Focused primarily on programs that teach vocations in the tool, die and manufacturing trade, the Precision Manufacturing Institute (PMI, Meadville, PA) has evolved over the years into a fully qualified training facility with 19 full-time staff and 21 part-time staff that teach an array of moldmaking and machining topics on the latest equipment. The school’s unique curriculum offers new program start dates approximately every six weeks so students are not locked in to a multi-year commitment.
The school was first conceived and developed in 1987 by local industry representatives and tool shop owners as a place to take incumbent workers and provide contextual training on “state-of-the-market" equipment and software, Executive Director Jerry Knight notes. Formerly known as the National Institute of Flexible Manufacturing, the training facility changed its name to Precision Manufacturing Institute in November 1998. As a state private-licensed school under the PA Department of Education, all PMI student instruction is to the National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS) standards and all instructors are required to become NIMS certified.
“PMI works closely with machine tool manufacturers and software developers to stay current with advances in manufacturing technology,” Knight notes. “Our unique approach to training has been industry-tested to insure that our students are well prepared to enter the manufacturing workforce.”
In order to serve the local manufacturing community, PMI has developed numerous programs to meet the needs of both students and employers. “We are committed to the tool and die and manufacturing industry by investing in modernized equipment and sharing a common vision with our local community for future job growth,” Knight states. “PMI is now a licensed private school with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and is nationally accredited by ACCSCT (Accrediting Commission for Career School and Colleges of Technology). Courses at PMI have to meet ACCSCT standards before being offered.”
The school’s 21 diploma and certificate programs differ due to the fact that it is tailored to the moldmaking and manufacturing industries (see Ready to Graduate sidebar at right). “Our longest courses—Tooling & EDM Technician and Tooling & Machining Technician—are both 50 weeks long,” Knight notes. “The average length of our entire diploma courses are between 20 to 30 weeks. Our entry-level program for most novices is called the First Step Program (three steps in all), which includes Blueprint Reading, Technical Math I, Practical Dimensional Inspection Tools and Machine Technology. The Second Step includes training on the manual machines (mills, lathes and grinders). The Third Step includes the high-end training on the CNC equipment. We also offer other classes such as various CAD/CAMs, Mold Polishing and Mold Design.
“Instruction also is available in advanced five-axis machining,” Knight continues. “At this time, we have two five-axis machines (Haas VF-4 and Mikron MC600U). Another hot trend right now is hard milling, and we have three hard milling machines on our shop floor (Makino E33, Sodick 430 and Mikron MC600U). At this time, this type of course is only available to experienced shop employees looking toward upgrading their skills.”
Students also can focus on three major areas of tool and die: CNC milling, CNC grinding, EDM, CNC wire EDM and CNC lathe. “We call these programs accelerated training,” Knight notes. “The difference between our programs and other training programs is that a high level of training can be achieved in as little as seven weeks full-time. We focus on contextual learning programs that concentrate all time and effort into the related field of study. In other words, you get the stuff without the fluff. No time is wasted on useless theory and outdated methods of manufacturing. We also limit class size. For example, the Accelerated Grinding Program takes a maximum of seven students and each student has their own machine to operate. There is no waiting in line to use the machinery."
PMI has spent a considerable amount of time and resources to develop these unique programs by working very closely with the local tool shops and monitor the performance of our programs via feedback from shop personnel. Several more programs are under development—including Robotics Maintenance, Robotics Technology and HVAC.
PMI doesn’t let the business aspect of moldmaking fall by the wayside. According to Knight, class instructors incorporate topics like marketing and global competition into the curriculum. “We technically could not label ourselves a training institute without informing students on what is going on in their projected job field,” Knight says. “Questions and issues are brought up by both the students and the instructors “
In the Trenches
Instruction at PMI isn’t just limited to the classroom. Regional companies take advantage of the school’s offerings by bringing the classroom to the business with customized training programs—customizing the length and content of any course, seminar or program to meet individual company needs. This training can be conducted at the school or on-site. The following are examples of programs PMI has implemented at various local companies: Basic Computer Skills, AutoCAD Level I, II or III, CNC Programming (Basic & Advanced), Accelerated Grinding, Statistical Process Control, Mold Polishing (Basic & Advanced), and Jig and Fixture Design.
Tech Tool & Molded Plastics (Meadville, PA) has utilized PMI for tooling apprentice training, plastics processing training, and has hired PMI graduates. “PMI's state-of-the-art training facility and equipment coupled with its willingness to accommodate the needs of this region’s employers make it the logical choice for students and employers alike,” notes Tech Tool HR Director Tracy Coon. “The manufacturing industry is high-tech and in need of many skilled workers to fill open positions and PMI is helping to lead the way."
