Estimating a need for more than 400 injection molding workers in northwest Alabama over the next two years, Northwest-Shoals Community College is fast-tracking an injection molding technology program that will start this fall.
The program comes at a time when two area automotive suppliers are planning to put up new facilities to support the efforts of North American Lighting Inc., an automotive headlamp and signal lamp manufacturer with a plant in Muscle Shoals, Ala.
“We're excited — it definitely was industry driven. They came to us and said that they can't find enough qualified people,” said Rose Jones, associate dean of workforce development at Northwest-Shoals.
She said leadership from the college and from local companies got together, talked about what was needed, visited a similar program in a nearby state and reworked it to meet their needs.
Jones said it took a matter of months, but they were able to find space on campus and already have built the framework to offer courses. They are still working out details but state, local industry and the community have been receptive to the program, which is approved by the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education.
The short-term certificate program includes 27 credit hours of course work that can be completed in three semesters and includes cooperative experience requirements. It will cover such areas as mold setting, processing, 3-D modeling, hydraulics and pneumatics, and robotics.
The course is offered through the Machine Shop Technology program on the Shoals campus. Fall term begins Aug. 19.
“The auto industry throughout the U.S., and especially in the Southeast, is growing now and we want to facilitate the growth of this type of industry in this part of the state,” said Shoals Economic Development Authority President Forrest Wright.
Wright noted that the program will help fuel the growth of firms like CBC Group, North American Lighting Inc., Tasus Corp. and Tri-Cities Manufacturing Inc.
Tasus, an auto supplier based in Bloomington, Ind., is building a $19 million, 104,000-square-foot plant in Florence, Ala., that is scheduled to open in October.
CBC plans to construct a $24 million plant adjacent to North American Lighting's Muscle Shoals plant to injection mold parts for that company. It is expected to be completed in 2016.
Tri-Cities, in Tuscumbia, has been around since 1969, but has moved from being a Tier 1 automotive supplier to focus more on the motor-home industry, according to General Manager Don Sharp. It does molding and contract manufacturing. Tri-Cities has 15 injection presses with clamping forces up to 650 tons.
Sharp marveled at how quickly the program was set up and said it will help all local manufacturers.