STURTEVANT — In October, up to 300 invited guests, including Gov. Tony Evers and visitors from industry and other states, helped celebrate the newly expanded and renovated SC Johnson iMET Center, Gateway Technical College’s training ground for advanced manufacturing.
From the podium, Evers said his two chief concerns each night relate to the state’s workforce. “Do we have enough?” Evers said. “And will they be prepared for the future?”
Evers called the expansion of iMET, 2320 Renaissance Blvd., a “critical investment” in responding to those twin challenges.
The expansion added 35,800 square feet of floor space and 12,080 square feet of remodeled space. The iMET (integrated Manufacturing, Engineering and Technology Center) is now 89,170 square feet in size.
The result includes several expanded areas and three all-new ones: the SC Johnson Waxdale Mechatronics Lab, Rockwell Industrial Controls Lab and Connected Systems Institute Room.
Gateway President and CEO Bryan Albrecht later acknowledged that plans by the Foxconn Technology Group to locate in Racine County set the ball in motion for the center’s expansion and renovation.
“I think we recognized that manufacturing was advancing at a pretty rapid pace,” he said, “but it wasn’t until Foxconn came to our community and gave us some insight to what, really, automation was all about and how we could develop products that were integrated around the idea of data science.”
However, all of Gateway’s corporate partners will benefit from hiring graduates of the new training programs, Albrecht said.
Asked how iMET can contribute to the need for a skilled manufacturing workforce as noted by Evers, Albrecht replied, “We’re seeing not only an increase in enrollment of new students coming into the program, but an increase in our incumbent worker training.
“Those are direct contracts with employers so they ‘up-skill’ their workforce. So we can combine up-skilling the existing workforce with an additional new workforce with skills; we’re confident that we can begin to make a dent in the skilled-worker shortage.”
Corporate partners, new programs
The $5 million in state money for the iMET expansion was only part of the picture. Albrecht said the college put in another $1.5 million, and corporate partnerships added about $4 million in assets.
It is now one of the world’s most advanced manufacturing training centers and a model facility, he said. Other colleges sent representatives to tour iMET Tuesday, Albrecht said, and Gateway hosts about two colleges a week, giving tours.
Albrecht said the expansion allowed Gateway to add new programs including data analytics, supply chain Management and a “full-scale” robotics program with integrated robotic machine language. The new programs started this fall, and Gateway enrollment in manufacturing is up by 6 percent.
“We’re really excited for our students because they’re already receiving job offers based on the skill sets that they’re already learning but will continue to advance,” Albrecht said. And the types of jobs that students are earning are starting at $50,000 to $60,000 a year.
Dean Ray Koukari Jr. of Gateway’s School of Manufacturing, Engineering and IT, pointed out many of the ways that the expansion has not just increased, but improved the programs there.
At iMET, Koukari said, students take a variety of courses including electrical engineering, mechanical design, advanced manufacturing, civil engineering, water technology, architecture, data analytics, cyber security and computer numeric control (CNC) tool and die.
Three of those — data analytics, cyber security and advanced manufacturing — were added at Foxconn’s request. (A fourth, supply chain management, is taught at the Kenosha Gateway campus.)
In addition, high school students from the REAL School take classes there as one of the academy’s pathways, directly into engineering. In fact, by the time those students graduate high school, they are already employable in well-paying jobs, Koukari said.
More space, more equipment
One example of an upgrade is the SC Johnson Mechatronics Lab which, Koukari said, contains all new equipment so students can practice what they’re taught during the lecture, with lab and lecture happening simultaneously. The lab part challenges the students to build what they would need on the SCJ assembly line that day.
The Rockwell Automation Lab has been greatly expanded, to good effect, Koukari said. At one point, he said, “This trainer is part of four courses we put together for Foxconn to teach the Industrial Internet of Things, to teach Intro to Mechatronics, to teach Intro to Industrial Controls and Intro to Robotics.
“So this, if you look at it, is like a small manufacturing plant,” Koukari said at one table. “So, (students) learn on this; this is exactly how a large manufacturing plant would be — except it’s portable enough for me to take it somewhere.”
“You’ll notice that most of our trainers are in these boxes so that we can take them out to industry,” Kourkari added, “… because a lot of our manufacturers are moving as fast as they can towards this Industry 4.0.”
Koukari explained the term Industry 4.0 by saying a windmill would be an example of 1.0, moving water with wind. Electricity brought in Industry 2.0, and computer numeric control, or CNC, is Industry 3.0.
“And 4.0 is the interconnectedness with cyber and everything else.”
Industry 4.0 has become such a focus at iMET that in the Connected Systems Lab, Gateway will offer a lecture series on that topic. Asked how Gateway instructors stay abreast of the latest and greatest in the world of advanced manufacturing, Koukari replied, “You have to understand: Our instructors come from industry,” Koukari explained. “So, a lot of our instructors are new and have brought that advanced-manufacturing skill set with them.”
“We also bring trainers in to actually train them,” he added. For example, robotics maker Fanuc was in for a month last year to train all GTC trainers that needed robotic training.
Coding is the key
The additional space at iMET certainly helped in Steve Whitmoyer’s civil engineering classroom and lab which were expanded by about 2½ times.
“We had such a small space, we had to put canvases over the top of the desks to do our experiments,” he said.
They can now get more than three students into the Water Lab area at once, and the students can see what is occurring there.
“And this is now an open space where we can actually conduct concrete tests, soils tests, all the tests that we wanted to do, that we just didn’t have space to be able to do it,” Whitemoyer said.
His area will also have a concrete compression testing machine and “a real lab” for doing material tests, he said.
Out in Tarnowski Hall, iMET’s largest space, Koukari showed a robot that has vision and a shallow dish with what looked like white and red M&M candies. Students will program the robot to pick out the whites from the reds or vice-versa.
Nearby, Koukari pointed to two larger, industrial robots that should be running sometime this week.
“The difference in the code between all of these (robots) is: There is no difference,” he said. “So, when students learn on these smaller ones, they can move right on to those industrial ones to gigantic ones that will lift up trucks. It’s all the same code.”
Manufacturing is changing
Among the other improvements at iMET was an expansion of the Fab Lab, or Fabrication Lab.
“It used to be, just engineering students used it,” Koukari said. Now, students from all over the college use it, including graphics design, culinary, health and the tree program.
Koukari said he thinks word of mouth is spreading that manufacturing can be an attractive career.
“We’re seeing that not only here at Gateway with the students we’re having come in here to the iMET Center,” he said, “but we’re seeing it everywhere we go; people are talking about it.”
Asked if he thinks he has ample space now at iMET, Koukari chuckled a bit and replied, “Ample space, that’s a good question. In two more years, when we’re fully loaded with the REAL School students, we should be right around 500 students coming here just from the REAL School and anticipate 500 students of our own. That’s 1,000 students in this building; we’ll be at capacity.”
The business news you need
With a weekly newsletter looking back at local history.