Along with the good news about a booming economy and low unemployment rates come challenges for manufacturers that are trying to hire skilled employees. The National Association of Manufacturers said about 500,000 manufacturing jobs are open, and many experts believe this is due to a severe skills gap. In order to alleviate this problem, communities, schools, and manufacturers are teaming together to ensure a steady stream of trained and qualified workers.

One such collaboration is occurring in McNairy County, Tennessee, and involves The Harris Products Group, a leading manufacturer of brazing equipment and alloys. The largest employer in McNairy County is Monogram Refrigeration LLC, a subsidiary of GE Appliances (GEA), a Haier company. Since 1986, Monogram has operated a manufacturing facility in Selmer, Tennessee, a town about 100 miles south of Memphis.

Eddie Crittendon, the CEO of McNairy County Economic Development and Chamber of Commerce, noted, “We’ve had some tough economic times in the past but have proactively collaborated with our state, local, and federal officials and with GEA and Monogram to spur business opportunities.”

This cooperation and commitment paid off in 2017 when GEA announced a $9.3 million investment that expanded the facility to accommodate two new production lines and doubled the number of employees. Public partners created grants and training benefits to help facilitate the investment.

In 2018, the facility began producing two new lines: PTACs and the column-style Monogram® brand refrigerator and freezer products. Brazing by skilled technicians is an integral process in the production of both of these lines because poor brazing can result in leaks, manufacturing rejects, and added expenses.

The county was proactive in its efforts to bring various groups together for mutually beneficial purposes. McNairy County Economic Development applied for — and was awarded — a skilled workforce grant from the state of Tennessee. Funding from this grant was used to equip Adamsville High School and McNairy Central High School technical education programs within the McNairy County School District with the same brazing equipment used by Monogram. The intent was two-fold: Train students so that they have the skills necessary for a good job when they graduate, and provide Monogram the much-needed pipeline of a well-prepared workforce.

Monogram uses brazing equipment manufactured by the Harris Products Group, including Harris’ Perfect Flame®, which is an engineered solution that delivers consistent results for repetitive, high-volume, hand-held brazing applications. The innovative system includes torches, tips, flow control devices, and software that work together to improve brazing quality and increase productivity in HVAC and refrigeration manufacturing facilities.

Staff from Harris Products Group provided McNairy County high schools with a Perfect Flame, so students could train on the same equipment used at Monogram Refrigeration.

“What we like about the Perfect Flame in our manufacturing environment is that it takes all that guesswork out of the individuals’ hands,” said Ray Deming, vice president of Monogram. “So if we have three Perfect Flame stations on one production line, we know that everyone’s torch is set to the same calibration. Before we implemented the Perfect Flame system, it was up to the operator to determine about burning hot or not and how much gas mix, etc. Now those things are controllable at the torch with the specific operator, so we take the variables out of the process.”

“Our students who are graduating with good technical skills and the proper certifications have their choice of jobs,” said Ronnie Teague, the district’s director of career and technical education. “We are glad that we now have Harris’ brazing equipment and the Perfect Flame that will provide our students with additional advantages as they enter the workforce.”

“Our mission is to help our customers improve the operational efficiencies of their manufacturing processes,” said Dave Nangle, president of the Harris. “Supporting technical education is a big factor in supporting this effort. With a properly trained and equipped workforce, manufacturers will continue to flourish and prosper.”

Publication date: 1/30/2019

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