The popular 1960s cartoon “The Jetsons” told of a fully-automated future with flying cars and every home having a robot to do household tasks. That reality isn’t quite here yet, but robotics are certainly a part of the modern manufacturing industry in Yadkin County.
Austin Electrical Enclosures first opened in Greensboro as Austin-Berryhill, an industrial air conditioning company manufacturing duct work. It began producing junction boxes, enclosures for electrical wiring, as a sideline, but in 1972, that part of the business had become so successful that they moved the company to Yadkin County and began solely producing electrical boxes. The company has expanded several times over the years, with another expansion planned for the near future.
“We’re an advanced manufacturing company and we’ve upgraded to very technical equipment in recent years,” said Vice President of Manufacturing Kevin Austin. “It takes a certain skill set to operate that so we’ve become dedicated to helping develop that skill set and work force in Yadkin County.”
The Austin Company has several computer control robotic machines that perform needed tasks. The robots at the company don’t look at all like “Rosie,” the Jetsons’ maid, and it still takes a human operator, but these robots do help speed up some of the processes at the plant.
Jared Collins, a student at the Yadkin Early College High School, is one of the operators of a robotic machine at Austin. Collins is in his fifth and final year at Yadkin Early College.
“I am currently in the mechatronics program on track to have a certificate in this program by the time I graduate from the early college in May. I will continue attending Surry to finish the degree program and also have plans to get additional degrees and certificates,” Collins explained.
He applied and got hired full-time at the company, which allows him to work around his school schedule. Austin said they plan to offer more positions like this, offering unique schedules for employees with children, or even retired individuals wishing to work part-time.
The Lego Robotics program at Yadkin County Schools is another way young people are getting exposure to the future of advanced manufacturing. Though it’s a fun club for students to participate in and compete with their peers, it’s also giving students skills they can take with them to a future career. Austin Company employee Todd Pope is the club’s adviser.
“In the robotics club, we all work as a team to accomplish the goals at hand. At Austin, we all work together to get the orders built and delivered to the customers,” Collins said. “There are also lots of mechanical and automated machines at Austin. We have to build a robot in robotics that uses both mechanical and automated sides to it.”
In addition to working closely with the robotics club, Austin said they are also hoping to institute a program called “Dream it, Do it,” which would allow school children to tour local manufacturing facilities in the area so they can learn about this possible career option.
Austin said it’s important for today’s youth to understand the new high-tech nature of manufacturing and what a rewarding career field it can be.
As chairman of the Yadkin County Board of Commissioners as well as a business leader, keeping young people in the county is an important issue for Austin.
“One of the things that has bothered me as a commissioner is the brain drain we’ve suffered. We’ve got to find ways that kids in Yadkin County can find valuable work in Yadkin County and as we build manufacturing it also builds all the other professional services and we’ll see Yadkin grow in a very positive manner.”
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.