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Posted November 18, 2016 | 2:32 PM

High-tech Machines Help Shape Futures of Armwood Students

Hillsborough County coalition is training students to meet the needs of manufacturers

Ray Hutchins and Adam Bell hope to work in the manufacturing industry, and two new cutting-edge fabricating machines at Armwood High School might help them get there.

Ray, an Armwood junior, and Adam, a sophomore, say the high-tech Y-Axis Lathe and Machining Center take shop class to another level. They hope to parlay their budding knowledge of the machines and supporting 3D imaging computers into the foundation of successful careers.

The students, their Machining Technology instructor, school leaders, and local officials recently dedicated the pickup-sized machines installed at the Armwood campus. Traditional shop equipment - planers, lathes, and other hand tools - occupy the same room but seem far removed from the ultra-modern apparatuses that can fashion parts for automotive, military, and medical purposes, among other uses.

Hillsborough County funded the Y-Axis Lathe, and the Hillsborough County School District paid for the Machining Center. Both were acquired under the auspices of the Manufacturing Alliance, a coalition of government, educational, career development, and manufacturing industry entities that aim to ensure there are enough skilled workers to fill open positions in Hillsborough County. The Alliance is spreading the word that modern manufacturing jobs can be just as satisfying and lucrative as occupations stemming from college studies.

"Technology has advanced so much," says Armwood teacher Michael Rendas, who begins his instruction with lessons about shop safety, then moves to use of hand tools, and ultimately tutors students on the new high-tech equipment. After successfully completing three or four years of study, Rendas says, students are familiar with the terminology and equipment, and prepared to be manufacturing apprentices. "This gives them a leg up," he says.

That's the idea behind engineering classes at Armwood and Middleton high schools, and welding courses at Tampa Bay Technical, Jefferson, and Hillsborough high schools: Give students the skills and motivation needed to move seamlessly into advanced training or directly into manufacturing careers.

Ray Hutchins plans to do a hitch in the U.S. Marines, then get a manufacturing position. For now, with the new equipment in place at Armwood, he looks forward to Machining Technology class and has an idea where it might lead him. "We do 3D modeling, then practice machining, then actually make something," he says. "Right now we're building the base of the pyramid."

Photo Information: Adam Bell (left) and Ray Hutchins stand beside the Y-Axis Lathe.