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September 07, 2023 | Shannon Smith

ACE doubles number of workers trained on CNC machining

A national initiative to restore the prominence of U.S. machine tool technology and innovation, ACENet is a rapidly growing network that has doubled in-person trainees in CNC machining in the first six months of 2023.

More and more people are learning machine manufacturing in an ongoing effort to bring machining knowledge back to the U.S.

The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation® (IACMI), in partnership with the Department of Defense (DoD), announced that in the first half of 2023, they doubled the number of people trained through the highly successful workforce development program America’s Cutting Edge (ACE).

A national initiative to restore the prominence of U.S. machine tool technology and innovation, ACENet is a rapidly growing network that has doubled in-person trainees in computer numerical control (CNC) machining in the first six months of 2023.

From March 2021 through December 2022, 300 participants completed the hands-on, in-person training. By June 2023, that number had more than doubled to 638, thanks to the expanding network of regional machine tool innovation and workforce development centers that IACMI is scaling up across America with DoD support.

ACENet is a public-private partnership funded by the DoD’s Manufacturing Capability Expansion and Investment Prioritization (MCEIP) office, which manages and executes the Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment (IBAS) program. ACENet has expanded its in-person curriculum to more than 20 machine tool training centers in 9 states. These include TennesseeNorth CarolinaTexasWest VirginiaFloridaOhioKentuckyNew Jersey, and most recently added, MinnesotaTogether, they have hosted 30 training sessions called “bootcamps” in 2023 alone.

“You never forget the first time you machine something yourself,” said Adele Ratcliff, Director of MCEIP’s Innovation Capability and Modernization (ICAM) Office. “For many, ACE bootcamps are their first chance to run these machines. I’m confident that by expanding opportunities to engage in that process, more people in this next generation will be inspired to come into manufacturing and machining. Additionally, I’ve seen data showing that even highly experienced machinists and shop owners recognize the information presented in this course helps improve their overall effectiveness and efficiency.”

Much of the ACENet content was developed in 2020 by Dr. Tony Schmitz, who serves as a Professor for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT) and Joint Faculty for Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). ACE brings together the scientific expertise of ORNL, advanced training tools and techniques of UT, and the workforce development leadership of IACMI – The Composites Institute.

“The emerging ACE workforce training network is critical to helping build resiliency in America’s manufacturing capability and its global competitiveness,” said Joannie Harmon, Vice President of Workforce at IACMI. “It is inspiring to see how this program has grown, but even more inspiring when you realize these growing numbers represent people, people that are scaling up their abilities and contributing to workforce manufacturing needs in our nation.”

ACE training can be embedded in classes at high school, two-year, trades school, and four-year programs and offered as camps that take about 32 hours to complete. Participants learn about computer-aided design (CAD), explore subtractive and additive manufacturing techniques, and machine four parts of a functioning air engine, which they get to keep. The goal is to experience the full spectrum of manufacturing—from digital design to computer code to cutting. This rapid growth in trainees proves there is a thirst for this type of training, which is offered at no cost.

All participants in the hands-on training course first complete a 6-hour online introduction to CNC machining. Launched in December 2020, ACE online has seen consistent growth for the past 138 weeks. ACE continues to expand by offering more courses including Metrology, Cybersecurity, and Composites. More than 5,500 people from all 50 states have engaged in ACE online training. Demographics for online registrants have remained fairly consistent over 2 years. Approximately 72 percent are students from academia and 27 percent are from industry. ACE is attractive as an introductory course to machining, as 75 percent of participants have no prior CNC experience. Machining and machine tools are at the foundation of America’s manufacturing capability and its global competitiveness, and the need for motivated skilled technicians has never been greater.

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