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.
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.
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.