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New manufacturing hub means more space, more students

‘So much cool stuff you can make’ 

Photos by Dianne Carroll Burdick

Kent ISDKent Education Center senior Logan Scott said one of the best benefits this year at Kent Career Tech Center was the new manufacturing hub that brought together four programs: welding, engineering, precision machining and mechatronics.

He could see while attending the Tech Center’s engineering program how housing the other three manufacturing programs at the Tech Center West facility (formerly the Kent Transition Center) gave a better understanding of how different programs work together.

“It all makes sense,” he said. “It allows us to have more collaborations between the different programs so we can see how what we draw in engineering is translated into a product, such as the CO2 cars we built through a friendly competition with mechatronics.”

Byron Center junior Sophia Tessmer grinds a piece of steel down in the precision machining class

Bringing the four programs together under one roof enables students to collaborate, communicate and problem solve together, Tech Center Principal Joseph Lienesch said.

“In a manufacturing setting, all of these different jobs would be housed in one building, so (for example) an engineer would be able to walk down to the welding area and talk to someone there about a project,” he said. “It made sense that we offered the same opportunity to our students.”

Expanding for Growth, Demand

The $6 million project involved an extensive renovation of the Tech Center West facility. This allowed for the mechatronics and engineering to move from the Tech Center East — on the school’s main campus — and precision machining, from Grand Rapids Community College.

Rockford senior Hailey Smith with her cactus sculpture she was creating in the welding program

“When we started precision machining, we had to go where the machines were available because the machines are very expensive,” Lienesch said. “Through this opportunity, we were able to purchase the machines and bring the program back to the Tech Center campus.”

The expansion also allows for program growth, Lienesch said the Tech Center has experienced increased demand for many of its career pathways. About 30 different programs are offered in fields such as manufacturing, health, criminal justice, culinary and auto. Lienesch said he expects to see continued growth as interest in trade skills increases.

All the manufacturing programs now have nearly double the student capacity. There is also all new industry standard equipment, Lienesch said, adding that for employers, that means little to no training required, as students will already have hands-on experience with equipment used in the field. 

Getting Hands-On in Mechatronics

Both labs, which are right across from each other, feature large glass walls for observation as students work. The Tech Center’s second, new mechatronics lab has the second-largest collection of Universal Robots in the nation, said instructor Travis Raspotnik, as well as several Epson Robots. Both robots are used in several manufacturing fields such as automotive, electronics and pharmaceuticals. 

Kent City junior Landon Vankoevering, who participated in the mechatronics program, said the new lab is more spacious than the old one, allowing students to spread out more and to collaborate on projects.  Landon said he viewed the old lab during a Tech Center tour when he was considering the mechatronics program.

Forest Hills Eastern junior Simon Zwartz shows the pen holder he made on the Epson SCARA that is located in the mechatronics workspace

“I liked the hands-on aspect,” Landon said of his reason for selecting mechatronics, which is a combination of machine and electrical engineering. “I am hoping next year to do the internship, which will give me the opportunity to work in a company and explore what kinds of jobs you can do in this field.”

Across the hall, Forest Hills Eastern High junior Simon Zwart was working with his team to program an Epson SCARA that will build a pen holder. 

“We have cut signs for graphics,” Simon said. The space provides access to a number of machines, which he added has allowed him to experiment and learn about the different machines and their capabilities. 

Down the hallway is a welding area, in its same location as previously but now in twice the space, with more welding bays and work areas.

Rockford senior Hailey Smith, who plans to pursue welding in the Navy, said her time in the mechatronics program has allowed her to explore other manufacturing areas, including having worked on an oil and collection container in mechatronics.

A Place to Call Home

Down the hall from the welding area is precision machining, which has a showcase of completed items such as chess pieces, a cribbage board and various logos. Farther down is an expanded engineering room.

“It has been great to have our own space,” said precision machining instructor Jon Sarver. “If a student is working on a project, we are able to leave the machines set up so that they can continue where they left off when they return to class.”

Sarver said he looks forward to seeing how the program grows in students served and opportunities offered.

Grandville senior Nick Lashuay plans to pursue a construction career, and said working with different metals and seeing how precision machining works has given him a better understanding of the materials he may use one day. 

“It has been a great space,” Nick said. “There is just so much cool stuff you can make through this program, so I wanted to give the class a try.”

Read more from Kent ISD: 
New commercial kitchen ready to teach the next top chefs
Future health care pros sample multiple career focuses

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio


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