Manufacturing a Stronger Laurens County

In an unassuming spot just off of I-385, industry and education are connecting to help improve the way manufacturing is done in South Carolina. The Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CAM) in Laurens is part of Piedmont Technical College (PTC), extending the school’s impact beyond the classrooms. The CAM was built to serve industry in upper Laurens County and enhance the educational experience at the school, says Director Mike Reid.

CAM works with companies on youth and adult apprenticeship and job fairs, brings in companies to meet with classes, and tours local facilities with students. Reid says the three main focus areas of the curriculum are mechatronics, welding, and machine tooling. “No two weeks are exactly alike, but we’re trying to build up those three programs that the industry indicated were lacking in our area,” he says. Courses are offered through continuing education, the industrial division of PTC, and the dual-enrollment program for high school students.

PTC once lacked space for industrial laboratories, but now houses high-end equipment including three industrial CNC machines, Reid says. He cites the example of a coordinate measuring machine by Zeiss, a maker of optical systems, as a rarity in South Carolina. “Things we have here are more industrial sized versus what I’d call an educational size,” he says. The Zeiss machine has 20 stations and runs on proprietary software called Calypso: “We’re probably the only facility here, and maybe regionally [that has] all the Calypso software, and they keep us with all the latest updates so they can use it as a demo site anytime they need to.”

The center’s funding came from a combination of state funds and contributions from local companies, most notably ZF Group, which accesses the CAM to support its facilities at nearby Owings Industrial Park. Other partners included Laurens County Development Corporation, Piedmont Local Development Cooperative, and readySC, a division of the South Carolina Technical College System. The center is owned by the PTC foundation, rather than the state, which affords more flexibility on timelines, Reid says.

Among approximately 2,000 people per year who use the CAM, there are a variety of needs and uses. Currently, members of the public are using the site for a grant-funded, credit-bearing CNC operator course. It includes not only Laurens County residents, but also Greenwood, Abbeville,Greenville, and Anderson, Reid says. Another program is a 200-hour certification for production technicians, which requires four national certification exams. Then there are professional certifications for various Microsoft Office programs, such as Excel.

Industry partners use CAM for various needs. About 20 companies per year use the site for short-term training supplied by the company or PTC. Two companies—one relocating to the area, and another a BMW supplier with expansion plans—are leasing temporary spaces at CAM to do business and conduct trainings.  Reid says, “That’s sort of what this facility was designed to do: facilitate new companies coming in. So we have a lot of flex pace for that activity.”

The center is scheduled for some expansion of its own later this year. A $1.4 million project will include remodeling of some existing spaces and the addition of two classrooms and flex space that readySC and companies can use to bring in equipment for onsite training. With these types of improvements, CAM aims to be an important link in the network that attracts and grows manufacturing in Laurens County.

Photos courtesy of the Center for Advanced Manufacturing.

Jennifer Oladipo is a writer in Greenville whose work appears in local and national publications.