PRIME High Schools, a Dream Resource for Manufacturers

The SME Education Foundation is retooling and building the pipeline with technically skilled workers as high school students begin manufacturing products in the classroom through its
PRIME advanced manufacturing education program.

DEARBORN, Mich., (March 4, 2013) — Mighty oaks from little acorns grow – or, great things often have small beginnings. The crumbling pipeline of technically skilled workers for advanced manufacturing is literally being re-tooled as business, industry and academia form partnerships and accelerate their collaborative efforts to provide funding, equipment, mentoring, teacher training and co-op programs. The manufacturing sector is on the upswing and public perception of manufacturing as a career is more positive as students see first-hand of what they are capable – making things.

“We know we’re on the right track,” says Bart A. Aslin, CEO, SME Education Foundation. “There are greater numbers of students beginning to manufacture products of value, earning technical certification, college credit and in some instances, working part-time for local manufacturers to help pay for their continuing education at a local college or technical school, and being hired by those same manufacturers as full-time employees.”

PRIME (Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education), a major national initiative of the Foundation, takes a community-based approach to advanced manufacturing education and is creating strong partnerships between exemplary schools, businesses and organizations. Funding has had a measureable effect as students begin to apply their advanced manufacturing skills. 

Case in point: Wheeling High School, in a small town just outside of Chicago, has a newly-equipped fabrication, prototyping lab rivaling local manufacturing companies and a cadre of engineering students who are quickly becoming advanced manufacturing savvy. The new lab provides students interested in engineering, architecture, and manufacturing with hands-on design experience and a competitive edge for work or degree programs after high school. The lab includes a 3D printer for rapid prototyping, HAAS CNC lathes and mill, CNC Plasma Cutter, CNC training stations, robotic work station, surface grinder and more.

The school engaged the local manufacturing community and identified their employment needs which resulted in partnerships, funding and resources to help prepare students for manufacturing careers. In 2011, Wheeling High School was named one of six exemplary SME Education Foundation PRIME schools.

“Our students graduate with more than a diploma in hand, “says Dr. Lazaro J. Lopez, principal, Wheeling High School. “Students have an opportunity to leave here with 14 college credits, and be on their way to securing an associates degree in manufacturing technology as well as the NIMS certification in two or three areas, plus all four MSSC safety certifications. Students who want to work after graduation will be able to meet the expectations of the hiring manufacturer.”

A recent example, engineering students completed a class project utilizing advanced manufacturing processes and technologies to design and fabricate a metal and wood plaque which identified their school as a PRIME site. The plaque was subsequently produced in quantities and shipped to other PRIME school site locations.   

The final design was decided by the entire class of 30 students from the school’s classes on Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) and Woodworking, with help from NIMS (National Institute of Metalworking Skills) courses. Freshman through senior level students were placed into teams with each component of the project divided among the students and then tasks assigned. 

Students also learned to maintain production and cost efficiencies by reducing the cost and shipping weight by using 50% less aluminum and engineering the thickness of the aluminum plates to ¼” rather than ½” without changing the appearance of the plate. They reduced the per unit price of $175. to $125., later producing and shipping plaques to other PRIME site locations. 

The Project Lead The Way curriculum at Wheeling High School introduces freshman to introductory courses in engineering design and gives sophomores options for the manufacturing side with CIM, or Civil Engineering and Architecture (CEA) and Principles of Engineering (POE). As seniors, the advanced manufacturing NIMS course provides them with NIMS certifications and Manufacturing Skills Standards Council (MSSC) certifications aligned with Harper College curriculum.  

As the story of PRIME and its advanced manufacturing program continues to expand across the country, engineering students – junior grade, study its processes and techniques, and are designing and manufacturing products in the classroom. These students and those who follow will be offered more sophisticated opportunities to work with local manufacturers, many of whom are now offering mentoring and co-op programs.  Some of these include:  

The Whistle Project at Austin Polytechnical Academy (APA), Chicago, Ill., provided students with an opportunity to get hands-on manufacturing experience by producing aluminum whistles in the school’s state-of-the-art WaterSaver Faucet Manufacturing Technology Center. More recently, local manufacturers, such as Matrix, teamed up with APA to study advanced manufacturing processes for the production of its Micro-cutter, a surgical tool used to cut out sections of tissue during surgery.  

A pre-engineering program at Calera High School, Calera, Ala., involved students in projects ranging from building basic utility vehicles (BUV), prosthetics, and a hydro-electric plant inspired by their trip to a Honduran village last summer, to redesigning and customizing a fuel-efficient hybrid car, which is introducing them to a green energy program.

Petaluma High School, Petaluma, Calif. partnered with the City of Petaluma to design and create metal park benches for the city to be placed in park and store fronts. All proceeds benefited the High School Metal Shop and the Regional Occupational Program. Other PRIME high schools include: Kettering Fairmont High School, Kettering, Ohio, (water bottles), and Summit Technology Academy, Kansas City, Mo., (key chains).

In his article for Modern Machine Shop, August 20, 2012, senior editor, Peter Zelinski, wrote about Cardinal Manufacturing at Cardinal High School, Strum, Wis., “The school is running its manufacturing vocational program as a business. Students make parts for paying customers. The program is thriving, cash flow is strong, and local manufacturers can now hire graduates who have experience in meeting customer demands.”  

About Wheeling High School:
Wheeling High School, Wheeling, Ill., is a public, culturally diverse, four-year comprehensive high school with a STEM focus (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). A network of industry professionals from a wide array of fields provides guidance and support. Visit

About the SME Education Foundation:
The SME Education Foundation is committed to inspiring, supporting and preparing the next generation of manufacturing engineers and technologists in the advancement of manufacturing education. Created by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers in 1979, the SME Education Foundation has provided more than $33 million since 1980 in grants, scholarships and awards through its partnerships with corporations, organizations, foundations, and individual donors. Visit the SME Education Foundation at Also visit www.ManufacturingisCool, our award-winning website for young people, and for information on advanced manufacturing careers.

Media Contacts: Bart A. Aslin, chief executive officer, SME Education Foundation, 313.425-3300,  Follow us on Twitter at

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