AMIIC and Army Partnership with Huntsville City Schools to Develop Future Workforce

(Huntsville, Ala.) Because the nation’s future success relies on a highly-skilled, technologically capable workforce, it is critical that the next generation of workers is prepared for the evolving needs of the manufacturing environment.

The National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM) is aware of the need to cultivate tomorrow’s scientific and engineering expertise. With a clear eye on the establishment of a robust middle and high school-level advanced manufacturing curriculum, the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation and Integration Center (AMIIC), a wholly-owned subsidiary of NCDMM, is supporting a U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center and Huntsville City Schools’ Educational Partnership, which is designed to equip the next generation with advanced manufacturing skills that will support Army modernization priorities.

This partnership provides valuable support that helps students in Huntsville City Schools’ career and technical education program build critically needed advanced manufacturing skills. In 2020, curriculum was added focusing on the implementation of improved capabilities supporting polymer additive manufacturing, advanced machining, and robotics/automation. The program continues to grow, with planned additions including metrology, digital engineering, modeling/simulation, advanced metal fabrication, and Industry 4.0 principles.

Because of the importance and scope of the project, AMIIC is leveraging additional partnerships with secondary academia and NASA, as well as state and local initiatives.

According to NCDMM Director of Manufacturing Technology Mike Docherty, the Army provided generous funding as well as the purchase of technology for Huntsville City Schools, including 3D printers, precision machining equipment including a multi-axis mill and lathe, and robots.

“Fast forward to this year, the Army issued a new project for AMIIC, to buy Huntsville City Schools some additional equipment. So we got them some additional desktop printers, some full-scale 3D printers, and the Army also invested in Huntsville City Schools’ Greenpower racing team to help them compete and get what they need in material and equipment.”

While the skills taught at Grissom High School and Mae Jemison High School overlap, the two schools’ programs differ, with the Mae Jemison program focusing more on drafting and Greenpower and the Grissom program focusing more on projects aligned toward NASA and the space program. Despite their differences, one thing that Career Tech instructors Chris Whaley of Mae Jemison High School and Ricky Washburn of Grissom High School have in common is the passion for sharing the knowledge they gained in the manufacturing and design industries. Another is gratitude for the generous contributions to their programs.

“We cannot afford the materials to run the program without help,” Washburn said. “We have some really good support. Without them, I don’t know what I would do.”

He noted that earlier in the day, one of the school board members came through and asked him how the program was funded. He responded that they have to bring in the community–while the $90/year student fees help with materials, AvMC and AMIIC supplied the equipment.

“This is giving them an amazing introduction to 3D printing that’s being used for flight hardware parts…the industry is using this equipment,” Washburn continued. “They’ve got that training…they understand when there’s a problem, how to troubleshoot, how to fix–this is just giving them that little boost, you know, helping them out.”

Both are also heavily invested in the Greenpower USA program, in which students design, build, and race electric cars using the technologies and knowledge provided in the classroom. “We’re using this car to check a lot of boxes this year,” said Whaley, adding that the Greenpower USA car will be fully custom from the ground up. Whaley noted that Mae Jemison has a dedicated Greenpower class, which he teaches in addition to classes in drafting and robotics.

According to Whaley, the financial contributions of the AvMC and AMIIC have been significant for the Greenpower team, with Army funding through the AvMC enabling his class to buy necessary materials. “All of that is going to give us the ability to have a project-based learning experience here with designing and building this car and hopefully getting to compete with it,” Whaley said.

Next year’s Huntsville Greenpower race will be held at Mae Jemison. Although teams normally get banners at the events, Whaley plans to present the winner with a student-designed 3D-printed trophy.

Both teachers reported a rapid learning curve for the design software used by their classes. Whaley remarked that he sees a range of initial skill levels with his students. “I see students come in that have a natural ability to pick it up and run with it and I see students come in that don’t know how to turn the computer on,” he said, noting that even with the students who enter the classroom with no experience at all, “it doesn’t seem to be a big jump once we get the computer on.”

Washburn also reported that his students picked up the technology quickly, especially the gamers in the class who are already accustomed to operating within the 3D virtual environment. There is one issue that he’s noticed, however: the industry software such as SOLIDWORKS and Solid Edge are Windows based.

Washburn has noticed that while students are very comfortable with phones and app-based programs, they have to be taught to use Windows: “From day one we have to start on even how to create folders, how to save. So we’re sort of losing that and that’s making a little bit more difficult…I’m just noticing more and more [that] anything that’s Windows based, they sort of struggle for a while.”

He observed that the software is changing, though, especially with regard to cloud computing.

According to Washburn, advanced manufacturing has opened new doors. “We used to use 3D printers just to print parts out, just make sure designs looked right, they measured right. Nowadays, with metal printing and all the technology that’s been put into it, we’re able to produce parts in parts–they’re done. They’re ready for inspection.”

“It’s really cool to think that a student or anyone can sit down and make a model and 24 hours later have a part. Machine shops are using this for tooling as well,” he said, noting that instead of milling down a block of aluminum, part designs can be put into Markforged 3D printers and they’ll be ready the next day with the same tensile strength as aluminum.

While the majority of students at both schools are underclassmen, the three seniors in Whaley’s class at Mae Jemison already have solid plans for the future: the two college-bound students plan to major in electrical and aerospace engineering, while a third is planning to enlist in the Army as a materiel management specialist.

In both schools’ programs, the students and teachers alike agree that this program has been transformative, offering new opportunities and achievements that many of the students would not have otherwise experienced. Whaley and Washburn both expressed great excitement regarding the future of advanced manufacturing education in their classrooms, especially with the success they’re already seeing.

Melissa Jackson, program lead for Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Development, DEVCOM AvMC System Readiness Directorate (SRD), is a vested equal partner in the program. “We’re happy to have had the opportunity to allow you guys to benefit from some of the resources that we have available, and there are definitely more where that came from,” Jackson told the class at Mae Jemison High. “You are the leaders of tomorrow, so take advantage of that, and know that you’re needed and these skills that you’re learning now are definitely going to be essential in the future.”

These efforts don’t go unrecognized by the students either. Connor, a student in the Grissom High Drafting and Design Technology class, said that for him, the best thing about this program is the opportunities and experiences it provides for him and his classmates. “A lot of what we focus on in this class is gonna help us not only in our future, our colleges, but it’ll also help us in our future careers.



The Advanced Manufacturing Innovation and Integration Center (AMIIC) was established to accelerate the adoption of state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies and build the Northern Alabama workforce of tomorrow. AMIIC will work to stimulate Alabama’s economy, workforce, and advanced manufacturing sector through its state-of-the-art demonstration facility and a significant expansion of education and workforce development programs available to both students and workers. Based in Huntsville, Ala., AMIIC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM).