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Technology Reshapes Manufacturing in Eastern North Carolina

Learn how the hum of 3-D printing and other advanced manufacturing activities has replaced much of the sound of textile production in Eastern North Carolina.

By Bill Lewis on September 2, 2016

Greenville, NC
Greenville / Courtesy of Domtar

The hum of 3-D printing and other advanced manufacturing activities has replaced much of the sound of textile production in Eastern North Carolina, where manufacturers are investing millions of dollars in the latest technologies and a workforce of technically trained innovators is preparing for the high-paying jobs of the future. The region builds on its rich tradition in manufacturing to meet the technology-driven needs of the future, says Don Magoon, vice president of Wayne Community College, where the Wayne Works Advanced Manufacturing Center has been established.

“Eastern North Carolina can position itself to grow a higher-technology workforce and attract new industry,” Magoon says.

Manufacturers of HVAC equipment, automobile components, hygiene products, filters and other products are growing across the region. In Beaufort County, filter manufacturers, including Camfil Farr, Clarcor, Flanders Corp., Oak Ridge Industries, Linton Industries Inc. and P&G Manufacturing Inc. employ more than 1,000 workers, and have established international reputations for excellence.

In addition to companies in the filtration industry, numerous companies are involved in metalworking and fabrication, including Carver Machine Works, Hackney, Pungo Machine and XS Smith. These companies provide a breadth and depth to the workforce that empower the filtration companies to innovate in their operations.

Job-Ready Workforce

“Beaufort County, unlike many counties in the U.S., still has a large manufacturing sector, with over 17 percent of the workforce in manufacturing and 27 percent of the wage base,” says Martyn Johnson, county economic development director. “This creates a workforce and economy that understands and supports manufacturing.”

Other growing manufacturers of non-woven products in the region include Attends Healthcare in Greenville, Domtar in Washington County, LiveDo in Wilson and DSM Dyneema in Greenville, which produces high-strength, high-tech fibers for the medical and defense industries. AR Textiles Ltd. is building a $12 million manufacturing facility in Martin County, where it is creating 38 new jobs.

Manufacturers across the region are investing millions of dollars to equip their plants with the latest technologies. Examples include ASMO Greenville of North Carolina, which produces highly automated automotive motors. The company completed a $50 million expansion. Bridgestone Americas is investing $164 million in its Wilson plant to boost tire production. Linamar Corp. is upgrading Wilson’s former Carolina Forge plant to produce engines and transmissions.

Community colleges in the region are providing specialized training to prepare the workforce for manufacturing’s high-tech future. At Wayne Community College, the Wayne Works Advanced Manufacturing Center will carry out that mission. In addition, Craven, Nash, Edgecombe and Pitt counties have machining centers.

Partnerships for Success

The Wayne Works Advanced Manufacturing Center is a partnership between Wayne Community College, the County of Wayne, the Wayne County Development Agency (WCDA) and Impact Wayne, the private investment arm of WCDA.

“The center will be an important asset for Wayne County in attracting new business and industry as well as supporting existing business and industry,” Magoon says.

Partnerships between colleges and private enterprise have an important role in preparing the workforce of the future. For example, Keihin Carolina System Technology, a leading electronic assemblies manufacturer based in Tarboro, is working closely with East Carolina University (ECU) to provide scholarships and hands-on experience for students. ECU’s new Innovation Design Lab will help students develop skills to compete for jobs in advanced manufacturing sectors and give them opportunities to collaborate with local industries on projects as well as attain professional certifications. The lab includes a MakerBot Innovation Center for 3-D printing, design and rapid prototyping training. The innovation center is the first in North Carolina and one of only three in the entire Southeast.

“Working in collaboration with industry, ECU builds students’ skills, knowledge and abilities, strengthening the region’s education-to-workforce pipeline,” says Wayne Godwin, director of the Innovation Design Lab.

The university also is participating in a workforce development program funded by the Duke Energy Foundation to address the growing demand for innovators in high-skill, high-pay pharmaceutical and other advanced manufacturing careers across the region.

“Empowering a new creative class, The MakerBot Innovation Center is to be a place where students from diverse programs can come together to apply the power of desktop 3-D printing to their studies and interests and learn about creating a product or idea from inception to design to production,” Godwin says.

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