UT held a machining workshop for educators. ACE is a growing network of machining centers helping to revitalize American manufacturing.

UTK ACE Training Shawn Millsaps IACMI, Industry Today
UTK ACE Training Shawn Millsaps IACMI

On Tuesday, Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally and several members of the Tennessee General Assembly observed a “train the trainers” workshop at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The two-day workshop, part of America’s Cutting Edge, imparted new skills to educators with a machining background. The workshop was held in conjunction with IACMI—The Composites Institute and the UT–Oak Ridge Innovation Institute.

“The University of Tennessee is one of the nation’s leaders in advanced manufacturing research. The ACE program not only supports Tennessee students learning high-demand skills in machine tool training, it supports America’s national defense manufacturing workforce pipeline,” said McNally. “It’s a win–win for industry, the country, and our communities.”

Participants received hands-on instruction on computer numerical control (CNC) machines as each machined four components and assembled them to produce an oscillating piston air engine. They also conducted quality control tests and attended classroom lectures.

Participants came from Knox County schools, area community colleges, the University of North Texas, the Robert C. Byrd Institute at Marshall University, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, helping to ensure that educators across East Tennessee and beyond are equipped to provide consistent, high-quality instruction to their own students for years to come.

“As the state’s flagship land-grant university, setting up our region’s future high-tech workforce for success—and doing so in lockstep with our industry partners and regional colleges—is a priority for UT,” said Matthew Mench, dean and Wayne T. Davis Dean’s Chair of the Tickle College of Engineering at UT. “It’s very rewarding to see the impact ACE is having on people’s lives and their future livelihoods.”

Program expansion

What started in Knoxville in 2020 as a model of excellence for machine tool training is now emerging as a national network of regional machine tools innovation and workforce development centers. North Carolina A&T State University, Marshall University, and Texas A&M University have all signed on to serve as hubs along with UT. Each hub will partner with local colleges to grow and develop a next-generation machining workforce that can support manufacturing across the United States.

In Tennessee, ACE workshops for both students and educators have taken place at UT, Pellissippi State Community College, and ORNL. As the most recent sign of the program’s expanding impact, Roane State Community College recently signed on as an ACE training site.

“High-speed production and reducing costs are important. Industry really values students who can hit the ground running, because their customers are demanding these skills,” said Gordon Williams, program director for mechatronics at Roane State, who attended the workshop. “People with this kind of training are at a premium. We want to add this arrow to our quiver.”

About America’s Cutting Edge

ACE is a joint initiative of the US Department of Defense and Department of Energy to reestablish American leadership in the machine tool industry through transformative thinking, technology innovation, and workforce development.

The program was developed by UT Professor of Mechanical Engineering and ORNL joint faculty member Tony Schmitz. It brings together the scientific expertise of ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility and the proven workforce development capabilities of IACMI.

“Five years from now, I want ACE to be represented in every state in America,” Schmitz said. “I know we can do it. I believe in what we are building and growing, and I am amazed by the students and educators I have met through ACE—they are the greatest part of this program.”

ACE uses a free online curriculum and hands-on in-person training to connect top national experts with students and industrial workers from all backgrounds, levels of education, and work experience to catalyze awareness and interest in all facets of machining, including software development, vibrations, metrology, design, operation, and entrepreneurship.

To date, ACE has delivered online training in CNC machining to more than 2,500 students from all 50 states and in-person bootcamp-style training to more than 150 students, all at no cost to participants. Additionally, more than 500 students have joined the ACE online metrology training.

“Many people like to talk about innovators and entrepreneurship, but the real know-how of something is embedded in the making process,” said Adele Ratcliff, director of the DOD Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment program, which provides ongoing support for ACE. “Most everything that’s made at scale uses a machine tool. If you know how to make it, then you know how to innovate on it faster. We want to restore the innovation within the US machine tool sector.”


Tyra Haag (865-974-5460, ttucker@utk.edu)

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