Focus on the Workforce: Higher Robotics Education
ABB and Vincennes University form training partnership
By Alex Miller
AE Miller Group
Just as in business, any capital investment in Workforce Development must be thoroughly analyzed and supported by tangible industry drivers and positive forecasts for future market demand. As such, the recently announced relationship between Vincennes University (VU; Vincennes, IN) and ABB Robotics (Auburn Hills, MI) bodes well for the future of advanced manufacturing training and the further penetration of industrial robots in automating plants, warehouses, and other commercial operations in the Midwest and beyond.
In late September, VU and ABB announced a partnership that will greatly enhance the Indiana college's vocational and technical robotic training, and provide ABB with an authorized training facility in the central Midwest. The partnership includes the installation of 29 ABB robots and related workcells, software, and controllers in VU's new $9 million industrial training facility, the Indiana Center for Applied Technology (ICAT), which opened in March 2009.
"Our view is that to be on the cutting edge of workforce development you need to be on the cutting edge of technology," explains David Tucker, VU vice president of workforce development/community services. "As the economy improves, we feel that robots are going to be a key element for manufacturers as they strive to remain competitive."
VU, the oldest college in Indiana, offers an associate degree in Computer Integrated Manufacturing & Robotics and a series of robotic training courses in its Workforce Development program.
"VU has been at the forefront of advanced manufacturing education and training for many years and was one of the first schools to offer a degree in robotic technology back in 1983," says VU President Dick Helton. "We couldn't be more excited about our new relationship with ABB. They understand our educational goals and have been a great partner in helping shape the vision for enhancing our programs, and making the ICAT one of the finest facilities of its kind in the nation."
Both third-year degree candidates and workforce development students will have access to the robotic lab. Workforce development students come in many forms. They may be current workers sent by their employers to upgrade their skills, displaced workers referred by Indiana's WorkOne employment agency to learn a new skill, or vocational instructors from any of the 135 high schools throughout the state that VU serves.
The ICAT will be equipped with a full range of industrial robots and related peripherals, including eight FlexArc Welding Cells, four IRB 260 Palletizers, three IRB 4600s, twelve IRB 140s, and two used IRB 140s for service and maintenance training. In addition to the software and controllers necessary to program and operate each robot, eight of the IRB 140s, are equipped with TrueView, ABB's advanced vision system. This will allow students to gain training in applications that include robotic welding and plasma cutting; picking, packing, and palletizing; machine tending, material handling, and product assembly; and advanced vision-related programming.
"We feel it is far more important to teach someone to program, operate, or maintain a robot than it is to train them on the particular job a robot may perform," Tucker points out. "This develops workers that are more attractive to employers, and employees that are more fulfilled in the careers."
The partnership is also a significant step in the strategic plan for ABB to establish regional certified-training campuses throughout North America, where robotic technicians will have easier access to comprehensive training and certification. The ICAT will be ABB's third authorized training center in the US, joining the headquarters location in Auburn Hills, MI, and an auxiliary facility in Birmingham, AL.
"Our relationship with Vincennes aligns us with one of the top industrial education institutions in the country," says Joe Campbell of ABB Robotics Div., North America. "It furthers training for the expanding number of robotic technicians that will be necessary as the economy improves, and gives us a model moving forward for establishing similar relationships in other regions."
Though VU currently serves students from 30 states and 30 countries, its student base is primarily from the 92 counties of Indiana, which is the largest per capita manufacturing state in the US, with approximately 1 million people, 19% of its workforce, employed in manufacturing.
VU is one of seven state-subsidized universities in Indiana, offering affordable tuition and aid to students of a variety of backgrounds and financial resources. With a technical curriculum and workforce development program that extends throughout the state, VU does as much as any institution to encourage, prepare, and train students to pursue careers in manufacturing.
ABB will provide VU students with numerous additional opportunities, including internships and field training, in conjunction with ABB's participation at industry trade shows, new industrial system installations, and other industry-related activities.
VU has had a similar partnership with Haas Automation (Oxnard, CA) for the last five years, providing a model for the new relationship with ABB. The Haas-VU association features a similar training and extracurricular collaboration, and an array of Haas lathes and machining equipment has recently been moved to the ICAT center from another location on the VU campus.
Associate-degree students in the last year of the Advanced Manufacturing program who have completed the necessary course requirements experience more than 800 additional hours of advanced CAD/CAM programming and CNC machining training on Haas equipment. The Haas equipment is also integral to the Workforce Development program, where students gain hands-on experience, significantly enhancing their learning and skill development.
In addition to standard training, there are also programming and machining competitions, and "train-the-trainer" challenges where students can think creatively and display their knowledge in unique ways in front of their peers.
In a short period, the Haas-VU relationship has had a successful track record placing both degreed and workforce development students directly into jobs working on Haas equipment. In addition to a handful of students who have been hired by Haas, prominent manufacturers who have hired VU students to work on Haas equipment include Zimmer Inc., Rochester Medical Implants, and Overton Industries Inc.
"Ultimately, technical training and workforce development must lead to jobs. Our students can walk out of here and perform at a high level on the job," states Tucker. "Our goal is to cultivate the relationship with ABB much as we have with Haas. The opportunity to train students on robotic equipment will continue to increase the visibility of ABB robots and Vincennes University to industries in the Midwest and beyond."
Vincennes University has campuses in Vincennes and additional sites throughout Indiana. In addition to a comprehensive Workforce Development program, VU offers 200 associate degree and certificate programs.
For more information about ABB Robotics, go to www.abb.com/robotics; for more information about Vincennes University, go to www.vinu.edu.
This article was first published in the December 2009 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.