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A Global Educational Partnership Expands Local Opportunities

North Country Career Center (NCCC) - Newport, VT

-- Contributed by by Eileen Illuzzi, North Country Career Center Director

The idea for a Mechatronics program at the North Country Career Center (NCCC) came through a request for training from Columbia Forest Products, a national Advanced Manufacturing and Wood Production Company with a facility in Newport, Vermont. What started out as a conversation for a workforce education and training program in Industrial Maintenance turned into a discovery for a need to provide training in advanced manufacturing and the growing field of Mechatronics.

Mechatronics is the synergistic application of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering (also including electronics), controls engineering and computer science within product design and manufacturing, in order to improve and/or optimize its functionality.

In the Report from a Trans-Atlantic Technology and Training Alliance Symposium on “The Future of Manufacturing”, October 1-2, 2012 it is noted that as traditional production line jobs in manufacturing decrease, jobs in engineering, design, maintenance repair, serving customers and the manufacture of automated equipment provide steady employment. Dr. Stuart Rosenfeld of Regional Technology Strategies, Inc., goes on to state:

Manufacturers overwhelmingly ask for a pipeline of better-prepared and, if possible, more experienced applicants from which to choose, and if not experienced, at least with certified skills. They would like to find applicants who can move right into a job and be fully productive with minimal, if any, training. It used to be relatively common to begin a career as a trainee with the expectation of a period of time to learn the job and company culture. Now firms expect hires to walk into a position very nearly, if not completely, job-ready.”

The Mechatronics program at NCCC provides students with the entry level skills necessary to compete in the advanced manufacturing technology career field and/or go on to further post-secondary training. The core foundational skills a student will learn in this program (the engineering skills and computer science, PLC, CNC and CADD skills) are also transferable to many different careers in STEM and Manufacturing. With the recent news that the Newport area will be going through major economic redevelopment, a program like this will become a selling point to draw advanced manufacturing companies to the area.

NCCC offers both an Introduction to Mechatronics course to 9th and 10th students, and a two-year, half time program (120 minutes per day) to the 11th and 12th grade students. The introductory class gives students the foundational skills to go on to the two year program in Mechatronics or another STEM related program or field. The class focuses on defining and identifying a mechatronics system, with an overview of the concepts associated with the various systems of Mechatronics. Students will learn about Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, Process Control Systems, Fluid Power Systems (hydraulic and pneumatic), Computer Science and CADD (including 3-D printing).

In the two-year program, students will participate in work-based learning projects that range from design to implementation/manufacturing of a given product. They will also be trained in Siemens Mechatronics Systems Certification Program (SMSCP) and will be eligible to test for a Level One certification that is available only online through Siemens in Berlin. This certification is recognized world-wide as the gold standard for mechatronics training.

As part of the partnership with Siemens, and thanks to funding from the Vermont Agency of Education, two of the NCCC teachers spent two weeks in July at the Siemens Technik Academie in Berlin, Germany getting training in the “systems approach to mechatronics” and becoming certified SMSCP instructors. They are now teaching at NCCC and their students will test for certification in the spring.

What does the Mechatronics program mean for economic development in the Newport area? The same technology and curricula, combined with the use of the training simulators for this program, will be a large component of the NCCC workforce education and training effort in the advanced manufacturing field. Training will be provided to local manufacturers to suit their needs utilizing our mechatronics machinery and equipment to offer an array of classes including; fluid power systems, mechanical systems, electrical systems, Programmable Logic Controls (PLC), and CADD. As our Mechatronics program develops with Siemens, we will also be able to replicate this certification program for adult students. While NCCC will only be able to offer entry-level certification, there are other partner schools in the United States (none in the northeast) that offer both Level Two and Level Three certifications in conjunction with an Associate’s and Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering. In the future, NCCC could partner with the Vermont State Colleges or a private college to offer a program in this same way. Using the space and equipment at NCCC we could offer college level technical training to students while utilizing existing equipment and resources. Students could transition seamlessly from the Level One certification to Level Two and Three and earn an associate’s degree without ever having to leave the career center facility.

For a look at what our students are saying about the Mechatronics program and taking Career and Technical Education programs, please check out this video done by the Vermont Agency of Education.

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NEASC 2015-09