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‘Evangelists of innovation’
PHCC, Arrington partner for production, education
Eric Hruza, president and chief executive officer of Arrington Performance, and Dr. Angeline Godwin, president of Patrick Henry Community College, standing in the engine dyno room at Arrington that is used by the PHCC motorsports program. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
(Editor’s note: This is the second part of two-story package on Arrington Performance and PHCC’s plan to buy the buildings and land where it is located. Sunday’s story looked at how Arrington has adapted to find its niche and keep people working.)
It is difficult to talk about Patrick Henry Community College’s vision to expand its motorsports program and not mention Arrington Performance.
The missions of the two entities are different but intertwined and somewhat dependent on one another for their success through a partnership on an advanced manufacturing program that will help shape the future.
“We are evangelists of innovation. We’ve got it in our blood,” Dr. Angeline Godwin, president of Patrick Henry Community College, said Thursday.
She spoke from part of the 54,000-square-foot building that includes not only classrooms for a new mechatronic program, but also enormous opportunities for real-life applications in Arrington Performance, which also is housed in the building.
Mechatronic “bridges the world between electronics, mechanical engineering and everything in between,” she said. “We co-habitate with the manufacturing and the training going on in the same environment” and in real time.
PHCC’s board will consider spending $5.5 million today to buy the building which houses Arrington Performance as well as the remaining Arrington Manufacturing land and buildings. If approved, the college will expand its motorsports facility and house the new mechatronics and some other workforce development programs there.
Arrington Manufacturing owns the 54,000- and 51,000-square-foot buildings and nearly 13.5 acres in the Patriot Centre Industrial Park, near PHCC’s 137-acre campus. The PHCC motorsports program has been housed in the smaller building since 2005. The other building — which was the home of Arrington Manufacturing — has been occupied by Arrington Performance since 2006.
Arrington Performance leases its space, according to Eric Hruza (pronounced Herza), president and CEO of the company. It will continue to build hemispherical combustion chamber (HEMI) engines and custom performance parts for late model American muscle cars, classics and hot rods applications in the leased space once the purchase is final, he said.
PHCC’s relationship with the performance company will be a “vertically integrated partnership because this is a vertically integrated company,” Godwin said. “It goes from concept to ecommerce sales, and we’re trying to create a program that responds to that and has endless opportunities.”
The mechatronics program is the “first great fit” for the partnership, she said. “We will be looking for other areas. One area we’re very interested in is collaboration and instrumentation, so that may be in the future.”
For now, “this is the sweet spot,” Godwin said of a machine that is making a custom part needed by the performance company.
The machine was programmed to create the part by an employee such as Ian Major, a PHCC graduate who interned at the performance company before he was hired there full time, Hruza said.
There are basically two steps to tool pathing, which is the process of programming a computer to tell the machine the path it needs to take to build the new part.
The first step is design, “but that’s not done on a drafting table. It’s done in a computer and builds a 3-D design of what you want to be made,” Hruza said. The design shows up on the screen, and a plastic prototype is made using the Fab Lab, he said.
“When I get the part, it’s completed the design and model (prototype), and I have to create the lines and arcs” which show up on the computer screen, Major said.
That information is communicated to the machine that is housed in a large chamber, and the machine then creates the part, Major said. When the process is put in motion, the part is created on the screen, and adjustments can be made, if needed, before the directions are sent to the machine.
“It’s a choreographed dance. It’s pre-programmed every time,” Hruza said of the tool pathing process, which essentially is making “a performance part that never existed before. Boutique manufacturing, that’s what we call it.”
Although PHCC partners with the performance company, Godwin said college students can use the advanced manufacturing training and skills they acquire from the programs in a number of different manufacturing applications and “regardless of where they go,” she said.
“We also plan to have opportunities” for employees at local industries such as Solutia, a subsidiary of Eastman Chemical Co., and Commonwealth Laminating, Godwin said. “There’s a lot of synergy there, a lot of things are similar from the mechanical side.”
Retaining the talent pool also will help Martinsville and Henry County attract high-tech businesses, Hruza said.
Students interested in the program generally are “not only good with their hands but also highly technical,” Godwin said. “We are creating a pipeline to train and educate a student, but we are doing that concurrently” and based on the needs of local industries.
For instance, an employee at the performance company working on a new product or with a new customer “can cycle back through” PHCC if more training is needed to assume new duties, Godwin said.
Programs offered by PHCC also will be nimble enough to respond to changes needed by industry demand, Godwin said.
“Having a facility like this allows us to do just-in-time custom training. We’re not limited by the traditional semester,” she said. The approach “allows the businesses and industries in the community to tell us ‘This is what we need now.’ And that’s the future,” Godwin said.
“Our goal is to put out the most highly skilled quality employees we can while giving them” opportunities for future training, Godwin said. “We always want our students (and their training) to be relevant.”