“Fab Lab” becoming a reality for northern Michigan

Northern Michigan’s mobile digital manufacturing lab.

Manufacturers in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan have expressed an urgent need for trained Computer Numeric Control (CNC) machine tool operators. To solve this challenge, a collaborative effort was started to bring a unique way of training students and potential manufacturing employees to Northern Michigan.

FAB LABPatterned after a successful program at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, a Mobile Digital Manufacturing Lab was envisioned to travel throughout the high schools in Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan and Emmet counties, which would provide much needed training to students interested in high-tech manufacturing as a career path. In addition, this mobile lab would provide on-site training at the manufacturing facilities in this region. Another equally important role the Lab would serve, is to market manufacturing by showcasing modern high-tech manufacturing to parents and community members at a variety of events including; parades, parent-teacher conferences, car shows and various community activities.

Tom Earhart, the Entrepreneurship Director of Northern Lakes Economic Alliance (NLEA), partner of Michigan State University Extension, brought this idea to the region and immediately assembled a collaborative group of partners, in order to make this project a reality. These partners included: Northern Lakes Economic Alliance (NLEA), North Central Michigan College (NCMC), Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), Char-Em Intermediate Schools, Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, Little Traverse Band of Odawa Indians, Ferris State University and numerous area manufacturers.


Photo: (left to right) Lydia Murray & Ken Murdoch, MEDC; Tom Erhart, NLEA; John Truckey, Precision Edge; Tom Nathe, NCMC and Andy Hayes, NLEA pose after approval of the $350,000 grant award.

Precision Edge, a medical instruments manufacturer in Boyne City, Mich., with headquarters in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., took the lead in supporting the funding of this project. North Central Michigan College agreed to own and manage the Mobile Lab and provide the CNC training to accompany it. In October, Precision Edge was awarded a $350,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the MEDC, with the commitment to hire an additional 30 employees and invest $2 million in their Boyne City business. Charlevoix County was the actual applicant for this grant and will receive and pass along the funds to Precision Edge when they meet their objectives. Representatives from Precision Edge, NLEA and NCMC traveled to Lansing to receive the approval for this grant. Erhart said, “This is a proud moment for our Northern Michigan region. We now have the opportunity to be seen as the leader in providing the skills necessary to train our modern manufacturing workforce of the future. I am grateful that the State of Michigan has recognized the importance of our project by providing the funding for this very cool Mobile Digital Manufacturing Lab.”

Precision Edge has pledged to donate all of the grant funds, $350,000 (less grant administration expenses), to North Central Michigan College to fund the Mobile Lab. John Truckey, president of Precision Edge stated, "I am pleased to take a leadership role in providing manufacturing skills training. This Mobile Digital Manufacturing Lab will not only help Precision Edge but will provide high school and college students with a solid career path in Manufacturing, leading to a high-paying, high-tech careers.”

North Central Michigan College is currently in the process of purchasing equipment, hiring an instructor and developing curriculum to have the Mobile CNC Manufacturing Lab (dubbed the Fab Lab), in full operation by February 2014.

The self-contained mobile lab will be a 44’ trailer with 12 state-of-the-art computer stations and Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs, a CNC controlled mill and lathe and smart board. Tom Nathe from NCMC stated, “I am pleased NCMC can expand its educational options to include addressing the needs of modern, high-tech manufacturing. Many high-paying jobs are going unfilled in manufacturing and the Mobile Lab will help to address this need.”

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