ICAMS, City of Auburn partnership benefits local industry

Published: Jun 12, 2023 3:45 PM

By Carla Nelson

The City of Auburn’s Industrial Development Board works to promote industry and trade, provide employment opportunities, and encourage investment in the community. In 2019, the board began to look for new ways to support local industry when they learned several companies needed additional resources for machine training to recruit skilled workers.  

Also around this same time, faculty members from the Auburn University Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) were working with the Department of Defense’s Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment Program (IBAS) on an idea to create a competition in machining and welding in the theme of a reality show. Initial plans were developed to hold the first Project MFG – Next Generation Manufacturing Challenge Competition in Auburn.

Greg Harris, ISE associate professor at the time and director of the Auburn University Interdisciplinary Center for Advanced Manufacturing Systems (ICAMS), reached out to Arndt Siepmann, deputy director of economic development for the City of Auburn, to find a location for the competition. Siepmann suggested a building in the Auburn Industrial Park. The two agreed on the location and the Industrial Development Board renovated the building at 1490 Pumphrey Ave.

The city soon hired Amy Brabham as the workforce development director with the task of establishing a manufacturing training center. After the competition, the City of Auburn Industrial Development Board purchased a UMC 750SS five-axis machine and a DMG Mori DMU-50 five-axis milling machine. An additional three-axis machine used by an ICAMS faculty member for research purposes was also moved to the Pumphrey Avenue building and the building was re-named the Advanced Manufacturing Training Center (AMTC).

This was the beginning of a partnership between the City of Auburn Industrial Development Board and ICAMS, which now work together to provide training to local companies.  

Established in 2018, ICAMS’ mission is to assist small and medium-sized manufacturers in the U.S. in adopting advanced technologies associated with Industry 4.0. ICAMS exists to perform six functions working with small and medium manufacturers: demonstration of technologies; outreach; tailored training; education; research; and promotion of manufacturing as a career.

“Now when we have different companies that need to train machinists to do a specific type of programming on a specific type of machine, then we’ll contract with ICAMS to do that training,” Brabham said. 

GE Aerospace is one company that has utilized this training. Last year, GE needed an assessment process to evaluate the skills of new candidates as they were rehiring after the COVID pandemic. The city stepped in to help.

“We began offering mechanical testing, working with Southern Union State Community College to assess the use of the machinery, and with ICAMS to conduct specific training in measurement science,” Brabham said. “Our goal is to make sure new employees have the aptitude to work at GE.” 

Nine groups of GE employee candidates have undergone this four-part pre-employment training in the last year.  

“Our candidates are required to complete all 16 hours of the training and it helps them develop some fundamental skills that they’ll be able to use every single day at GE Aerospace,” said Katie Kwilos, senior human resources partner at GE. “It helps lay a foundation before they even hit the door, which is a win for us because typically that's going to help them figure out if it’s going to be some type of work that they would be interested in or be good at before they show up.” 

Antroine Townes, executive plant leader for GE, said the training also keeps employees with consistent skillsets coming into the company.

“We have limited resources to dedicate to training, so we try to focus on on-the-job training and specific quality training that we need to be compliant to our regulations,” he said. “Having a partner who can get us consistent training is huge. If you think of the hours of the content and the management of that time, that would be a big fee for us to maintain every time we hire.”

New GE Aerospace employee Demond Wilson worked in retail for 21 years before moving over to GE. Jones said he didn’t have many expectations for the training, but he enjoyed it and learned a lot.

“The ICAMS employee who trained us was great,” he said. “He broke it down and made it simple. Now that I’m doing the job, I realize how great the training was. It really prepared me for the job.”

ICAMS continues to build on its relationship with the City of Auburn Industrial Development Board and has also partnered with the Alabama Community College System through the “Path to the Plains” program with Southern Union State Community College, through which students can take Auburn University courses while completing their associate degree.

Since its establishment, ICAMS has been awarded more than $20 million in grants from the Department of Defense IBAS Program and has doubled its facility footprint from 10,000 square-feet to 20,000 square-feet since establishing itself at the Pumphrey Avenue location. The facility now features dedicated resources in some of the fastest-growing manufacturing sectors, including a 4-axis friction stir welder and a Swiss-style machining center, allowing the center to support a wide range of manufacturing organizations.

“The initiative we have undertaken with GE Aerospace and the City of Auburn fits very well with the purpose of ICAMS,” Harris said. “In this effort, we are performing tailored training and outreach to support the needs of a local company and the results have been outstanding.”

Brabham added that ICAMS is a great asset to the City of Auburn and she looks forward to seeing the relationship continue to grow.

“We are so lucky to have them,” she said. “No other city in Alabama has anything like ICAMS. Our plan is for ICAMS to become designated as the state’s machining center so that companies throughout the state will utilize them for training."


Media Contact: Carla Nelson, carla@auburn.edu, (334) 844-1404
ICAMS Research Engineer Sam Snell conducting GE Aerospace assessment training.

ICAMS Research Engineer Sam Snell conducting GE Aerospace assessment training.

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