(AUSTIN, Texas) – An Austin company is utilizing Texas State Technical College as a resource to fill critical positions needed to keep operations running smoothly.
Flex is a multinational contract manufacturer that partners with many different companies across multiple industries. Flex pioneers within industries such as automotive, aerospace, computer hardware, medical devices, and renewable/solar. One of Flex’s largest business units that produces medical devices is at its Research Boulevard campus in Austin.
The company has hired a current TSTC student and 10 TSTC graduates to work in automation technician roles. Employees are certified to work in their assigned areas, focusing largely on maintaining and repairing various highly automated, state of the art manufacturing equipment.
“We are the biggest company you’ve never heard of,” said Michael Johnston, Flex’s equipment automation supervisor.
Automation is critical in the company’s work. Having technically and mechanically savvy people working together saves money and time. Johnston said alumni hired from TSTC’s various campuses have performed well in their work
“Every hour of downtime per machine has been figured to be about $20,000 in lost revenue,” Johnston said. “Keeping the lines up is prime.”
Taking the lead
Abdiel Trevino, a lead automation technician at Flex, is a graduate of the Robotics and Industrial Controls Technology program at TSTC’s Waco campus. He said lead automation technicians train new employees on their production lines, undertake preventive maintenance plans, keep up with training requirements, and make sure that issues do not arise. They also need to meet production goals.
James Newland, a Robotics and Industrial Controls Technology graduate who studied at TSTC’s Fort Bend County campus, is a lead automation technician at Flex. He sees his role as being a liaison between the company’s engineering and operations departments.
Newland said his time at TSTC helped prepare him for his career.
“I had background knowledge in electrical, but it did help getting used to a lot of the connector types and brands (of equipment that TSTC uses),” he said. “TSTC did a very good job choosing those. It helped me be familiar with the devices (at Flex).”
Keeping equipment functional
Lead automation technicians work closely with the other automation technicians.
Denny Gonzalez, a graduate of the Industrial Systems program at TSTC’s East Williamson County campus, is an automation technician at Flex. He said an average day for automation technicians involves talking to staff from the previous shift about what has been going on with the equipment.
“If they cannot finish anything they started, we start right away because we have to have the lines up and running,” Gonzalez said. “Once the lines are running, we monitor the lines and watch every station that we have it working as it should. We do that throughout the day. If something breaks, we are on it.”
James Weldon, a student in TSTC’s HVAC Technology program at the East Williamson County campus and a Flex automation technician, said his previous work in two food-related manufacturing facilities has helped him with his work, along with his time so far at TSTC.
“TSTC has been very good at teaching those troubleshooting skills,” Weldon said. “It is very hands-on, making sure you understand sequence operations. They are good at making sure you know how to critically think about problems.”
Mayo said he was glad to have gotten electrical and programming experience at TSTC but wished he had learned more mechanical skills before going to Flex.
Mayo received an Associate of Applied Science degree in Cloud and Data Center Management at TSTC but was not happy working in the field. He decided to pursue the Robotics and Industrial Controls program, which enabled him to have his job at Flex secured before graduating in early May from TSTC.
Get excited about automation
There are things that high school students and people wanting a change in careers can do to pursue automation work.
Newland said high school students should talk to their high school counselors to learn about technical options that can help them decide on which kind of college to attend.
“If they have robotics or additive manufacturing, get into that as soon as possible,” he said.
Newland said it also pays to be attentive in high school classes such as physics and trigonometry.
“It is surprising how knowing that stuff makes troubleshooting easier,” he said. “There are a lot of problems I can look back on and find easier to figure out.”
The alumni also said knowledge of pneumatics and tools will be helpful when pursuing the automation field.
Registration continues for the fall semester at TSTC. For more information, go to tstc.edu.