Gene Haas Foundation Partners with DOD and Others to Kick-off ProjectMFG Advanced Skills Competition

In early 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) contacted Haas Automation to discuss the current state of American manufacturing. Through meetings at Haas in Oxnard and at IMTS in Chicago, they made clear their concerns that, in time of war or duress, American manufacturers could struggle to meet this country’s advanced manufacturing needs.

It’s no secret that the United States has lost a large number of machine shops over the past 30 years, as companies moved their production overseas in search of low-cost labor. This loss of U.S. machine shops has resulted in a corresponding loss of skilled workers with advanced manufacturing skills. With the understanding that Haas Automation’s customers – precision machine shops – are an important part of the manufacturing base, we joined with the DOD and several organizations, including the National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS) and the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT), to begin planning a series of national competitions aimed at expanding advanced manufacturing skills. Our goal was to increase the pipeline of highly skilled manufacturing-based workers to meet the needs of American businesses. It was agreed that the first competition would focus on 5-axis machining and precision welding.

Work putting together everything for the first trial competitions began at the end of 2018. NIMS was given the biggest job: to create the competition rules, and design the parts to be machined and welded. The AMT was instrumental in coordinating much of the logistics, and identifying companies to provide support materials and machinery. With the help of AMT’s Marketing Department, we came up with a name for the competition: ProjectMFG.

With funding from the DOD and the Gene Haas Foundation – as well as in-kind contributions from Haas Automation, Lincoln Electric, Mastercam, Jergens, Zeiss, NIMS, AMT, Phillips Corp, Morris Group, and others – the first competition kicked-off on April 26, 2019.

Auburn, Alabama

The first competition was held at an off-campus facility near Auburn University in Alabama. Two weeks before the competition, applications engineers at Haas received a call from NIMS, asking for help proving out the first competition parts. Haas Automation’s Mark Terryberry machined the parts on a Haas UMC-750, uncovering a few “issues” in the process, which led to improvements in the part design and processes.

Less than two weeks before the competition, Haas shipped two brand-new UMC-750s to the Auburn facility. Once on site, the Haas Factory Outlet in Alabama (a Division of Phillips Corporation) took over, and in a matter of days, Manager Ken Potts and Applications Engineer Chris Molle had the machines ready to make parts.

On April 26, four teams from various educational institutions across Alabama gathered in Auburn to prove their advanced manufacturing skills in the first competition. The competition “part” actually is an assembly that requires 3-axis machining, 5-axis machining, and precision welding. The teams were given a series of part drawings, from which they had to generate G-code programs using Mastercam. Once the programs were generated, competitors moved to the UMC-750s to machine the parts, and the completed parts were sent a Zeiss CMM for inspection. Two of the machined parts had to be welded together for the final assembly, so they were sent to the Lincoln welders, where teams were judged on their precision aluminum welding skills.

At the end of two days of competition, everyone – competitors and observers alike – gathered, as the winning team was awarded a $5000 prize, and the second-place team received $2000.

Meridian, Mississippi & Lafayette, Louisiana

For the second round of competition, The Morris Group’s Toni Neary was instrumental in leveraging Meridian Community College and Haas Factory Outlet-Lafayette as the two competition sites. Morris Group’s Service and Applications Engineers, Brandon Childress and Brian Berard, were on site at both locations, and went above and beyond to make both competitions a success. The Mississippi competition took place May 10-11, and the Louisiana competition took place May 29-30.

The rules for ProjectMFG allow teams from both education and industry to compete. In competition #2, teams from two manufacturing firms took part: Zavation, a medical device manufacturer, and Eaton Aerospace. Zavation took first place in a close competition. Two teams from education took part in the Louisiana competition, one from Wallace State in Alabama, and one from LSU. The LSU team took top honors.

Throughout the competition, visitors from local business, education, and the community were part of the audience. Representatives from Haas Automation, Phillips Corp., and the Morris Group had an opportunity to spread the word about HTEC, and discuss the need for more advanced manufacturing training across the country.

As a result of this first competition, Haas Automation, the Gene Haas Foundation, and our HFO network are seriously considering re-upping their commitments for the next round of competitions, which could see as many as a dozen competitions across the country, drawing teams from 20 to 30 states. Prize money will likely be increased to $25,000 or more, and marketing/social media efforts will be stepped up. The goal is to grow awareness of the importance of advanced manufacturing, ultimately driving more high-level training across the country, while attracting students to new careers. Early indications are that ProjectMFG has the potential to make a difference. Look for ProjectMFG to make a showing somewhere near you in the next year. We’ll keep you advised of the next round of competitions.