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New lab at Southern Regional Tech helps connect students, artificial intelligence

Members of the Georgia Artificial Intelligence in Manufacturing (Georgia AIM) team from the Georgia Institute of Technology met with local partners, manufacturers, and business leaders in Thomasville recently to discuss how investments from the $65 million statewide federal grant can accelerate the transition to automation in manufacturing in South Georgia.

The meeting took place at Southern Regional Technical College, one of the Georgia AIM grant partners.

“This grant is an investment in a better and brighter future for communities all across the state, including Thomasville,” said Danyelle Larkin, educational outreach manager with the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC) at Georgia Tech. “By harnessing the power of AI, we can open up new, better-paying manufacturing jobs while preparing workers and students with the skills they need to succeed in an increasingly high-tech world.”

The meeting highlighted one of the recent developments of the Georgia AIM project: A future lab at Southern Regional Technical College dedicated to manufacturing technology. CEISMC is providing instructional support and curricula, thanks to the program’s expertise in STEM education, while collaborations with other experts at Georgia Tech and the Southwest Georgia community are identifying new technologies and opportunities for jobs in the area.

At the meeting, Aaron Stebner, co-director of Georgia AIM and associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering, talked about the potential for AI to revitalize the economy in areas of the country that have struggled for decades.

“The reason a lot of the manufacturers are coming back and growing in the U.S. is because the automation and the AI creates a logistics model that makes it advantageous again to manufacture in the U.S. instead of overseas,” he said. Stebner also talked about how AI is automating many jobs “that humans just don’t want to do anymore and creates more space for the creative jobs that tend to create better internal motivation and higher pay.”

In addition to talking with local manufacturers and touring their facilities, Stebner participated in the Thomasville-Thomas County Chamber Connects panel discussion “Scary Smart: How AI Can Drive Your Business” with Jason Jones, president/CEO of S&L Integrated and Haile McCollum, founder and creative director of Fountaine Maury. The panel was hosted by Katie Chastan of TiskTask, a local workforce development company that is a partner in the Georgia AIM project.

During the meeting, SRTC announced the creation of a new Precision Machining and Manufacturing Lab on its Thomasville campus with an anticipated opening in the fall of 2024. The lab will host two new programs, including Precision Machining & Manufacturing and Manufacturing Engineering Technology. The Georgia AIM grant provided $499,000 in funding for the lab, as well as staffing support.

“A lab for precision manufacturing at Southern Regional Technical College breathes innovation into Thomasville’s existing industry, fueling their growth and ensuring they stay at the cutting edge of technology and competitiveness,” said Shelley Zorn, executive director of the Thomasville Payroll Development Authority. “The result is a stronger industry base and higher paying jobs for Thomas County citizens and the region. It is also a wonderful recruiting tool for new advanced manufacturing partners.” .

This could lead to new jobs for the region that reflect the roles that AI automation can create.

“As we heard from the industries gathered at the table, there is a big need for predictive and prescriptive maintenance from our industries,” added Vic Burke, vice president of academic affairs at Southern Regional Technical College. “Our manufacturers are automating more processes, which means fewer low-paying assembly jobs and more higher paying technician jobs.”

–Randy Trammell, CEISMC Communications