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Dr. Anil Srivastava is professor of manufacturing and industrial engineering at UT-Rio Grande Valley.

MCALLEN, RGV – The Rio Grande Valley would be much more attractive to manufacturing companies if it produced engineers who know how to make the tools the manufacturers use, say college leaders.

Hence the collaboration between UT-Rio Grande Valley, South Texas College, and McAllen Economic Development Corporation to start an RGV Tooling Academy and open a center where students can learn their craft.

The center, located at a former manufacturing plant on Military Highway, just west of STC’s technology campus in McAllen, is almost ready. Tooling machines are currently being installed, under the direction of Dr. Anil Srivastava, professor of manufacturing and industrial engineering at UTRGV. Srivastava has been named director of the center.

“We are missing out on having manufacturing companies build their own tools here in the Valley,” said Carlos Margo, interim associate dean in the Office of Industry Training and Economic Development at STC. “Now a lot of these tools, they eventually end up in Reynosa but those tools are being built overseas, in Japan for example.”

“The point is, why can’t companies like Alps, for example, produce and build their own molds and dyes in McAllen and be a couple of miles away from Reynosa where their production facility is?” said Margo.

Plans to create the tooling academy initially began at the behest of Alps Electric president Toshihiro Kuriyama. In 2015, Kuriyama urged representatives from MEDC, STC and the former UT-Pan American to build a facility that would enable the company to manufacture tools locally in Reynosa rather than have them shipped from Japan.

In return, Alps Electric and Canada-based Priority Tooling Solutions have emerged as industry partners in the program, providing experience for students in a real-world setting, Margo said.

“Alps builds all the tools they need for plastic injection molding, but they build them in Japan because that’s where they have their tool-makers. They have to ship them over and eventually they end up in the Reynosa,” Margo said. “It’s not just Alps but any of the companies, it will give them ability to build their own tools and dyes for example in the Valley and supply their Reynosa operations with those tools.”

To date, the tooling academy’s first cohort, which began in Oct. 2015 has completed its first level of certification through the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) credential. The students attend classes in the UTRGV’s College of Engineering manufacturing and engineering program, and the college has committed to another cohort likely by this month or May.

A third cohort is likely planned for the fall, Margo said.

“By the year 2020, I want to graduate 100 tooling engineers. That’s my goal. What that means is somebody, a tooling engineer, will have an engineering degree and will also have tool-making credentials,” Margo said. “That combination is what is in dire need in the Valley. We have companies who are international companies who are constantly telling the MEDC and the college that if we have toolmakers here, they will move their tool-making operations from overseas down to the Valley.”

To date, UTRGV has leased a 40,000 square foot facility near STC’s technology campus in south McAllen for the future home of the tooling academy. The university has established the office space for its director and has invested in large equipment including electronic discharge machines for the facility, which is scheduled to open by this summer.

“We have been planning this for about three years now, and it has taken awhile just because of the complexities, funding is one of those areas,” Margo said. “We also wanted to make sure that the curriculum was representative of what industry actually needed, and also finding the candidates. It’s difficult to commit students to multi-year engineering and tool making study when they aren’t a lot of jobs available. It’s a matter of convincing the students that there are tool-making facilities right now, but there is huge potential for additional companies to move down here once we start advertising and promoting the fact that we are graduating engineering toolmakers.”

Miguel Gonzalez, professor of manufacturing and industrial engineering at UTRGV, has wanted to see a tooling center built in the Valley for many years. He gives credit to the leadership at UTRGV, STC and MEDC for making it happen and to NAAMREI for bringing the tooling academy’s partners together.

NAAMREI stands for North American Advanced Manufacturing, Research & Education Initiative.

“The backbone to having advanced manufacturing in the Rio Grande Valley is tooling. We want to create world class tooling enterprises in the region. We need the region to be a much stronger manufacturing hub,” Gonzalez told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“We will be a lot better off if we have more toolers. Look at the population of tool and dye makers – it is very old. Bottom line: we want sustainable economic prosperity in the Valley. This is what the tooling academy is all about. We look forward to bringing the academy to fruition and making it grow.”

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two part series on the RGV Tooling Academy. Part Two will be posted next week.