RAMTEC Career Center (Marion, OH) is home to the largest, most comprehensive robotics education center in the U.S. In order to increase the number of skilled manufacturing employees, the school is now training students ranging from middle school to industry professionals with collaborative robots from Universal Robots USA Inc. (Ann Arbor, MI).
RAMTEC (The Robotics and Advanced Manufacturing Technology Education Collaborative receives input from a large group of industry representatives involved in shaping its curriculum. When local companies started installing a new breed of industrial robots called collaborative robots (cobots), RAMTEC took note. In contrast to traditional industrial robots that stay bolted down inside a safety cage, cobots can work outside enclosures, move between tasks and operate right alongside humans.
“We did some research and realized that Universal Robots had one of the best collaborative robots on the market. We always want to stay ahead of where manufacturing is going to ensure that when our students leave this facility, they can use the equipment adapted by industry,” said Ritch Ramey, a RAMTEC coordinator overseeing robotics training at the nine Tri-Rivers career centers in Ohio. “If we don’t fill the skills gap, companies are going to move offshore again. In Ohio alone, there are 60,000 openings that we could help fill by getting high school students and workers retrained, both in the higher-skilled jobs, teaching them to program and operate robots and other machinery while also helping facilitate the entry of more robots taking over repetitive, lower-skilled tasks.”
Clay Hammock, robotics instructor at RAMTEC, said the cobots from Universal Robots are used to teach different skill sets. “It’s like peeling an onion; we can bring it down and present it to 5th graders who can start programming within a few minutes,” he said. “Or we can take it into a high school setting and have the students do more advanced motion controls. Another option is to teach it in the adult classroom. Many of our local manufacturers are interested in having their employees up to speed on programming their own UR robots, enabling them to touch up waypoints or maybe rearrange a little bit of the logic on the fly in the production setting. It’s really easy to do with the Universal robots.”
Kierstyn Graber is a student taking some of her high school credited classes at RAMTEC. After having worked with other industrial robots, she was surprised to discover that the UR cobots were easy to use. “Within two minutes we had a basic program running,” she said. “With the other robots you have to test it, figure it out, put it all on your computer, run out to the robot and monitor it, and then go back and fix it. With UR robots, you hit play on the touch screen right next to it and all the moves happen immediately.”
The UR robots’ built-in safety system enables the robot arm to automatically stop operating if it encounters objects or people in its route. That’s an important aspect in a classroom setting. Not having to build expensive safety cages around each robot also makes them more affordable, according to Rich Ramey, robotics coordinator. “We can move them around the room between tasks as there are so many things a student can do with a Universal robot that still fits into the industrial robotics model of education that we need,” he said.
A common robotic application now taught at RAMTEC is machine tending with a UR robot picking and placing parts in a 3D printer. The printer also came in handy when Hammock asked the students to make their own gripper for their new cobot. High school senior Canyon Gamble jumped on the task: “We went online, looked up a schematic of the face plate for the UR3 robot, and started building from the ground up, figuring out how to attach it and learning exactly how the I/Os work on the robot,” he said.
Working with the UR robots has inspired Gamble to pursue a career in factory automation. “I think it would be cool if I could make a factory line and have one robot do one task and pass it onto the next. I just worked on having two Universal robots interact with each other, so I could see how they would incorporate that with a factory line,” he said.