacturing Engineering Technology provides a diverse experience in the design, development and implementation of production processes and related systems. This program also provides an intensive experience in technology application via several project-based courses. Students can also choose to concentrate on quality engineering technology which provides a more in-depth study of applying statistical tools for the purpose of process analysis and improvement.
In order to meet the demand in west Michigan, Manufacturing Engineering Technology courses are available to full-time students on Ferris' main campus in Big Rapids and for part-time, working students at its satellite campus at Grand Rapids Community College in downtown Grand Rapids.
Graduates of both programs have enjoyed a long history of near 100-percent, in-field job placement and excellent starting pay. The new CNC equipment puts the latest technology in the hands of students and provides opportunities for more advanced curricular offerings.
“With enrollments nearing capacity, we are faced with the challenge of further expanding our programs” Krager said. “Historically, our programs have been geared toward applying precision machining technology to tooling and component production. Although this will remain a very important part of what we do, we see an increasing demand to incorporate both assembly and automation technology as well. By expanding into these areas, our programs will have the potential to grow significantly over the next decade.”
Manufacturing professionals often begin their careers by realizing the value of their interests. Those who are mechanically inclined, detail oriented, and enjoy troubleshooting and problem solving have a lot in common with manufacturing technicians and engineers. Interests in design, machining, programming and automation often lead to a great career match and high level of job satisfaction.
Anyone interested in these programs should check out the program web pages easily located by entering “manufacturing” in the search bar on Ferris’ home page or by contacting the Manufacturing Program Office at (231) 591-2511.