$1 Million Academic Coater Unveiled

MARTINSVILLE, VA (August 20, 2015) - A $1 million, one-of-a-kind machine that will provide hands-on experience for students pursuing careers in the performance film industry was unveiled Thursday, August 20, at the New College Institute (NCI).

The “academic coater” machine will be used by local students in the Center for Advanced Film Manufacturing (CAFM), as well as for professional training for Eastman employees, outside performance film industry experts, and others in the related fields of coating and laminating. Future uses include seminars, workshops and programs that will draw participants from around the U.S.  and beyond, according to Leanna Blevins, acting director of NCI. “We are really excited to have all of our CAFM partners coming together to utilize this unique piece of equipment,” she said. “NCI, Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC), Eastman, and the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corporation (EDC), are already discussing what we can do next to continue the momentum.”

The academic coater was demonstrated to the public at Thursday’s event. U.S. Senator Tim Kaine was among the speakers. The equipment was purchased with $750,000 in state funds. The federal Economic Development Administration and The Harvest Foundation covered the rest of the $1 million cost.

The coater was created by Optimation Technologies near Rochester, N.Y. It was built there, disassembled and trucked to Martinsville, arriving July 13, said Ralph Schultz, a senior engineer with Eastman who is the company’s liaison to CAFM and an adjunct faculty member at PHCC. Since then, it has been reassembled and readied for training programs to begin in September.

The machine combines performance film coating, drying, lamination and web dynamics, which involves the transport of film through the process, said Schultz, who helped design the machine and the curriculum for the Center for Advanced Film Manufacturing.

The equipment is unique because it combines the film manufacturing processes used in a real production facility with academics for workforce training, according to Schultz. It will teach students how to design and produce a product. It is set up at NCI just as it would be at Eastman, except for the academic component, Schultz said. “Our intention is to train a person to go from school or from a job to a new job,” he added. Also, the academic coater is a water-based process and safe for students.

The Center for Advanced Film Manufacturing, launched in April 2014, was created to provide customized training programs for the performance film industry. Students who successfully complete the 28-credit CAFM curriculum are awarded the Advanced Film Technology Certification from PHCC. Classes are taught at PHCC and NCI, and students complete a paid internship through Eastman. After graduating from the program, students are guaranteed a job interview at Eastman. While 20% of the program incorporates customized training in advanced film manufacturing, 80% of the curriculum is applicable in any advanced manufacturing setting.

In the first year of the program, CAFM had a 92% job placement rate with the first 12 students completing the program this past spring. Another 6 students are currently finishing their internships at Eastman.   They have all been extended contingent employment offers by Eastman.  These first year students were taught on equipment donated by Eastman and its subsidiary, Commonwealth Laminating and Coating. Recruiting is under way for the second group of students, with classes to begin in late August. Those students will be the first to use the new academic coater at NCI.

In the future, as the Center for Advanced Film Manufacturing grows, the coater’s uses also are expected to expand. In November, Dr. Kevin Cole of Optimation Technologies will be the first outside expert scheduled to come and teach using the academic coater, Schultz said. Similar programs are expected to be held in the future. “Part of the uniqueness of this coater is that it offers a wide array of tailored training options for entry level operators up to expert engineers in performance films, and it’s also suitable for in-depth training in the related fields of laminating and coating,” he added.

The Martinsville-Henry County area has the largest concentration of performance film manufacturing in North America, Blevins said. To serve that industry, the Center for Advanced Film Manufacturing was created by NCI, PHCC, Eastman Chemical Co., Commonwealth Laminating and Coating, now a subsidiary of Eastman, and the Martinsville-Henry EDC. “The team spent a lot of time understanding the needs of the performance film industry and aligning education with those needs,” Blevins said. “The resulting Center for Advanced Film Manufacturing is a model of how education serves the needs of our local industry, and our local citizens looking to start or further their careers,” she said.

The new academic coater machine is also part of the Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence, a designation awarded to NCI by the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission. Also involved in the Center of Excellence are Patrick Henry Community College, and the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville.