Mechatronics & Club MEC Recognized at 2018 Manufacturing Conference
“Innovating for Our Future: Products, Processes & Technologies" was the theme of the 2018 Center for Advanced Manufacturing Puget Sound (CAMPS) Conference held Thursday, June 7, in Bellevue, so it was fitting that Clover Park Technical College’s Mechatronics program was highlighted at the event as the region’s leading two-year college program in manufacturing. Event organizers also provided CPTC’s Club MEC a prominent display placement so that students could show off their knowledge and skills to some of the most advanced companies in the state.
Nearly 200 business executives, owners, professional service providers, and government and education leaders gathered at the conference to compare notes on the future of advanced manufacturing. These were firms that are diving into the technologies like robotics, automation and big data, which are transforming every aspect of how things are made in industry today. Some examples include:
- One company is building a shoe so customized it's made from scratch every time based on the unique profile of each foot of the customer. The brand will never produce two identical shoes but still expects to be able to deliver a new pair to a customer within five days of receiving their order.
- Another company is deploying service techs to the field equipped with HoloLens devices that use Augmented Reality (AR) to overlay virtual schematics of parts and assemblies on top of their real-world counterparts, allowing techs to more quickly troubleshoot problems and restore service.
- The lunchtime keynote was delivered by representatives of Universal Robots (UR), which has now deployed more than 25,000 of their "co-bots" to manufacturing floors around the world. According to UR's Craig Tomita, these human-scale robots are designed not to replace workers but rather to work alongside them, handling tasks that are "dull, dirty and dangerous." This frees up production employees to focus on the kinds of work that humans are naturally better at, Tomita said—including tasks that require situational awareness and fine motor skills.
CPTC’s Mechatronics students gain technical knowledge and problem-solving abilities in the program that prepare them for the sea change that is washing over American industry. Employers flocked to meet the 13 students in attendance and to see Club MEC's display, which featured club projects such as an open-source drone build and a lathe upgrade the students are tackling outside class hours.
“We had a chance to meet and talk with companies that are at the forefront of meshing technologies together, and that’s what mechatronics is all about,” student John P. Martinez II said. “Companies were willing to give info on what to train for and what they are looking for in candidates. It was nice to hear things from the hiring manager’s perspective.”
That feeling was mutual between the students and the companies. CAMPS Executive Director Tom McLaughlin, who serves on CPTC’s Mechatronics Advisory Committee, said his association's members are reporting, for the first time ever, that they can see the break-even point for converting from older manual processes to robotics and other forms of automation. Labor costs are on the rise and unemployment is at its lowest point ever, yet the demand for American-made goods is surging. That’s where CPTC comes in.
"There's already a shortage of workers for these skilled jobs in applied technology that our manufacturers need to fill to stay competitive and keep contributing to the prosperity of our region,” McLaughlin said. “As automation starts to 'pencil' for our regional manufacturers, that talent demand is just going to keep going up. I travel up and down the I-5 corridor all year meeting with educational providers and advocating to get the talent that CAMPS members are pleading for. Clover Park is the only college so far that has set up a program that 'gets it.' They listen to industry, and it shows. They’re producing the skilled workers of the future, and that's why we wanted to put the students in front of employers at the conference and help them connect with opportunities.”
Student James Miru got a special nod for the capstone project that he led—developing the Mobile Independent Robot Unit (MIRU), a portable robot that transports the college’s UR5 robotic arm to different places around the lab where its services are needed.
Ben Courtright, Universal Robots’ sales manager for Washington and Oregon, said he works with universities and colleges throughout the Pacific Northwest. While many other academic programs have expressed interest in building an automated guided vehicle like MIRU, CPTC’s Mechatronics program is the first he knows of to successfully complete such a project. Courtright said that learning about portable robots is important because it mirrors technology that’s now widely used in the modern warehouse—including at Amazon—where picking and packing duties are increasingly handled by automated guided vehicles.
Miru said his capstone project is in keeping with the philosophy of the college's Mechatronics faculty—to encourage students to tackle projects that, when completed, will enhance the experience of future students in the program. One of the automation service providers at the conference invited Miru to apply for a well-paid internship, but he wants to focus on his next step—completing CPTC's Bachelor of Applied Science in Operations Management.
CAMPS event organizers invited CPTC faculty member Jason Sawatzki to address the conference during a plenary session to describe CPTC's program and its commitment to offering students real-life insights into industry. Sawatzki challenged employers at the event to invite his classes for field tours at their sites and to contribute their ideas and opinions to ensure the Mechatronics curriculum stays aligned with industry needs.
Student and Club MEC Treasurer Tyrome Connor said, “The best thing about the conference was seeing what I’m being told in the classroom reiterated by individuals from industry. There was crossover.” Connor said he also liked seeing how technology in CPTC’s lab, like the UR5 robot, is consistent with where industry is heading.
Student and Club MEC Vice President Zac Melson said, “The thing that stood out for me was how all the different players in industry came together at the conference to work as a team. We met people from production, engineering, finance, human resources, and sales, plus outside companies like software providers and suppliers. Technology is changing, and companies are looking for people with the right training. It was great to see the Mechatronics program getting recognized. Top students in the program are being offered six-figure jobs. We’re being headhunted. That’s really cool.”
To learn more about CPTC's Mechatronics program, click here.