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Training & Education

Work study program

By Andy Barks

Every spring, college seniors across the country battle an unavoidable sense of insecurity, a feeling that, regardless of what they've done or how much they've prepared, they're still ill-equipped for the rapidly approaching working world.

But for a group of students at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., the anxiety was eased somewhat thanks to an especially interactive senior project, one that was sponsored by Applied Manufacturing Technologies (AMT), Orion, Mich., a supplier of factory automation design, engineering and process consulting services.

Engineers of tomorrow
The partnership between AMT and LSSU is likely rooted in their geographic proximity--Sault Ste. Marie is perched atop Michigan's Upper Peninsula, just across the lake from Ontario, while AMT is headquartered in Orion, Mich., about 20 miles north of Detroit. But with an enrollment of around 3,000, the state school's penchant for churning out future automotive professionals probably has something to do with it as well.

"We've worked closely with Lake Superior State University for years," says Joe Campbell, AMT chief of operations. "LSSU has developed a world-class automation program, and we're proud to be a small part of their success."

In April, AMT's Jean-Pierre Rasaiah oversaw the development of a vision-based robotic workcell designed by LSSU students to identify and package consumer products from a moving conveyor. Bosch Rexroth Corp., Hoffman Estates, Ill., donated a multi-axis workcell that included a conveyor system and motion logic controller and was the basis for the students' own product. Dr. Taskin Padir, assistant professor at LSSU, signed on as the faculty advisor, and the students took it from there.

"Even though students took classes and were familiar with systems such as robot manipulators, vision systems and PLCs, this was done in an academic setting," says Padir. "The students had to learn the specifics of the technology that was used in building the work cell on their own. And one important aspect of this was the integration of different systems that made up the workcell."

Working with the real thing
Using framework, a conveyor system and motors provided by Bosch Rexroth, the students constructed a cell capable of circulating the products through its cycle. Each product was then scanned by camera before the robot selected one to be dropped off the assembly line and subsequently packaged. Successful running cycles were defined by the team as 10 hours, with no more than an hour of recovery time, making for a realistic simulated working environment.

"Our senior projects provide our students with a simulation of the real-life engineering," says Padir. "This experience makes sure that they're ready to take the challenge as they graduate and join the engineering work force. That's why AMT's support is valued greatly by the students and faculty."

The experience was invaluable to the LSSU seniors, whose workcell is intended to be used as a training device not only for future students, but also AMT personnel. By working with certified AMT technicians, they were guaranteed supervision and safety, while the use of Rexroth technology allowed the soon-to-be-graduates the opportunity to develop a familiarity with the resources they'll likely use as future engineers. Few college seniors are afforded the chance to do something comparable in their field.

For AMT, no real residual value comes from the partnership, save for maybe a couple potential employees and a little extra publicity. But the company, which advertises itself in part as a "supporter of industrial automation solutions," certainly is to be commended.

While the LSSU seniors would've walked at graduation and still gone on to promising careers after the School of Engineering & Technology, you can't put a price on experience--and you can't measure how much better the seniors felt about their future. FFJ

Sources

  • Applied Manufacturing Technologies
    Orion, Mich.
    phone: 248/409-2000
    fax: 248/409-2020
    www.appliedmfg.com
    e-mail: sales@appliedmfg.com

  • Bosch Rexroth Corp.
    Hoffman Estates, Ill.
    phone: 847/645-3728
    fax: 847/645-3728
    www.boschrexroth-us.com
    e-mail: info@boschrexroth.com

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