Career and technical education students at Elkin High School didn’t know exactly what they were getting into when they loaded on a big white activity bus Friday morning for a trip to InSource Solutions in Davidson. When they headed home in the afternoon, some had in their hands $50 and $25 Amazon gift cards, and all of them received a bag of goodies.
Upon arrival to InSource Solutions, which provides programming for robotic solutions in the manufacturing industry, they were given a review of America’s manufacturing and industrial history by Ann Croom, company president. She explained that by 2025, it is estimated that 2 million jobs will be available in United States manufacturing.
At the same time, 84 percent of manufacturers report a shortage in skilled workforce, and 87 percent say that shortage impact their business’ ability to grow and succeed, she said.
“We take time each year to reach out to the next generation, to introduce you to advanced manufacturing and what it looks like,” Croom told the 20 high-schoolers, ranging from freshmen to seniors.
Her overview of history began in colonial times and moved them through time, highlighting inventions like Eli Whitney’s interchangeable parts for various models of machinery to the potato famine in Ireland and England that brought workers to America ready to build the infrastructure of roads and rails it needed for transporting goods.
After World War II, she said the U.S. had little competition in manufacturing, because much of the European industrial centers like Germany, Japan and Great Britain had been destroyed during the war. So for 20 years, the United States thrived.
“There are a number of reasons you should care about manufacturing,” Croom said. “Number one is jobs.”
She said $2 trillion is contributed to the U.S. economy from manufacturing, and “it has a multiplier effect. InSource is a direct beneficiary of the multiplier effect. They need people focused on automation to help them with their investments.”
Also, the advanced manufacturing jobs in many cases are high paying wages, but there are jobs related to manufacturing as well that are available such as sales and marketing, engineers, designers, researchers.
The second reason people should care, she said, is because 75 percent of the private sector contributes to innovation and research and development.
“The third reason is national security,” said Croom. “We do not need to be isolationists from the rest of the world, but if you are manufacturing military parts, we need in-country expertise.”
The final reason, she said, is “pride of craftsmanship.”
Manufacturing is not just about products like furniture and textiles, though. Croom said it includes clean water, power, gasoline and more.
The students then got a close-up look at InSource’s learning lab, which is like a miniature manufacturing lab, where Kevin Modlin showed them how to operate the robotics via computer software.
Following the automation demonstration, the students were given the task that would keep them busy the rest of the day. They would be broken into teams of five, and those teams would have time to program a rolling robot to move through a maze in the quickest time without touching the sides of the maze area and to create a business plan on what the robot would be designed to do and how to market it.
It took collaboration and work from part of the team members as well as trial and error to get the robots programmed just right, while the other team members spent their time developing a product name, tasks for the robot and a marketing plan.
The teams, which were each assigned a business mentor and a technical mentor from InSource to assist with questions and guidance, then pitched their products to Croom and Rob Bansek, vice president of sales for InSource, who judged the presentations.
The business plan presentations and the timing from the maze completion were combined to determine a winning team, which turned out to be the team of Austin Newman, Anthony Parrett, Holt Jackson, Victoria Slover and Mary Wright. Each member received a $50 Amazon gift card.
In addition, a trivia quiz was completed by the students, and the ones that got all the answers correct were put in a drawing for several $25 Amazon gift cards.
InSource Solutions also provided lunch for the visitors, and as everyone left the company, each one received a bag of goodies manufactured by industries which are customers of InSource, such as pretzels, bandages, pennies from the U.S. Mint, doughnuts and more.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.