COM Mechanical Maintenance Technician Program

Posted on: July 14, 2011

Two COM Mechanical Maintenance Technician students rebuild a Lufkin gearbox during one of the courses. Many of the local plants have donated equipment that allows students to have quality hands-on training.


The College of the Mainland Mechanical Maintenance Technician program has quickly developed into an asset to the Gulf Coast. In just four years the program is one of the strongest programs in the area. Many of the refineries, hospital systems, municipalities, manufacturers and county entities look to the program for filling positions. After three years, the first class graduated 11 students last December.

In 2006, Danny Bacot, Assistant Director of Continuing Education, was hired by College of the Mainland to run a millwright program for Marathon Oil subsidiary group from Equatorial Guinea, Africa. Thirty-five students came to COM for a 10-month process technology training program. Six of the students worked with Bacot to learn how to keep the pumps, engines, valves and turbines working by fixing and retooling parts.

After that initial step it was obvious to the COM Department of Continuing Education that there was a need for a Mechanical Maintenance Technician program.

Dow Chemicals, INEOS Chocolate Bayou, INEOS Houston, Valero, International Specialty Products, Sterling Chemicals, and A&A Machine and Fabrication helped initiate the program by funding the program. Many of these companies paid for multiple seats over continuous years. “The local plants have been instrumental in getting the program up and running,” said Bacot. Many of the maintenance training coordinators from area plants have taught classes or helped write the curriculum. Bobby Lovell of INEOS manufacturing plant in La Porte and David Thompson of International Specialty Products in Texas City have been involved, since the beginning, in developing the program. “This program tries to concentrate on what a machinist and millwright would do in the manufacturing area. There are more than 100 years of experience in the development of this program. The program has been taught, designed and developed by plant millwrights and machinists,” said Thompson.

The program has continued to build by adding more classroom space, better machinery and more hands-on equipment for students.  Many of the turbines, engines, compressors, gear boxes, pumps and valves that the program uses to train students have been donated by the local refineries and manufacturing plants. “We are thankful that we are so close to many of the refineries. They see the value in our program and are glad to donate equipment for us to work on,” said Bacot. Thompson added, “The donated equipment is a great tool. Students are able to tear down the machinery and see how they work so they are prepared when they begin work in the plants.”

“If you have the class work and a strong hands-on learning program, you end up being a strong, well-rounded worker. If you just learn from someone else you only learn what that person knows,” said Lovell, “The class work teaches the proper technique.”  The balance of education and practical learning gives students the ability to become more knowledgeable workers in the field.  “A supervisior made a comment about being impressed with an employee that can do all the work themselves and does not have to wait for someone else to do the machining or other work for them. This is what the COM program is teaching,” said Lovell.  Students learn welding, industrial maintenance, mathematics, millwright and machinist applications, and computer training to make sure they are prepared to solve any problem when they get a job.

The mechanical maintenance program isn’t just used by the refineries in the area. Hospital systems use these skilled workers to keep air conditioning, heating and oxygen systems performing accurately. Municipalities and counties need skilled workers to maintain waste management facilities, water treatment plants and other services.

Millwrights install, replace, dismantle and repair machinery and heavy equipment used in power generation, including wind power, hydroelectric dams and natural gas turbines, and in manufacturing plants and construction sites. The development of new technologies requires millwrights to work with new industry-specific and highly complex precision machines. Some of these machines have a margin of error smaller than the width of a human hair.

Machinists use machine tools, such as lathes, milling machines and machining centers, to produce precision metal parts. Precision machinists often produce small batches of one-of-a-kind items. They use their knowledge of the working properties of metals and their skill with machine tools to carry out the operations needed to make machined products that meet precise specifications.

Machinists first review electronic or written blueprints or specifications for a job before they machine a part. After the work is completed, machinists use both simple and highly-sophisticated measuring tools to check the accuracy of their work.

Technology is expanding exponentially throughout the industry — from design and production to inventory management, delivery and service. The introduction of Computer Numerical Control machine tools has changed the nature of the work of machinists. Today a machinist has to be computer literate and understand basic electronics and physics. Employees at all levels must have the skills to deal with the technology inherent in complex environments. “The students here at COM learn to work with aluminum for milling and CNC tooling,” said Bacot, “Many schools use a plastic that acts like metal. We found it more cost-effective to use aluminum and it allows students the ability to see how far metals can go and how far the machines can go.”

By 2020 there will be a need for an estimated 10 million new skilled workers, many of these workers will fill positions left by the retiring baby-boomer generation.  “The plants are the life blood of the Gulf Coast region, there is a demand for people with the proper training,” said Thompson. Lovell explained that employers are continuously looking for people with the proper knowledge and hands-on training. “I would like to thank College of the Mainland for providing this essential training program.  As most companies in this industry are finding out, there is not an abundance of qualified craftsmen available to cover the anticipated openings we’ll need to fill as the baby-boomer generation begins to retire.  The apprentices we have taken on are a vital part of our succession planning strategy and the future success of our business going forward,” said Dave Lierman,INEOS Maintenance Superintendent.

“If you are mechanically inclined and like taking apart things to see how they work or try to fix them than this is the program for you,” said Lovell, “There are not a lot of people getting into this industry. You can make a good living doing this and the field is wide open for those who choose it.” Open enrollment classes are starting in the fall for those who are interested. For more information about the program call 409-933-8586.

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