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College is UK’s first Gene Haas Centre for Advanced Manufacturing

Posted onPosted on 14th Jul

West Nottinghamshire College has become the UK’s first-ever Gene Haas Centre for Advanced Manufacturing – bringing a major investment in engineering facilities and training programmes for students, apprentices and employers.

This comes after the college formed a pioneering partnership with the Gene Haas Foundation – the US-based grant-giving organisation set up by the founder of both Haas Automation, the largest computer numerical control (CNC) machine tool builder in North America, and the Haas F1 Team in the FIA Formula One World Championship.

The link-up will see the college awarded £500,000 to develop its engineering facilities and employer-focused curriculum, aimed at growing the number of skilled manufacturers in the local area and beyond.

It will fund improvements to its Engineering Innovation Centre, on Oddicroft Lane, Sutton-in-Ashfield, by remodelling the building to dedicate a larger area of its ground-floor to manufacturing, automation and robotics. A new mezzanine floor containing classrooms overlooking the existing open-plan workshop space will also be constructed.

The building – which currently boasts six Haas CNC machines used by engineering students and apprentices – will also be re-branded as the Gene Haas Centre for Advanced Manufacturing.

In addition, there will be annual grant contributions for scholarships and enrichment opportunities for students including skills-based engineering competitions.

The funding will also be used to further develop its teachers’ skills and knowledge to support the expansion of its curriculum, particularly to adult learners, and provide additional staff to increase its course offer.

Haas Automation UK director Andrew Ward (first left) shows Jane Box, chair of Mansfield and Ashfield 2020, and Councillor Matt Relph, executive lead member for growth, regeneration and planning at Ashfield District Council, a Haas CNC toolroom mill.

The centre is a key component in the college’s work with Ashfield and Mansfield district councils to help businesses embrace new and existing technologies to improve productivity, increase competitiveness or enter new markets.

The college will build on its relationship with Haas and its UK client base to strengthen its education and training offer to employers, and support them to provide more highly-skilled, well-paid, secure and progressive jobs to local people.

College leaders, teachers, students, engineering employers, local dignitaries and representatives of Haas UK came together at the centre for the official unveiling of the partnership, which involved tours, demonstrations of its CNC machines, speeches and a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Special guest was Kathy Looman, the Foundation’s director of education grants, who flew in from its headquarters in California.

Principal and chief executive Andrew Cropley said: “I am immensely proud that West Nottinghamshire College is now home to the UK’s first Gene Haas Centre for Advanced Manufacturing. It is a great accolade for us that the world’s third-largest manufacturer of machine tools has put its faith in us to bear its name and be its partner.

“This speaks volumes about how hard we are trying to work with local employers to create a skilled workforce that will meet their needs today and give them confidence in their ambitions to grow.

“I am excited to see how our already excellent engineering facility will develop through this partnership but, even more so, to see how the experience we can offer our students will develop and become richer and even more exciting.

“I can’t wait to explore a range of development opportunities for our staff, not just in their technical skills in using the machines but also, through the international community of Gene Haas Centres, to improve the way they use those machines to enhance the skills of our students and our apprentices.”

Kathy Looman (centre) and Andrew Cropley (third right) joined by (from left) Ben Birch, Andrew Ward and Nat Bash from Haas Automation UK, and the college’s head of engineering Ben Toule and assistant principal Kirsty Walsh.

Andrew said he expected the partnership would also have “a great positive impact outside the college.”

He added: “I hope that young people, perhaps because they are familiar with the Haas brand through Formula One, will come and explore the range of exciting careers that engineering and manufacturing has to offer.

“Furthermore, I’m sure local businesses will see this as yet another sign that they should be ambitious in their plans to grow, and confident that there will be a skilled workforce ready to support them.

“Congratulations to my brilliant colleagues in engineering, whose skill, ambition and determination has helped make this possible – and thank you to our new partners at the Gene Haas Foundation for placing their faith in us.”

Kathy Looman said: “This Gene Haas naming opportunity and capital grant programme was implemented for us to unite with the best CNC machining programmes to focus on what a career in advanced manufacturing looks like today.

“West Nottinghamshire College was selected because of its innovation, and collaboration with local industry as well as the community and schools. It is creating a pipeline of talent for the future. This process, and now having visited the college, has assured me that this will be a long and fruitful partnership.”

As the Gene Haas Centre for Advanced Manufacturing, the college’s engineering campus will continue to support students to develop their skills from handcraft, through lathe and mill operation, through to full-scale CNC machine operation, including machines that integrate robots.

It will also enable students to develop skills in electrical and electronic engineering, additive manufacturing, electro-pneumatics, robotics, PLC programming and controls, and distribution systems, as well as advanced welding and fabrication. The Haas CNC machines used within its curriculum will be the prominent feature within the facility.

Ben Birch, technical sales manager at Haas Automation UK (second right), demonstrates how to set up a Haas CNC mini mill machine, joined by engineering students Abigail Harrison and Tom Polley, and Mansfield MP Ben Bradley (first right).

The college delivers a range of full-time engineering courses at levels 2 and 3, in addition to a four-year machining apprenticeship programme and an engineering manufacturing technician higher apprenticeship. It also delivers part-time machining courses through its adult education programme.

From September, the college will offer a new T Level in Engineering, Manufacturing, Processing and Control at Level 3. T Levels are a new type of qualification that combine academic or vocational study with a mandatory 45-day industry placement with employers.

Its engineering curriculum is heavily influenced by local and regional businesses, many of whom sit on its employer advisory panel.

The Gene Haas Centre for Advanced Manufacturing will sit at the heart of the emerging Ashfield Technology Campus – a zone that will bring together planned major capital projects spearheaded by Ashfield District Council, Nottingham Trent University, West Nottinghamshire College and both local and national employers to provide a comprehensive skills and support offer to technical businesses.

Schemes in the pipeline include new training centres for modern methods of construction and civil engineering, and the Automated Distribution and Manufacturing Centre (ADMC) – Ashfield’s £30m flagship Towns Fund project which will support the adoption, integration, and expansion of new automated technologies amongst local and regional businesses to improve productivity and competitiveness. Set to open in 2025, the ADMC will be a national and international centre of excellence in the evolving development of automation in industry.

The Gene Haas Foundation was established in 1999 to support the needs of its local community through grants to grass-roots charities. Seeing a growing need for skilled manufacturing employees, in 2014 the Foundation expanded its mission to include support for training programmes throughout North America and beyond. In 2018 this initiative expanded to Europe.

One of its primary goals is to provide financial assistance for students interested in manufacturing-based careers. By providing scholarship grants, sponsoring individual and team CNC competitions, and partnering with the very best CNC training programmes in the world, the Foundation helps expand the availability of high-quality manufacturing technology training worldwide, ensuring students have the skills necessary when they enter the workforce.