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Robotic Technology

Keystone for careers

By Nick Wright

Pennsylvania students try their hand at welding, automation with a robotic arm

February 2012- Chambersburg Area Senior High School in Chambersburg, Pa., recently added a new teaching tool that will become a fixture in the classroom as well as the keystone for students’ careers in welding, robotics and electronics. 

The Chambersburg Area School District purchased a Fanuc ArcMate 50iL robot from Marion, Ohio-based RobotWorx, a robot solutions provider and distributor, as a part of the high school’s ongoing efforts to encourage its students to cultivate skills for industrial applications, says Raymond Setaro, technology education instructor at the school. 

“We’re trying to see what the local employers’ needs are so that we can attempt to educate our high school students and try to give them something so they can walk out of the door and be employable,” Setaro says. 

When he came to the school district eight years ago, Setaro drew on his experience in the manufacturing industry to assess the school’s needs. “I saw the need in the county-wide area for industries needing trained, skilled, high-tech metal machining [and] welding” abilities. 

Jim Shaffer, sales associate at RobotWorx who matched the school with the ArcMate 50iL, says the school was “looking for a type of robot that could be used for both welding but also for pick and place type applications and for repeatability type testing.” The compact, six-axis RJ3 controller robot, while it’s a smaller tabletop setup, is capable of +/- 0.04 mm repeatability and has a horizontal reach of 856 mm with 3 kg of payload specifications, according to Shaffer. 

“The industry has really opened up and there are so many different areas of manufacturing that [are] using robotic systems,” Shaffer says. 

Between Setaro and fellow welding teacher Jon Seaman, with whom Setaro is spearheading the school’s industrial curriculum development, students will learn basic-to-intermediate welding and robotics in hopes that they can meet local industry needs. Setaro and Seaman have worked closely with the Franklin County’s economic development council to get the pulse on employers’ needs as well as economic resources for the school.

Setaro says the range of electronics, welding and robotics courses are focus on the STEM format—science, technology, engineering and math (as well as welding, electronics and robotics)—a national drive for upgrading educational standards. “We form a curriculum around that, and we stress STEM in the robotics course to seek out and help the engineers in the class surface and welders, fabricators, machinists surface,” he says. 

One course offered two years ago had 16 of 20 students in the class who went on to engineering school and “they’re still in college for engineering as we speak,” Setaro says. The school district used those numbers as a barometer to commit its support and further investment. “It made news in the local area and it made it justifiable when seeking their grant to receive one.” 

Beyond the classroom
Aside from regular hands-on use, the robot has the potential to self-sustain costs beyond the classroom. As students become more advanced with the ArcMate, the plan is to generate revenue to buy more supplies for the program. One idea so far is for the students to create 12-in. and 18-in. sheet metal stars, which are a nod to the Civil War-rich history of the area. During the Civil War, people hung them from the highest visible point on a home or building exterior as a sign of allegiance to the Union Army. 

“They can be molded, spot welded. We’re devising a fixture where we can mass produce them,” Setaro says. “The students can program [the robot], mass produce them, bead blast them, hammer coat paint them, then sell them as a fundraiser around Christmas time.”

Chambersburg students will have well-rounded experience from the Fanuc 50iL to find opportunities for local employment to potentially certification in welding and robotics. The latter is a credential that few high schools offer, Setaro says. “You can do a little bit of anything and everything. Especially in this region, people are very eager to employ people with a variety of skills and abilities.”

Setaro, who also teaches evening mechatronics courses at a community college, is in a unique position to assess how and where students can grow beyond the high school level. “I’m observing, watching and learning the needs of the industry in this area and just trying to provide what they’re looking for,” he says. FFJ

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