HAMMOND | Top manufacturing officials toured Purdue University Calumet on Tuesday to learn how the school is training next-generation workers for increasingly high-tech factory jobs and what students are doing to improve the bottom line of local companies.
Indiana Manufacturers Association President and Chief Executive Officer Patrick Kiely and Vice President of Marketing and Member Services Brian Burton saw an eye-popping 3-D rendering of a blast furnace's inner workings at the Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation, as well as the university's manufacturing and mechatronics labs. They found out how Purdue Cal students and faculty had helped U.S. Steel Canada save $8.5 million a year by streamlining operations at one of its mills.
Purdue Calumet highlighted how it has been training students for a wide variety of manufacturing jobs, including as architectural draftsmen, welders and machinists. The school showed off new initiatives, such as plans to start training journeymen at BP's Whiting Refinery and to expand a design studio where students who are learning computer-aided design can collaborate and jot down ideas and project specifications on plexiglass.
"Obviously in Northwest Indiana, manufacturing has great importance," said Celina Weatherwax, director of government, corporation and foundation relations. "Purdue Cal wanted to showcase some of the work it's doing throughout the region."
Kiely said he was impressed with the facilities, which include brand new manufacturing equipment donated by companies such as BP and Tri-State Industries. Students train on CNC lathes and other machines that often come fresh out of the crate, so they can pick up the practical real-world skills they will need in the workplace.
Morrison Container Handling Solutions President Nick Wilson said he sponsored the university's mechatronics labs because his company had trouble filling positions that required mechanical, electric, control and computer engineering, but that Purdue Cal has since given him several qualified employees.
Newly hired mechatronics engineers used to have to go through a lengthy learning period at Wilson's Glenwood-based company, but he said they are now ready to contribute right away.
More positions are still available in the multidisciplinary field than there are candidates qualified to fill them, he said.
Overall, manufacturing employment declined during the height of the economic downturn in 2008 and 2009, but about 70 percent of the jobs lost have since been regained, Kiely said. The manufacturing industry has struggled nationally for the last three months, but has been picking up in Indiana.
Indiana remains the largest manufacturing state in the union, both in terms of jobs and wealth generated, Kiely said. He estimates the manufacturing sector directly and indirectly accounts for as much as half of the state's employment.
Purdue Cal is trying to ensure workers can perform modern-day manufacturing jobs, such as by training machinists how to use new computer interfaces on CNC lathes, manufacturing laboratory administrator Rick Rickerson said.