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The future of work, employees

NWTC unveils reimagined engineering technology and business spaces

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September 23, 2022

GREEN BAY – As companies continue to usher in a new wave of automation and digitization, the skills and tools needed to accomplish everyday tasks are evolving with it.

In an effort to help support continuous industry change, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) recently unveiled two newly transformed spaces at its Green Bay campus that gives students, area businesses and community members access to Industry 4.0 technologies – which refers to a new phase focused heavily on interconnectivity, automation, machine learning and real-time data.

Dr. Jeff Rafn, NWTC president, said the reimagined and redesigned Engineering Technologies Atrium and College of Business entrance – which was officially unveiled Sept. 13 – showcases the college’s effort to evolve as needs change.

“This is an exciting thing,” he said. “Not that long ago, the term Industry 4.0 wasn’t well known. We are living in a revolution of digitization across all industries. As educators, we must meet the changing needs of the industries and communities we serve.”

Rafn said the 4,500-square-foot renovation provides experiential workspaces for students, including an augmented reality/virtual reality experiential learning lab, interactive industry kiosks, an additive manufacturing lab and an artificial intelligence emotive response kiosk.

“It’s important we demonstrate how all elements of Industry 4.0 fit together and we create central areas where students can learn and work together, collaboratively and innovatively,” he said. “As technology advances in all industries, NWTC remains committed to staying connected with our industry partners to ensure high-quality and high-skilled training opportunities are available.”

Rafn said the atrium renovations are an essential component of NWTC’s training for students and the community.

“Our vision was to create a space where our students and public could see what’s emerging in technology and see if they want to engage in it,” he said. “We want people to visit and walk away excited about the future. The (Northeast Wisconsin) area has one of the greatest concentrations of manufacturing in the United States, and in the world. We have to stop saying manufacturing is dead – it’s different and growing. Manufacturing jobs are good jobs.”

The 4,500-square-foot renovation provides experiential workspaces for students, including an augmented reality/virtual reality experiential learning lab, interactive industry kiosks, an additive manufacturing lab and an artificial intelligence emotive response kiosk. Garrett Dietz Photo

Rafn said the renovations at NWTC were designed by Wild Blue, a De Pere firm specializing in category innovation strategies, branded environments and virtual experiences.

“We’re thrilled to continue to work with NWTC, where we have employed many of their talented graduates,” Will Van Epern, Wild Blue Technologies partner, said. “This partnership was a terrific opportunity for us to help create an environment where we can encourage students to pursue new and emerging careers needed to support growth and innovation in Northeast Wisconsin.”

Van Epern said NWTC’s program is “fantastic.”

“As our company struggles to find employees of the future, it’s great NWTC is rising up and meeting that challenge,” he said. “They are training our workforce. I’m blown away with how the renovation turned out.”
 
Future manufacturing employee
Oakley Ripp, a first-year prototype and design student at NWTC, said even though he grew up 30 minutes west of Madison, he came to NWTC because he had heard good things about the program.

“We had a few 3D printers at my high school (Wisconsin Heights), and that got me wanting to come to NWTC,” he said. “I like to work with my hands, make mock-ups and actual products. I’m very interested in the 3D-modeling aspect of things.”

Ripp’s program is a two-year associate degree but said he might pursue more schooling after he obtains his degree.

“My big, overreaching plan is to create my own 3D-printing farm,” he said. “That could be anything from freelance, mass production and 3D printing for large-scale companies. I’ll have to get my mechanical design degree, but NWTC can help me get there.”

Ripp said 3D printing is taking a 3-dimensional object from the computer and bringing it to life.

“You can choose whichever medium you want,” he said. “You can use a synthetic resin, plastics, metal or carbon fiber – you can do so much with it.”
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The 3D printing lab allows students to take a three-dimensional object from the computer and bring it to life. Garrett Dietz Photo

Ripp said he’s impressed by the atrium renovations.

“I love it,” he said. “I love that they have all these 3D-printing objects put on display – you can touch them and feel them with your hands. You can look at all the different machines. Not many realize the range of 3D printing.”

Ripp said he did have some preconceived notions about attending a technical college, versus a four-year school.

“The cost of four-year universities is getting out of control,” he said. “You hear many things about technical colleges – they’re not as hard, you don’t learn as much or you don’t get as much out of them. NWTC has all the tools I’ll need for the future. I get hands-on learning here, and the accessibility is great.”

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