On Friday morning, visitors to DENSO’s Central Technical Training Center in Maryville were invited to play a game of tic-tac-toe against a robot.

Not only could the robot pick up and move bricks into the correct position, the bot was even advanced enough to eke out a win.

While the robot was a creative way to show off DENSO’s technology, the training center will be used to teach employees about advances in manufacturing technology and help them adapt as the sector becomes more automated, said Kenichiro Ito, senior executive officer of DENSO, told a crowd in DENSO’s gym during a grand opening celebration Friday.

“In the U.S., we have innovative technology such as (Internet of Things) and 3D printing,” Ito said. “Now, our new challenge is how we can apply these cutting-edge technologies to actual manufacturing? This training center can cultivate people who can get great skills and knowledge.”

DENSO is a mobility supplier that develops advanced technology and components for nearly all makes and models of vehicles, according to a press release from the company. DENSO has 221 facilities in 35 countries.

At the Central Technical Training Center, employees can take 50 classes in production-related areas such as electrical mechanical and automation fundamentals. DENSO also plans to expand its course selection to include cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and data analytics.

The training center is part of a 2017 plan to invest $1 billion into DENSO’s Maryville location. Other investment plans include expanding production operations and creating 1,000 jobs in the community.

Bob Rolfe, commissioner of the Tennessee department of economic and community development, said he was thrilled to see the investment in East Tennessee, and the center will help the Maryville site keep pace with technology changes.

“The jobs of the future are going to look very different than the jobs of yesteryear,” Rolfe said.

Rolfe added that work at the state level has help provide the opportunities for DENSO to put money into East Tennessee.

“We don’t create jobs, we provide the incentives,” Rolfe told the crowd. “I don’t see that many companies that invest $1 billion in one location. The center will be used to keep the location’s more than 1,500 employees well versed as automation changes the manufacturing sector.”

Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell said during the Friday opening he has seen DENSO change and grow in Maryville for the past three decades. When Mitchell served as Maryville’s fire chief 30 years ago, DENSO officials were starting to work with state and local government officials to build the Maryville location.

And now DENSO is so successful, it has become an integral part of Maryville’s identity, Mitchell said.

“When you think of Tennessee; and you think of Blount County; and you think of the city of Maryville, you think of DENSO,” Mitchell said. “That’s how much a part they are of this community.”

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