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Tiebarless Training in Tennessee

A manufacturing education center and two new Engel injection molding machines are doing their part in Tennessee to help feed that state’s voracious appetite for skilled plastics workers in its burgeoning automotive industry.


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The 85-ton tiebarless Engel victory spex and 110-ton all-electric machines were installed at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) Pulaski as part of its revamped Advanced Manufacturing Program that’s busy readying workers for the region’s booming automotive sector.


GM, Nissan, and Volkswagen all build cars in the state, supported by parts suppliers like Denso, Calsonic Kansei, Yorozu Automotive, and M-Tek, with more companies on the way.


In the first quarter alone, Denso, Unipres USA Inc., Nissan, Magneti Marelli, and Hicks Plastics announced  investments in the state, which according to the Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association (TAMA), employs 115,939 in auto manufacturing jobs with more than 1000 auto manufacturers and suppliers statewide.


To help those companies fill out their shifts, Tennessee has spent more than $80 million in automotive industry training since 2006, according to TAMA. Receiving a portion of that money is the TCAT Pulaski. Located in South Central Tennessee, Pulaski sits 75 miles south of Nashville and only 20 miles from the Alabama border.


TCAT Pulaski is one of 26 applied technology centers in Tennessee, part of a statewide system created in 1963. The centers’ Advanced Manufacturing Education offers students three career paths: robotics automation, PLC automation, and plastics injection molding, and students that complete the program are awarded an engineering technician diploma. The plastics engineering technician certificate is comprised of three labs and an internship/shop project totaling 1296 hours.


Dino Owen, Advanced Manufacturing Education (AME) Instructor at TCAT Pulaski, told Plastics Technology that the two new Engel’s will replace a hydraulic Nissei that had been used in training for 12 years. Owen said at this time there are 17 students in the AME program, with 10 of those on the injection molding track.


A recent lesson for those 10: molding machine installation. Owen said the students assisted in rigging, leveling, and wiring the machines for their initial start up. The 85-ton press, which was purchased, and the 110-ton machine, which is on loan, will now ready those students for the molding world around them.


“Thanks to the governor’s grant we received, our equipment was updated and technology advanced to meet employment needs of local business,” Owen said. “Students feel they are working with state-of-the-art equipment, which closely matches equipment used by growing companies within 100-mile radius.”


Owen said that all students must complete hands-on projects focusing on areas like injection speed, transfer, pressure, temperature, and cycle optimization. In addition, students working towards the Injection Molding Masters Diploma, also study tool and die technology, including practice building insert molds, with draft angles, vents, waterlines, part design, and more taught as they cut their molds.


Owen said in the program students build their molds in aluminum, with a recent project calling for 3D printing of a simple cavity. “Our record thus far is 20 parts from a plastic 3D-printed cavity,” Owen said.


Partnering on behalf of plastics training isn’t new for Engel, which over the last three years has also set up machines at Bradley University (2013: 30-ton hybrid e-victory), Clemson University (2014: 30-ton victory); and Nypro University (2015: 105-ton e-mac). Its efforts, and those of programs like TCAT, come at a time of need for the U.S. plastics industry.


“Our goal is to help bridge the skills gap that manufacturing is experiencing,” Owen said. “I feel the 27 TCATs’ statewide are the best match for student and business to achieve this goal.”