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Robo students
[February 05, 2013]

Robo students

Feb 05, 2013 (Daily News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Robots are a big part of the future at the Transpark Center campus of Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College.

At the transpark campus of SKYCTC -- formerly known as Bowling Green Technical College -- Gene Basil, dean of the Engineering, Machining and Manufacturing Technologies Department, is putting together robotic program opportunities for the college's service area. The college will celebrate the new effort this month, and the new course catalogue will be rolled out.

Last year, it was announced that the technical college is a certified training center for FANUC Robotics America. FANUC Robotics are found in robot settings in manufacturing.

Two courses have been added to the SKYCTC's Transpark Center: Robotic Operation, which costs $850 for 16 hours of instruction; and Handling Tool Application Programs, which costs $1,550 for 32 hours of instruction, Basil said. The 16-hour class is offered from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday mornings.

There are 24 companies in southcentral Kentucky that use FANUC robots, said Mark Brooks, SKYCTC spokesman, in an email last week.

"This was what our thinking was when we started the program in 2008," said FANUC spokeswoman Cathy Powell, whose office is in Rochester, Mich. "This is just doing more and more to enhance student learning. We saw a big need as companies started to incorporate robots in manufacturing." Students can receive real-world skills that will immediately transfer to high-paying careers, said FANUC Regional Manager Paul Aiello in a release. Aiello said the training program benefits from 30 years of product development by FANUC.

Before the technical college became a FANUC Robotics training site, the instruction was available in Cincinnati or Rochester, Mich., outside Detroit, Basil said. Basil, Brian Sparks and Jeff Phelps are all qualified FANUC Robotics instructors. The training here is the only such site in Kentucky.

The instructors are currently training employees from the General Motors Bowling Green Assembly Plant on the FANUC robots. Two FANUC robots have joined several Mitsubishi robots in one of the classrooms at the transpark campus. Students declined to talk to the paper about their training and GM did not respond to requests for comment. The seven students end their training Feb. 15, Basil said.

Basil said by the time a student gets to a robotics class, the most challenging task is learning how the robot sees itself in space.

"We feel fortunate at this school," Basil said. "We have been in the business a long time training students." Now, the approach is to try and "narrow the gap" between the educational experience and the workplace experience, he explained, so that the students are familiar with the workplace challenges once they step into their new jobs.

SKYCTC instructors hope companies in the 10-county Barren River Economic Development District will want their employees to take the courses, Basil said. The course times are designed to offer availability to shift workers to attend Friday and evening classes. Theoretically, 500 workers could be trained on the FANUC robots within five years, training 100 students a year -- the program's current capacity, he said.

"This is not going to be a flash in the pan. It's basically the beginning," Basil said.

A key to learning how to program robots is that the programming skill is not tied to size.

"If you can program a small robot, you can program a large robot," Basil said. Whether the machine is room-sized or table-top, the concepts are the same. The technical college also will have miniature assembly line set up for students to use as they prepare for full-size factory floors.

In other coursework at SKYCTC, students build actual platforms, connecting the wires and formatting the switches.

Basil, who has worked with robots for several years, is fascinated with them.

"What person is not fascinated with robots You can program a machine that can do a repetitive task over and over again with extreme accuracy -- in the dark -- and with extreme precision," he said.

The transpark campus is a good example of leading-edge technology, along with course offerings at the other SKYCTC campuses, Basil said. "We offer the best education in a realistic environment." According to the American Youth Policy Forum, 1.3 million engineering technology jobs are available in the United States without trained people to fill them, a FANUC release said.

"By 2020, there will be a shortage of 13 million to 15 million skilled workers," the release said.

___ (c)2013 the Daily News (Bowling Green, Ky.) Visit the Daily News (Bowling Green, Ky.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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