C&J Industries, Inc. (Meadville, PA) also is satisfied with the training PMI provides. “If PMI does not have the training we require as part of their normal curriculum, they work with us to try to provide a suitable program,” comments Sandy Hurban, HR director at C&J. “We also utilize PMI's equipment if it is not cost-effective for C&J to have the equipment in house. We have been very happy with the services provided by PMI."
Channellock Inc. (Meadville, PA)—a manufacturer of pliers and hand tools—has taken advantage of this program as well. "In today's manufacturing industry, continuous improvement is an absolute must, especially in the hand tool industry,” notes Vice President of Manufacturing and Engineering John DeArment. “The international competition is tremendous and pressure to produce offshore is growing everyday. We have—and will continue—to work with PMI for both technology and human resource support as a valuable partner in our continuous improvement projects. Having local resources available to help us develop people and our processes is extremely important to our business."
At moldmaker Hillcrest Tool & Die (Titusville, PA)—owner and president Rahn Hill notes that Hillcrest has used PMI for many things in the past and will continue to do so in the future. “We are very satisfied with the quality of trained personnel on PMI's staff,” he states. “From their technical support to the classroom, PMI has more than done their job.”
PMI is in the process of developing three PA State Certified Apprentice Toolmaker programs, Knight says, noting that the school offers articulation agreements with local colleges, where students who successfully complete a course at their local Vo-Tech school can earn credits toward a PMI Diploma program and, in turn, also earn credits toward an Associate or Baccalaureate Degree. “PMI currently has articulation agreements signed and in place with Edinboro University, Clarion University, Kent State University, California University of PA and Butler County Community College,” he notes. “We also have articulation agreements and advanced placements available to high school students who already have tooling and machining experience at Warren, Mercer, Crawford, and Venango County Vocational-Technical Schools; Greenville High School; General McLane School District; Corry Area Career & Technical Center, Erie Central High School and Titusville Area School District.”
Knight adds that students who do not wish to take advantage of these articulation agreements can be placed into a manufacturing position by the school. Currently PMI has a 98 percent placement rating of diploma graduates with jobs in the manufacturing field.
According to Knight, funds come from tuition revenue, as well as from grants awarded from the local, state and federal government. “We receive our equipment through partnerships with manufacturing machine vendors (like Sodick, Haas, Charmilles, Mikron, Fanuc and Nakamura) and from federal, state and local grants,” Knight states. “Another source of revenue for PMI is our Shared Use Program, which we offer for local manufacturers. The equipment and software at PMI is available for companies to use during the day or evening. PMI has more 30 machines available for industry use for a nominal fee. This provides an important service for companies that cannot justify the expense of a new piece of equipment for a one-time order or a rush job. PMI has trained staff that can work with these companies to provide programming, setup and operations assistance.”
Knight—and PMI—is focused on continuing to provide highly skilled employees for the manufacturing industry for the foreseeable future. Long-term goals include continuing to develop new curriculum to meet the needs of the constantly evolving industry, which includes the newest manufacturing technologies like robotics maintenance and programming. PMI also will continue to provide students with training on state-of-the-industry equipment. It also is looking to expand operations into New York and Ohio.
“Our goals are always driven by industry,” Knight explains. “If a local manufacturer calls and needs 12 CNC programmers, our goal is to get that company 12 fully trained and qualified CNC programmers. If the demand in the industry changes PMI’s courses and programs change with it. We are always willing to consider the addition of new programs if the tool, die and manufacturing industry deem it necessary. With the help of the PMI Board of Directors (who consist predominantly of shop owners; see PMI Board of Directors sidebar above), the PA CareerLinks, the NW PA Workforce Investment Board, the NW PA Chapter of the NTMA, and several other economic insiders, PMI researches the training opportunities and workforce needs of the community. Every company in this area is seeing a growth and a need for highly qualified and skilled workers.
“PMI prides itself on developing—and continuing—to sustain its current programs on the fact(s) that the partnerships developed with machine manufacturers, colleges, universities and the tooling industry help promote areas to individuals who need upgraded training or want to begin a career that will teach a trade to an individual who is willing to commit themselves to the school,” Knight continues. “Promotion of work ethics, safety and reliability are built into our programs and PMI hopes that student enrollment with continue to rise due to the fact that the tooling industry needs a qualified and skilled workforce.”