By Craig Ramey
Dozens of plastic hoses hiss and spit steam as they snake through machines on the Schlaadt factory floor in New Bern. Aaron Davenport, Schlaadt maintenance technician and 2019 Craven Community College (Craven CC) graduate, stops one of the machines and reaches into the tangled network of hoses. Peering sharply through a pair of safety glasses as he inspects each hose, Davenport wraps his gloved hand around one of the hoses, pulls it from the machine and reattaches it before the plastic snakes can bite him with spurt of steam.
“You don’t find these kinds of machines very often,” said Davenport, whose Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree includes certificates in electronics engineering technology, introduction to electronics and basic robotics. “These are a little more complex, but if I didn’t have this degree I would be completely lost.”
Davenport steps away from the machine’s inner workings, presses a button and an automated process unfolds. White grains of raw materials resembling large piles of sugar are piped into the machine, heated and molded into blocks of expanded polystyrene (EPS), commonly known as Styrofoam. The blocks are then slowly ejected from the machine, carefully lifted by a robotic arm and stacked for machine operators to inspect and prepare for shipping.
The entire molding cycle takes approximately 90 seconds and runs continuously across 11 machines for 20 hours a day. In total, more than 100 tons of EPS are created at the plant every month.
“Fourteen semis are loaded and going four blocks to Bosch every day,” said Kurt Myers, plant manager of Schlaadt’s New Bern facility. “We create all the expanded polystyrene packaging for BSH appliances—dishwashers and ovens.”
To keep Bosch’s assembly line moving, Schlaadt depends on a workforce of 20 employees that includes assembly workers, forklift operators, inspectors, packers and maintenance technicians like Davenport.
“We are always looking for maintenance guys,” said Myers. “That’s one of the hardest positions to fill. I knew (Davenport) was graduating with robotics and automation, so I gave him an interview and hired him two weeks later because if he’s not working here, he’s going to end up somewhere else. Someone is going to hire him.”
Davenport, 25, also recognized a need in New Bern for a workforce that had the foundational knowledge he earned in Craven CC’s Electronics Engineering Technology program.
“It wasn’t until I started working here that I realized how high in demand the workforce is for our degree,” said Davenport. “In the industrial park area and places like Moen, there are lots of machining companies that are looking for people who have gone through this program. They’re looking for people with hydraulics, pneumatics, electronics, CAD—all the things this program covers.”
Just as the pneumatic tubes snake through machines on the production floor, Davenport’s journey to Schlaadt has gone through numerous twists and turns that reach back to his father, a retired electrical engineer.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” said Davenport. “I talked to my dad and he recommended electronics. In fact, sometime around 10 or 11, he started buying me these electronics kits and used them as chores. Once, when I was 16 and wanted to borrow his truck to see some friends, he said, ‘Go in your room and build a metronome … and then you can go.’ I called him back 30 minutes later and I had done it. That’s when it clicked for me that I have an aptitude for this and I enjoy it.”
Davenport’s aptitude for electronics was a perfect fit for the AAS Electronics Engineering Technology program, which provides students the skills necessary to analyze and troubleshoot electronic systems on industrial/computer controls, manufacturing systems, communication systems and power electronic systems.
“I like my applied science degree,” said Davenport. “The work is very interesting and fun. It all comes down to how passionate you are in what you are doing. This is a very satisfying and rewarding degree to have.”
For more information about the AAS Electronics Engineering Technology program at Craven CC, call Ricky Meadows, dean of Career Programs, at 252-638-4550.
This article was originally published in the New Bern Sun Journal on October 16, 2019.