LOOKING AHEAD

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Montcalm Community College is incorporating robotic technology into its curriculum to train workers for high-tech jobs in manufacturing.

FANUC and Baxter technology is redefining the way robots are used in manufacturing environments, providing automation that will help the industry become more efficient, reliable and profitable.

FANUC

FANUC is the brand name for a group of companies that provide automation products and services such as robotics and computer numerical control systems for mills, lathes and other machine tools. It is one of the largest makers of industrial robots in the world.

FANUC robots have tremendous versatility in the workplace. They are used for a wide range of industries such as aerospace, automotive, consumer goods, education, food, metal fabrication, medical, pharmaceutical, solar panel and more.

MCC recently achieved Certified Education Robot Training (CERT) status for FANUC. In addition to integration with current curriculum, the college is focusing on specialized workforce training to meet the needs of area manufacturers.

“Our instructors are certified to provide specialized training using the latest automation technology while applying science, technology, engineering and math principles,” says MCC Vice President for Student and Academic Affairs Rob Spohr.

“We work with area companies that are already utilizing FANUC technology for welding, material handling and other production,” adds MCC Dean of Community & Workforce Development Susan Hatto. “The availability of this technology on our Greenville campus will enhance our manufacturing training and apprenticeship programs.”

“Our long-term goal is that training local students to be competent in the robotics field will aid in local economic development by attracting new businesses and enhancing the capabilities of existing companies,” Spohr adds.

BAXTER

Baxter is an industrial robot built by Rethink Robotics of Boston, Mass. It is designed to perform a variety of repetitive production tasks such as loading, unloading, sorting and handling materials, while safely working next to people.

It has a colorful design, an animated face that is capable of producing six facial expressions, a human-sized structure and two arms.

Spohr says the college added Baxter as an instructional tool earlier this year because “this is where industry is going.

“With the addition of Baxter, we added some basic robotics instruction to current classes to train workers to be better prepared for changes that are occurring in the advanced manufacturing sector,” he says. “It’s unique in the sense that it’s the only robot that can work alongside a person.”

An operator programs Baxter to move through desired actions. The robot can then repeat the exact actions. Baxter’s arms have two elbows and a rotating wrist, which allow the operator to fine-tune its actions. A vision sensor in each arm makes Baxter capable of sensing and adapting to its tasks and its environment.

ADVANCED TRAINING 

MCC President Bob Ferrentino says the investment in FANUC and Baxter is part of the college’s long-term vision to better meet the training needs of area business and industry partners.

“Incorporating this technology into our current curriculum is the first step in adding robotics training to better prepare students for changes in advanced manufacturing,” Ferrentino says. “It’s not just adding the technology itself, but how the technology fits into the larger training picture.”

According to the Robotics Industry Association (RIA), there are about 230,000 robots operating in U.S. factories, ranking the U.S. second in robot use, behind Japan. The RIA estimates that about 10 percent of companies that could benefit from robotic equipment are using it, leaving tremendous growth potential in the industry.

“The programming for Baxter and FANUC is similar,” Ferrentino says. “When students see FANUC after working with Baxter, they’ll have learned some basic programming and basic functionality of the robot vision. With FANUC training, our students will have a better advantage for employment.”

Students with robotics training are better prepared for employment in areas such as digital manufacturing, lean manufacturing, manufacturing management, Computer Numerical Control (CNC) technology, inspection and quality control, CAD design and others, according to Spohr.

“Robotics is imperative to the next generation of manufacturing,” Spohr adds. “We are collaborating with our business and industry partners to create innovative curriculum based on today’s industry needs.

“We’re also working to create a workforce that will help current companies be able to hire workers with the skills they need, and to attract new business and industry to our area,” he says. “Instead of reducing jobs, experts say robotic technology will help save U.S. jobs since it will help companies supplement their workforce and be more competitive.”

FACTS ABOUT BAXTER:

• Baxter does not require safety cages and it is safe to operate directly next to people.

• There is no programming required – line workers can train Baxter manually.

• Baxter is capable and versatile for a range of repetitive tasks.

• Baxter allows streamlined integration with a company’s manufacturing system, when compared with traditional robots.

• With vision sensors in its arms, Baxter works intelligently and has the ability to sense and adapt to its tasks and its environment.

FACTS ABOUT FANUC:

• FANUC offers a variety of options such as

simulation software, force sensors, advanced motion options and more to maximize product quality.

• The FANUC robot is compact and energy efficient, providing significant space and operation savings.

• An advanced motion option allows for high-speed part picking.

• FANUC operates according to “learned” data, which improves efficiency by achieving higher speed and acceleration.

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