The Kids Are All Right: Producing Rookie Engineers From STEM Programs

This Month's "Automation's Got Talent" Cover Article Discussed How STEM Programs Are Beginning to Produce the Rookie Engineers, Technicians and Operators Needed to Replace Their Veteran and Rapidly Retiring Counterparts

By Jim Montague

Share Print Related RSS

I really enjoyed researching this month's "Automation's Got Talent" cover article on how science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs are beginning to produce the rookie engineers, technicians and operators needed to replace their veteran and rapidly retiring counterparts. It was especially refreshing to learn about the headway these programs are making because I've sat through at least a couple dozen presentations in recent years proclaiming the coming brain drain, but offering few suggestions on how solve it. I was beginning to get depressed because they made the problem sound unsolvable. As usual, panicky, doom-and-gloom talk is initially exciting, but 1ultimately it's cheap, empty and unhelpful.

Anyway, it was a true breath of fresh air to cover STEM efforts at some U.S. community colleges and high schools and even more gratifying to see the help they're getting from some machine builders who are hiring the graduates they need. These students, teachers and builders don't just know the brain drain can be solved—they're living examples of the solutions.
           
For instance, Sergio Garibay just graduated from the industrial engineering program at Purdue University Calumet (www.purduecal.edu) in Hammond, Indiana, but he's already been working for Morrison Container Handling Solutions in Glenwood, Illinois, for 11 months, and even helped his new company rethink its production layout in its new building. "The old building was three times bigger than the new one, but the equipment was pretty scattered, so there were many opportunities to be more efficient," Garibay, who also presented a senior project on the revamp during Purdue Calumet's Tech Day event in April, says, "So we did from/to calculation sheets in Excel, numbered each of our 22 machines, determined foot travel per day and came up with about 150 different designs. This allowed us to pick one with the best equipment positioning, optimum foot traffic and workflow and added room between the machines for better safety. The new layout is also successful because it's neater, cleaner and lets us bring in customers more easily."

See Also: Six Fun STEM Facts You Might Not Know

Beyond immediate initiatives to educate and hire more engineers and operators, I was also encouraged that everyone and their brother seems to be involved in longer-term STEM programs for elementary, middle and high school students. In fact, FIRST Robotics and FIRST Tech Challenge now seem as almost as widespread as the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.
 

We're really living FIRST's mantra: This is the only competitive sport where every child can go pro.'

For example, Rick Folea, senior technical marketer at Automation Direct, reports his son, Chris, and 11 friends wanted to start a robotics club about eight or nine years ago in Forsyth County, Georgia, so they approached some local companies and organized a FIRST Robotics team. "We just started with his friends, and since then it's grown into an enormous, monster organization with 125 teams in FIRST Lego League, Vex Robotics and FIRST Robotics, as well as a STEM Academy program at Central Forsyth High School and an in-class Manufacturing Pathways program at South Forsyth High School," says Folea, who adds that local firms like Automation Direct, Siemens Industry and other have partnered with the teams and STEM programs. "It's even gone from being an extra-curricular activity to a co-curricular program that drives the kids' in-school interests because they want to learn to make their robots work better. In this county, our kids are getting a lot better chance to choose their professions. We're really living FIRST's mantra: ‘This is the only competitive sport where every child can go pro.' "
            
For instance, Folea adds that Chris learned Autodesk's donated AutoCAD design software as part of his FIRST Robotics experience, cranked out product animations at Automation Direct as part of a multiyear internship, and was recently hired by the company. "It's very gratifying to see kids excited about engineering. STEM has taken it from an activity that was thought of as yucky and dirty to become what the cool kids are doing. I'm told there are even some kids picking STEM teams over sports."

So all the rookie engineers are getting ready, and some may be headed your way. Maybe you can help them along if you're not doing it already.

Finally, in the "Safety is Elemental" cover article in the May 2014 issue of Control Design, the vertical "Comments" column at the right of Figure 1 incorrectly identified in its top two boxes the safety calculation tool for evaluating the safety of machine designs. The correct name is the Safety Evaluation Tool (SET) from Siemens Industry. The corrected chart is at www.controldesign.com/articles/2014/machine-safety-is-elemental-for-new-automated-systems.  

 
Correction
In the "Safety is Elemental" cover article in the May 2014 issue of Control Design, the vertical "Comments" column at the right of Figure 1 incorrectly identified in its top two boxes the safety calculation tool that builders can use to evaluate the safety of their machine designs. The correct name is the Safety Evaluation Tool (SET) from Siemens Industry. The free, online SET tool is available at http://tinyurl.com/pzeqb8c, and the white paper containing the original chart, "How to Turn Machine Safety into a Production Asset and a Competitive aAvantage," is located at http://tinyurl.com/nqwtyel.

Share Print Reprints Permissions

What are your comments?

Join the discussion today. Login Here.

Comments

No one has commented on this page yet.

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments