College Trains Manufacturing Students to Boost Local Economy

Nestled in scenic Burke County, North Carolina, Western Piedmont Community College offers associate degrees and high school diploma programs that include mechanical engineering technology and computer integrated machining technology degrees. Many students in WPCC’s manufacturing program are trained to fill job positions in the county, which has a diverse economy bolstered by furniture, medical, chemical, textile, and machine component manufacturing.

“In our industry, employers are looking for students that can take a job and run with it,” said Brandon Hensley, Western Piedmont Community College department head of Engineering. “That means knowing the ins and outs of how the machine works, not just running a machine.”

To keep machines running smoothly, Western Piedmont’s facility is outfitted with Mastercam. Hensley teaches Mastercam during the last semester of each school year to ensure that students are already well versed in machine operations, programming, and code.

“I try to reinforce the idea that the CAM software is another tool for their toolboxes,” said Hensley. “It’s not a miracle that works on everything but, if given the right tools, students can be much more efficient and thorough.”

Western Piedmont Community College manufacturing program

For many WPCC graduates, their first jobs will require operating a 2- or 3-axis CNC machine, so lessons cover 3D milling, 3D machining, and Dynamic toolpaths. Not surprisingly, Western Piedmont students take an instant liking to Dynamic Motion technology.

“We’ll just blast chips everywhere and then get awe and amazement out of the students,” said Hensley.

Milling assignments keep student interest piqued, sparking active class participation. As a final project, Hensley’s Mastercam students create an intricate chess set on turning centers.

Despite classroom enthusiasm, current enrollment in WPCC’s machining program is down due to local plant shutdowns, namely Caterpillar, Inc., which closed its Morganton precision engine components manufacturing facility in 2017.

“My program specifically has been recovering from that,” said Hensley of the shutdown. “But we have full cooperation with Burke County public schools and Work in Burke, the Burke County development campaign, as well as local industry.”

Western Piedmont Community College manufacturing program

Work in Burke educates students and their parents on job opportunities within the county and required career training. The program helps high school and community college administrations and local industry present a complete package to incoming and prospective students.

“We are really concerned with the quality of the machinist that we’re putting out. It’s not about showing up for work and making production quotas,” said Hensley.

Despite plant shutdowns in North Carolina, the state is home to several large manufacturing companies, many looking for employees. That’s great news for WPCC. For the past six years, all Western Piedmont Community College graduates in the Computer Integrated Machining Technology Program found jobs in their industries.

With the help of Mastercam, Western Piedmont Community College continues to prepare Burke County’s next generation of engineers, machinists, and CNC programmers.