Rural South Carolina to be Home to “First of Its Kind” High-Tech Manufacturing Training Center
By Beth Braswell

South Carolina, long touted for its forward-thinking workforce training programs, has yet another jewel in its crown. The Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology (SIMT), now being built between Florence and Darlington, S.C., will provide innovative solutions to both training and manufacturing technology needs that maximize workforce productivity in advanced manufacturing environments.

The brainchild of Dr. Charles W. Gould, president of Florence-Darlington Technical College (FDTC), SIMT was conceived with the goal of becoming an asset to economic development in the Pee Dee area of the state, a support system to help existing businesses prosper and a resource for high-tech manufacturing training in the Southeast.

FDTC representatives visited six similar training facilities around the country and the bright ideas from each were incorporated into the vision for SIMT. The end-product will be a “first of its kind” high-technology manufacturing resource with eight technical institutes for customized and mutually developed training, R&D, networking, manufacturing startups, and consulting. Dr. Gould said, “Manufacturing is moving into a new era. In order to be competitive, the workforce needs a different level of training, which the SIMT concept addresses.”

With 146 acres purchased adjacent to FDTC, the development of SIMT was implemented. A comprehensive marketing study involving seven states and over 1000 companies confirmed that there was an interest in partnering with an “on-demand” training service, even if it was out-of-state. With that information in hand, SIMT has plans to serve industry south of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi. The local industry is extremely supportive of the effort and, according to Jack Roach, director of Manufacturing and Technical Training at FDTC, SIMT will have a top-level advisory council comprised of manufacturing people within the community who understand high-tech training needs.

As construction is underway, FDTC personnel are currently contacting equipment manufacturers, specifically those with machine tool and advanced manufacturing technology, who are interested in partnering with SIMT to have their equipment on-site, exposing new customers to their products and having employees trained on their equipment. Their next step will be to reach out to companies who are looking for a training partner and to market the SIMT benefits.

SIMT will develop a cadre of individual specialists to implement the training programs; specifically people who make the equipment and those who use the equipment. When asked about the categories SIMT would cover, Roach responded, “tell us what you want and we’ll go find it.”

Training will be concentrated in six centers:

  1. Advanced Manufacturing Center: CNC Programmer and Operator, Robotics, Tool and Die Making, Plastic & Rubber Molding Systems, Rapid Prototyping, Quality Systems, 6 Sigma, Programmable Logic Controls and Advanced Machining Systems.
  2. Information Technology & Computer Center: Factory Simulation Software, 3D Visualization, Bar Code Scanning & Radio Frequency ID, Paperless Factory, and Network Systems.
  3. Business Excellence Center: Principles of Lean Office, Conducting Business Internationally, Certified Inventory Control, Supervisor and Leadership Development.
  4. Environmental Training Center: EPA Compliance, Minimizing Manufacturing Waste, Test Lab Certification, RCRA Hazardous Waste Management.
  5. Health & Safety Training Center: Hazard Communication, Fire Safety, OSHA Compliance, First Responder, Confined Space, First Aid & CPR.
  6. Biotechnology Center: Molecular and Cell Biology, Polymerase Chain Reaction, Chromatography Techniques, Protein Bioseparation Methods, Bioinformatics.

This training (or any training mutually designed by client and SIMT) can take place at the appropriate SIMT facility or at a location of the company’s choice.

Phase I, which is projected to cost $30 million, will be up and running in January, 2007. It will include the Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMC) along with the Information Technology and Computer Center (ITCC). The AMC will serve as the focal point of the new complex and will provide simulation facilities that link engineering to manufacturing technology. Rapid prototyping capabilities will assist manufacturers in being first-to- market with new products. The two-story structure that will house SIMT is over 150,000 square feet and features 13 technical training labs, 6 computer training labs and 11 classrooms. There will also be a 12,000 square-foot conference center and a 750-seat auditorium available for use to the manufacturing community and to clients. In addition, the 48,000 square-foot ITCC facility will feature fiber optic, networking and computer hardware and software training labs, four breakout session rooms and the SIMT data center.

Phase II, consisting of the Industrial Research & Development Center, Environmental Training Center, Business Excellence Center, and the Manufacturing Incubator Center, is scheduled to be operational in first quarter 2008. The Industrial R&D center is designed for companies in the area that want to create new equipment or have an idea that they’d like to implement. “Equipment that is utilized in SIMT could be available after hours for use in testing or helping to development new technologies,” says Roach.

Meanwhile, the Manufacturing Incubator Center is for clients who need a place to start their manufacturing process. Qualified companies will receive assistance in commercializing their ideas. The only criterion is that the outgrowth of the company must locate in the Florence/Darlington, S.C. area.

The final construction of Phase III adds the Health & Safety Training Center and the Biotechnology Center with the completed project totaling more than 400,000 square feet and functioning as a wireless networking environment for enhanced learning.

Joe King, executive director of the Florence County Economic Development Partnership, says that the sophistication of what is offered at SIMT puts Florence County, the Pee Dee Region and the entire state of South Carolina at an advantage in attracting high-tech manufacturing. And he adds, “SIMT will assist existing manufacturing companies by improving their workforce and skill sets to compete in the global marketplace.”

With a location easily reached off I-95 and I-20, the SIMT project promises to rise to distinction quickly as it attracts clients from around the Southeast with its cutting edge curricula and customer-focused service plan. >From rural South Carolina, this visionary initiative is set to help raise the bar and sustain excellence for manufacturers around the state and the region.