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Engineering technology students are hands on in ‘heavy metal,’ thanks to donation from NCI Building Systems


It’s small enough to fit in the bed of a conventional pick-up truck and measures 4 x7x12 feet when it’s assembled, but the pre-engineered metal building donated to Lone Star College-North Harris engineering technology department is worth its weight in gold as a training tool for LSC-North Harris engineering students.

“About six years ago, we were approached by a number of Houston-based metal building manufacturers to train detailers–drafters who make drawings for pre-engineered metal buildings,” said Larry Brillhart, Ph.D. and professor of engineering technology.

Shortly thereafter, working with an advisory council representing many of the 25 or more manufacturers in the Houston area, Dr. Brillhart and his faculty developed the curriculum for a two-year associate degree program in pre-engineered metal building drafting.

To his knowledge, Dr. Brillhart said the program at LSC-North Harris is only the second in the nation. The first is located at a community college in Iowa.

“Initially, I began working with LSC-North Harris several years ago because we wanted our new employees educated before coming into our industry,” said Scott Bradley, manager of the Long Bay System–NCI Building Systems. “Until the program was developed at LSC-North Harris, they had to go out of state for pre-engineered metal building training.”

“At NCI, we custom design building systems for virtually every end market, including commercial and industrial, as well as institutional and agricultural,” Bradley said. “Our manufacturing capabilities meet the specifications of both small, simple structures as well as large, more complex facilities. And our demand for well-trained employees is necessary because of our long-standing reputation for developing quality products.”

Once the program at LSC-North Harris was underway and during a site visit to NCI Building Systems, Dr. Brillhart noticed NCI’s Training Center, which hosts courses for people charged with assembling metal buildings, and includes an “under construction” building expressly for training purposes. “I thought it would be really great to have something similar on campus to help better prepare the students,” the professor recalled.


A few months ago, Bradley called Dr. Brillhart, saying that the company had a second training building and asked if they would like to have it in order to provide students with the hands-on training they needed.


“It was a generous offer,” Dr. Brillhart said, “but it was not an offer we could accept, simply because we didn’t have the room on campus the training building required.”

Shortly thereafter, Bradley called again, suggesting NCI fabricate a model building and donate it to the college, expressly for hands-on training. Bradley also said NCI would detail drawings to meet student training needs and furnish framing drawings and standards as well as shop drawings for our students to use.


NCI fabricated a pre-engineered building that contains all the key components that are typically included in the construction of full-scale metal buildings. Yet, it is small enough to require only one or two class periods to assemble and disassemble for the next class to use.


“All the components and the complexity are there,” Brillhart pointed out, “and the building enables our students to make the leap between creating and reading drawings and then actually taking wrenches, bolts and steel in their hands and assembling a building. This training is essential to understanding how their drawings represent something tangible and how they are used in the actual construction process. Seeing it on paper is one thing, but bolting pieces into position is an entirely different thing,” he added.


NCI, which employs approximately 3,000 people companywide, saw their donation as an opportunity to fine tune the training already available. “NCI wanted to support Dr. Larry Brillhart’s goals of giving students the opportunity for hands-on construction that would enable them to learn what parts look like and how they go together,” Bradley explained. “Previously, the students had to take class time to leave the campus and go to jobsites. Now, they have what they need right on campus.”


Bradley explained that this hands-on curriculum approach will equip students with a strong overview of metal building assembly, which can better prepare them for a variety of industry careers in metal buildings, including drafting, engineering, estimating, and inside and outside sales.


“I like to hire people with hands-on working experience,” Bradley added. “I want them to be able to take something apart and put it together. The experience they’re getting through the LSC-North Harris program also enables students to visualize a building so they can sketch what the client says they’d like to have.”


In the Greater Houston area, there are 25 companies that manufacture pre-engineered metal buildings or the necessary components.


“We’ve had several of these companies hire our students,” Dr. Brillhart said, “and many of our students are offered jobs while they’re completing their training with us.

“The program itself is part of the college’s architectural-engineering technology program and it gives students insights into many areas of construction, making them broadly prepared, Dr. Brillhart continued, “and we believe we are unique in having a metal structure for hands-on activities during the students’ training.” 


“Houston is a hot-bed for the pre-engineered metal building industry,” Bradley added. “There are several large companies like NCI headquartered in Houston and that means opportunity for those completing a unique, experience-driven program such as this one.”


For more information about the LSC-North Harris architectural engineering program or pre-engineered metal building drafting, call Dr. Brillhart at 281.765.7923.


LSC-North Harris is located at 2700 W.W. Thorne Drive, one-half mile south of FM 1960 East, between Aldine-Westfield and Hardy Roads. Registration for spring 2010 starts Nov. 9. For more information about the college, call 281.618.5400 or visit: northharris.lonestar.edu.


Lone Star College System consists of five colleges including LSC-CyFair, LSC-Kingwood, LSC-Montgomery, LSC-North Harris, and LSC-Tomball, six centers, LSC-University Center, LSC-University Park, Lone Star Corporate College, and LSC-Online. With more than 58,000 students in credit classes this fall, LSCS is the largest institution of higher education in the Houston area and third largest community college system in Texas. To learn more visit LoneStar.edu.