Lorain County Community College recently announced a new partnership with NextFlex, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) Manufacturing Institute, designed to meet the talent needs for our region’s advanced manufacturing industries. NextFlex is one of nine Manufacturing USA institutes developed in the past few years designed to revitalize US manufacturing. NextFlex’s mission is to drive acceleration and adoption of technologies that add electronics to new and unique materials. Other regional partners in the announced program include Team Northeast Ohio (Team NEO), SMART Microsystems, University of Akron College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering, RBB and other Northeast Ohio employers and educators.
NextFlex has lent its support to an innovative workforce development initiative called the Training & Recruitment Accelerated Innovation Network, or TRAIN Ohio. TRAIN Ohio blends school and work into a 21st century “earn and learn” program where companies and educators integrate activities in both space and time. Modeled after successful programs championed by companies such as Toyota and Honda in other areas of Ohio and the country, a pilot of TRAIN Ohio launched at Lorain County Community College in Fall 2016, with a special focus on small to medium innovation companies who are part of the front line of adoption of Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) technology and processes in NE Ohio.
In the TRAIN program, students attend school full-time, participating in class sessions two days per week, and engage in paid work-based learning at a sponsor company three days per week.
“This program will increase the number of people in the talent pipeline while keeping training affordable for students. It recognizes that our success in growing new jobs through innovation rests on strategic and ongoing collaboration with industry, workforce and education partners,” said Marcia Ballinger, Ph.D., president of Lorain County Community College.
This program is already making a difference for students like John Bukovac.
Some health problems were keeping Bukovac from doing his previous job, but with some urging from his cousin Ann Paxton – who is involved with the Micro-Electrical Mechanical Systems (MEMS) program at LCCC – he went to an information session and signed up for the accelerated learn and earn training program a few days later.
MEMS is a technology that consists of electronic components, sensors, mechanical actuators, and structures that are built on a micro and sub micro scale.
Micro¬electronic technology is the manufacturing integration of electronic components and MEMS devices in a functioning circuit or product.
“Classes are fun and incredibly informative, thanks to Professor Johnny Vanderford, who is so enthusiastic and full of energy that you never get bored in class or labs,” Bukovac said. “Each lab is a building block for the next and I am truly amazed almost every class and lab at how the devices, that are so small, can be so complex and sometimes so simple. It truly is a fantastic learning experience and it’s in a growth industry.”
Vanderford called Bukovac a valuable team member in the MEMS lab. Bukovac writes operating procedures or reviews Vanderford’s procedures for semiconductor fabrication, microelectronics packaging, printed circuit board assembly, and microscopy/metrology. Bukovac also keeps detailed inventory of material and monitors the heat and humidity of the clean rooms.
“He is doing all of this while being being trained in Thermosonic wire bonding – one of the more difficult processes to learn,” Vanderford said.
“This has been a great experience and I’m just getting started,” Bukovac enthusiastically said. “I can’t wait to get into classes and labs to learn something new every day. This is a program that I would recommend to anybody who has any interest in how things like how your phone really work.”
The investment by NextFlex provides critical capacity to achieve success with the pilot cohort while creating tools and resources to expand business and educational partners. The goal is to create a sustainable model that is accessible to companies and students throughout Northeast Ohio. The need for these types of creative approaches to education is on the increase. In its report on “The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing, 2015 and Beyond,” the National Manufacturing Institute noted that during the next decade nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled, but with the current skills gap in the population about 2 million of those jobs are expected to go unfilled.
“Providing the future workforce with skills for the next generation of innovative smart devices and systems is critical to grow our driver industries. Team NEO supports the TRAIN Ohio program and the opportunity it presents to enhance our local manufacturers’ ability to keep pace with the constant innovation associated with these advanced products,” states William Koehler, CEO of Team NEO.
The ability to replicate the model will benefit from Lorain County Community College’s leadership of a statewide initiative called the Ohio Technical Skills Innovation Network, or Ohio TechNet, launched in 2014 as the result of a $15 million Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant made to the College on behalf of a statewide consortium of 11 Ohio community colleges, in partnership with nearly 300 employers, state agencies and regional and local workforce and community partners. The TAACCCT initiative, co-administered by the Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Education, is designed to transform the way in which higher education works with employers to better align education and training to in-demand careers.
NextFlex was founded on August 28, 2015, through the execution of a Cooperative Agreement between the U.S. Department of Defense and FlexTech Alliance. A public-private partnership, NextFlex is the seventh Manufacturing Innovation Institute funded through Manufacturing USA to create, showcase, and deploy new capabilities and new manufacturing processes. Learn more at www.nextflex.us.
About Flexible Hybrid Electronics
Once in full production, FHE will usher in a new era of “electronics on everything.” Intelligence will be taken out of the “boxes” or packages associated with traditional electronics like PCs, smartphones and tablets, and transplanted directly onto a variety of surfaces including the human body, enabling an entirely new breed of defense and commercial applications we haven’t imagined. But to develop these enabling FHEs, new manufacturing solutions are required and they come with significant integration challenges. Working alone, it would take years, perhaps decades, and unprecedented amounts of capital for a company to create the infrastructure to support mass production of FHEs. NextFlex, along with its members, is working to rapidly uncover and solve the complex manufacturing issues associated with production of flexible hybrid electronics, and ultimately create a manufacturing infrastructure that can efficiently be spun out to private industry.