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The New Hugh K. Leatherman Advanced Training Center and the Southeratern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology Campus

This is the finest Manufacturing and Technology Campus I have ever seen, said Tom Persons, President of the South Carolna Technology Allianc   This new campus sets a new stanard for our technical college in the United States.  The rapid prototyping, the 3-D Virtual Rality Center is something out of Star Wars.

This campus and the what is offered here is enough to make any person want to get an education.  Congratulations to Sen. Leatherman for his strong support of such an incredible new learning center for our state, which is named after the Senator. Read the following article that recently appeared in the Greater Pee Dee Business Journal


SiMt A Key to the Pee Dee Region's Economic Vitality


By David Shivers (Greater Pee Dee Business Journal, February 2008)


"There is one sole purpose of this institute that we're focusing on, and that's to serve the next generation of manufacturing in the country."

That's how Dr. Charles Gould, president of Florence-Darlington Technical College, concisely describes the mission of the recently-dedicated Hugh K. Leatherman Advanced Training Center of the Southeaster Institute of Manufacturing and Technology (SiMT).  After years of planning, design, and construction, the first phase of the institute is now up and running adjacent to the main campus of FDTC.

            While there has been much in the news, and it is partially the truth, about manufacturing moving abroad to places like China and India, Dr. Gould said, there is also a bit of misunderstanding surrounding what is happening.      

            "Manufacturing is entering into a while different arena," he explained, "a whole different iteration than it's ever been in before, and the thing that's driving it the most is technology.  We're now running plants three shifts using 40 people who are very skilled, whereas before we were running three shifts and employing 300 people.  So yes, productivity is up, and that's one of the reasons."  He went on to say that employment in manufacturing is down, and that technology is one of the reasons it's down.

With SiMT he continued, "What we're going to do is marry ourselves with this new iteration in manufacturing.  We'll provide services, technological training, and technological access for manufacturers and for people who are going to invest in manufacturing over the next five to six to ten years."

Among the aspects currently incorporated into the initial facility are the National Robotics Training Center of Excellence, under contract with the Department of Defense to assist in start-up manufacturing of unmanned devices and vehicles; a 3-D/Virtual Reality Center; a major manufacturing arena housing millions of dollars of really high-tech CDC machinery; and a rapid prototyping manufacturing center, one of only eight in the country, housing equipment that will be able to produce customized products.  "We'll be able to go from the concept to the design to the prototyping to the manufacturing in this facility," explained Gould.

SiMT is designed to be flexible and adaptable.

"We intend to do lots of different things with this particular facility (Phase 1) as it supports the other facilities we will build over the next four or five years," said Gould.

Among the facility's features are a 12,000 ?square-foot conference center that can host small trade shows and specialized presentations.  The flooring is reinforced concrete that "will support anything you want to put on here."  The cavernous lobby can be opened to house machinery, if needed, or host a number of different types of events   And, Gould said. The architects ? Dan Cook Architects of Utah, working locally y with Derek Brown and Joey Goforth ? were asked to "design this facility so we could tear in up in seven years and start over again without taking down the exterior walls."  Most of the cables, he added, are not run through the supporting walls.  "We have the ability to take entire wings and walls out to create different spaces, if we need to, at very small cost."

This year, FDTC has its largest enrollment ever of engineering students, nearly 100, as well as full night and day classes in machining.  Housed primarily in classrooms in the rear of the center, they are the only two curricula in this particular facility, said Gould.  "We can run six to eight separate events in this facility and still carry on a small curriculum of engineering and machining without interfering with whatever else is going on."

With a very large IT section, the Leatherman center will also serve as the hub for both the SiMT and FDTC campuses, as well as the college's off-campus sites.

Some 4,000 square feet of the facility are now occupied by the Florence Economic Development Partnership, which has moved from its downtown county-complex location.

"All the economic development activity that comes to Florence will pass through this facility and through those offices," Gould said.  The Partnership has access to its own conference room and offices, and it will have access to the second-floor executive conference center, which gives them access to communications to be able to talk with potential clients worldwide.  It also gives the Partnership privacy to serves clients in a confidential environment.

The Partnership, which Gould chairs, previously made do in an office that "was put together piecemeal.  Now we have something we can be proud of," said Gould, who expects SiMT to garner a significant amount of economic development interest.

The two-story facility is approximately 177,000 square feet and contains 13 technical training labs, six computer labs, 11 classroom, a 12,000-square-foot conference center, a 750-seat auditorium, a 48,000-square-foot information technology and computer center with fiber optic, networking, and computer hardware and software training labs (all of the building is a wireless zone), four break-out session rooms, and the SiMT date center.

While the SiMT may be identified with FDTC, for the most part it's not a college facility, explained Gould.  "It's an institute to serve the needs of manufacturers, not necessarily in a college environment or curriculum.  If you're in a competitive mode, you don't really have time to work with a schedule that's been around for 600 years. What you need is rapid access to the type of training that you need, to the type of equipment.  You need the tests, you need rapid access to the types of things you want to do in order to be able to market your product.  That's what we're going to be doing in this facility."

Phase 2 of SiMT will include four building ? a manufacturing incubator, an industrial environmental training center, an industrial research and development center, and a business excellence center.  Phase 3, to be completed as demand and funding are available, will finish out the SiMT vision with two more buildings housing a health and safety training facility and a chemical and biological technology center.

The recently-competed Phase 1 is named for Sen. Hugh K. Leatherman, who Gould describes as instrumental in helping provide manufacturing equipment for the facility and for obtaining $6 million in state funding for the project.

SiMT is not just a Florence County activity, according to Jack Roach, SiMT's director.  Neighboring counties are welcome to take advantage of it as well, and with its easily-accessible location from Interstates 20 and 95, SiMT is expected to give the Pee Dee region and the state of South Carolina a distinct advantage in attracting high-tech manufacturing.