BELTON — The mechanical whir of machines creating parts buzzed at Stratasys Direct Manufacturing.
Beeps, sawing and banging rang through at the TRU manufacturing plant as workers wearing hard hats and protective glasses assembled homes.
These were the sights and sounds that more than 30 Belton High School Career and Technical Education students experienced firsthand while visiting two manufacturing facilities located here.
“This is in their backyard. We’re showing them they can do this,” said Michelle Delongchamps, a college and career advisor at the Belton High.
The Belton Economic Development Corp. coordinated the tours to mark Manufacturing Day, and to show students local jobs and opportunities.
“Back in the old days, some of the manufacturing jobs were perceived as not being a really great place to work,” Cynthia Hernandez, Belton EDC executive director, told the students. “The reality is there are some really great jobs out there. If you like to build things, if you like to make things, if you like to be creative, there’s all sorts of opportunities in manufacturing occupations.”
The tour revealed a side of Belton the students had not experienced before.
“You all had a behind-the-scenes tour that a lot of people in our community have not had the chance to see,” Hernandez said.
‘That was pretty cool’
Stratasys is a 3D-printing company located in the Belton Business Park off of Loop 121. It makes parts for companies around the globe. The parts are used to drill into the ground and even keep satellites in space operational.
“It’s important that students today know that there are bright careers in their future within this industry — from design and craftsmanship to programming and engineering,” Lewis Simms, a Stratasys solutions marketing manager, said in a statement. “The manufacturing sector is an integral part of our economy and home to a vibrant workforce today and for the next generation as well.”
Students saw the two processes Stratasys uses to make parts — additive and subtractive manufacturing.
Additive manufacturing is when a part is built from the ground up with a material such as plastic or metal. Students peered into 3D printers, watching a laser quickly move back and forth as it created a gizmo.
“You can see the lasers cutting the metal. That was pretty cool,” junior Josh Roberts said.
Subtractive manufacturing is self explanatory: A steel block — or other material — is placed in a machine that mills it to the shape a company wants.
One machine students watched intently had a large metal block being blasted with high-pressure water to form it into a part.
Building a house
Over at TRU — catty-cornered from Belton High School on Sparta Road — students watched men and women build houses. About 500 people work at the TRU manufacturing facilities in Belton.
Plant manager Jerry McCartney stood in front of a television in a conference area on the second floor of TRU.
He told the students Stratasys is more of an automated, high-tech facility. TRU, though, is rooted deeply in techniques pioneered by Henry Ford, he said.
Homes are built on an assembly line. Everyone at the plant specializes in a specific task and repeats it eight hours a day, Monday through Friday.
“It’s like a Home Depot,” Mitchell Hill, an agriculture and welding teacher, said, walking down metal stairs to the floor of the facility.
The houses start with a base being placed on a metal frame. Workers stuff insulation, install pipes for water and sewer, and wire it for electricity.
The base, which sits on wheels, is then pulled with a metal chain to the next station. There, linoleum is stretched across the entire floor and secured to the frame.
Interior walls go up followed by exterior walls.
The interior begins to take shape, with cabinets, sinks, toilets and other finishing details installed.
On the outside, a roof is placed, and workers add windows and trimming before painting the home.
This process was fascinating to senior Holley Bailey.
“I used to be in construction work and building stuff. I love building stuff,” she said. “This place is so interesting because it shows us step by step how to build a trailer house.”
Holley always has loved using her hands to build. It’s a personal activity for her.
“I started building when I was younger with my grandfather before he passed,” she said, adding they used to build sheds together.
Senior Codey Legore also liked the TRU facility.
“My favorite part was going to TRU mobile homes and looking at how their homes are actually inexpensive so consumers can buy them and not have to worry too much about it,” he said.
‘Connect the dots’
Checking out TRU and Stratasys, Hernandez said, is a way for the community to help students determine their future.
“Everyone is trying to figure out what is that thing you want to do when you grow up. We’re trying to help you connect the dots and put all of that information in front of you,” she said. “I’m sure you guys have heard this time and time again: The reality is you are our future. Our businesses are depending on you guys to fill these jobs. Beyond that, our businesses are depending on you guys and your creativity and what you’re going to bring into the work force.”