Traverse City News and Events

NMC: Drones, Virtual Welding And More Via Grant

Jan. 23, 2015

Unmanned aerial vehicles. Fiber optics. Manikins that simulate patients. Equipment to virtually weld.

These are technologies that can help prepare students for in-demand skilled trade jobs, but they’re expensive for smaller schools like Northwestern Michigan College.

Help, however, could be on the way.

The college will seek a $2.1 million grant from a new $50 million state program designed to help Michigan community colleges purchase equipment needed to deliver skilled trades training. The initiative, unveiled late last fall by Gov. Rick Snyder, is an exciting opportunity, says Ed Bailey, technical division director at NMC.

The Community College Skilled Trades Equipment Program recognizes the need for technical equipment to train workforce, and the cost barrier to institutions, he says. “It’s important that we have the technology, so that when (students) land in an employer’s lap, they have the skills to be workforce ready.”

The college wants to purchase laboratory, simulation and technology equipment that would be used as early as this fall in NMC’s engineering technology, welding technology, marine technology, nursing, and computer information technology programs. The total cost would be more than $2.8 million, including the $2.1 million sought in grant funds and about $716,000 in college match.

Community colleges can each request up to $4.8 million under the program and have to provide a minimum match of 25 percent of the total project cost. Bailey says NMC is only seeking funds to meet the level of need it’s identified.

For example, the college could acquire equipment to virtually train welders in work they do on a job. With the device, the user dons a helmet connected to a rod that’s used to simulate welding electronically, providing instant feedback on the quality of the weld and allowing repeated practice.

Other proposed purchases include fiber optics training equipment, of which NMC has none; a trainer that simulates hydraulic circuits and would enable NMC to serve more lab students in that area; and a water tank that would allow for year-round use of remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, used by marine technology students. The college would also like to add a second and more sophisticated ROV to its marine program. And for its program that trains operators of unmanned aircraft, the college hopes to purchase two additional drones.

Bailey says the equipment would enable NMC to better-serve students and build capacity to support projected enrollment increases stemming from interest in NMC’s new bachelor’s degree in maritime technology and other areas.

The grant proposal focuses on three high-demand industry clusters for northwest Michigan: Advanced manufacturing, healthcare and information technology. Those sectors are among emerging and growth areas identified by Networks Northwest in a comprehensive regional plan.

Elaine Wood, CEO of Networks Northwest, says the state program “is a real shot in the arm for community colleges to do what they do best, which is to respond to specific community needs.”

The Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce is writing a letter of support for the grant and will also do “anything it can” to assist NMC with implementation, says Doug Luciani, president and CEO.

The NMC board is expected take formal action on the application’s submittal at its Jan. 26 board meeting. Applications are due by Jan. 31 to the Michigan Strategic Fund and will be evaluated by a committee, with awards slated to be announced in February.

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