From “MSTC Vex Robotics Camp exposes students to mechanical skills” — About 25 middle schoolers and their parents descended on Mid-State Technical College to watch robots compete against each other Thursday.

And the neat part? The children built the robots themselves.

Over the past four days, coaches at MSTC’s Vex Robotics Camp taught students the basic process of building and developing their own robots. Thursday’s competition was a culmination of the students’ week-long effort and gave the youths an opportunity to showcase what they learned.

Richard Breen, an adjunct professor at MSTC, is one of the camp’s coordinators and coaches. He said he hopes the children take what they learned and apply it to life outside the camp.

“We hope that we inspire them to go on and do more — and a little bit with programming,” Breen said.

However, Breen noted that programing and mechanical techniques are not the only lessons they learn. The students also practice soft skills such as teamwork, problem solving and time management in their race to build the ultimate robot.

“It’s got all those great elements that culminate in the competition to see who designed the best unit that can perform the task to the best ability,” said Gary Kilgas, associate dean of MSTC’s technical industrial division.

The robotics camp introduces students to different facets of math and science they might not encounter in the classroom.

“What I see is that they’re able to use cellphones and computer systems very well, but their mechanical skills are not necessarily there,” Breen said.

Exposing today’s youths to these mechanical and engineering skills is especially important, said Kilgas, because many employers looking for workers are unable to find qualified people because of the skills gap.

“We need those types of talents here. We have got businesses looking for CNC (computer numerical control) operators or people who understand automation,” Kilgas said. “And those are all the types of things you’re learning here (at camp).”

This is this summer’s second week of the Vex Robotics Camp. And according to Kilgas, it’s been a success so far.

“It’s not only the right thing to do with these young people — keeping them interested in technology, engineering and math — but it’s a wonderful way for them to learn new skills and work as team,” Kilgas said.

From “New Ingenuity Center hopes to connect unemployed workers with manufacturing jobs” — The Ingenuity Center at Madison Area Technical College is the 8th and final building renovation as part of the 2010 referendum. The center has been open since the beginning of Fall semester, but on Wednesday afternoon college officials held a ceremonial ribbon cutting ceremony.

The ceremony itself showcased the overall goal of the new center. Instead of simply cutting a ribbon with a pair of scissors, the ceremony ended with a student-programmed robot cutting a poly cord. College officials say the poly cord symbolized the more than 50 programs that use the Ingenuity Center to teach classes. Nearly every program uses the material in some shape or form.

“It is 62,000 square feet of lab and classroom space dedicated to advancing Wisconsin manufacturing,” Interim Dean of Applied Science, Engineering and Technology Denise Reimer says.

Business analysts say manufacturing is a growing sector in many parts of the country, one that is experiencing a major gap in employment. Openings are available, but managers are having a tough time finding skilled workers to fill them. They’re workers like single mother of four Rose Appleton.

“I’m excited about what I can learn and what I can do,” Appleton says. “The robotics program and the fact that I will be able to work with metal and program a machine. To do so is just pheonomenal.”

After working many years in retail, Appleton found herself unemployed about two years ago. Through a grant she was able to take manufacturing classes and found herself a new job at Evco Plastics.

“Initially they declined me because I didn’t have the manufacturing skills. Once they found out I had the manufacturing certificate I was eligible to start at Evco,” Appleton says.

Not only is the center giving students new opportunities, it’s also causing increases in enrollment. This Spring college officials saw a 6% increase over last year, with signs pointing to more growth ahead.

“This is the answer, is bringing individuals here to give them those job ready skills so that they can go into the manufacturing environment,” Reimer says.

College officials say more than 50 programs will use the center to teach their classes. The space is used for a variety of programs, from automotive to biotechnology.

From “Middle School Girls Take on “Man’s Work” — Green Bay – Middle school girls got the chance Tuesday to learn about welding and robotics at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

It’s called “Women at Work,” and it’s an effort to get more young women interested in typically male-dominated fields.

More than 100 girls from middle schools in the area spent the morning learning about trades like welding with a simulator.

“It gives feedback electronically to the instructor and to the student. It’s actually mechanical movement, so they get that effect,” NWTC welding instructor Jon Russell explained.

In another session, the students use robots to learn about animation.

“We took a robot and we were picking up garbage and deciding if it was trash or recyclable,” Bayview Middle School student Madelyn Jorgensen described.

The goal is to give young women the opportunity to explore careers in these types of trades which typically attract men.

The girls also had the chance to meet with employers to learn about the different trades.

“There are lots of job opportunities for these women in these different trades areas. They’re able to get paid pretty well at some really hands-on type jobs that are really kind of fun,” Angie Arneson, a technology and engineering teacher in Denmark Middle School said.

According to NWTC, only three to five percent of students in the welding program are women.

But these students say they’re inspired by Tuesday’s workshop.

“Girls can definitely do these jobs. Girls have better hand-eye coordination I’ve heard. So things like welding where you have to be very specific would probably be better for girls,” Denmark Middle School student Ellie Babiash said.


From “WCTC’s Career Quest designed for middle school students” — Waukesha County Technical College will host Career Quest, an opportunity for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students to get a closer look at what skills and qualifications are needed for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

The three-day summer exploration will take place on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 6, 7 and 8, at WCTC’s main campus in Pewaukee.

Middle school students will be introduced to a variety of careers – including those in Criminal Justice, Early Childhood Education, Metal Fabrication/Welding, Cosmetology and many more — and learn about the education and training needed for those jobs. Cost of the event is $100 per student. Sessions run from at 8:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; lunch and snacks will be provided. Registration ends June 28, and the sessions will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Space is limited!

From the options below, students can choose two career sessions to explore: • Future of Nursing (Nursing) • What’s Up, Doc? (Medical Assistant) • Authorized Personnel Only! (Surgical Technology) • To Protect and Serve — CSI style (Criminal Justice) • Emergency! (Firefighting/EMT) • Fuse it Together (Metal Fabrication/Welding) • Precision Parts (CNC Manufacturing) • Explore Robotics (Automation Systems Technology) • Baking Quest (Baking/Pastry) • Culinary Quest (Culinary Management) • The Art of Play (Early Childhood) • Spa Day (Cosmetology)

For details on career sessions, to learn more about Career Quest and to register, visit For questions, contact John Pritchett, Career Quest coordinator, at 262.695.7847 or


From “Madison College is Wisconsin’s first certified robot training and education site for FANUC Robotics Vision Programming”  — “Around the country, only 11 schools have achieved this highest level of the FANUC Robotics Certified Education Robot Training (CERT) program,” said Paul Aiello, regional manager, FANUC Robotics America. “Madison College has been certified as a robot programming site since 2010.”

According to Peter S. Dettmer, Madison College Instructor – Automated Manufacturing, the school’s first class in Vision for Robotics Programming will be offered for free at the Watertown campus starting March 13, 2013 through a US Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant.

“This eight-week course and certification is part of a new two-year Associates Degree in Automated Manufacturing Systems Technology (AMST), which starts this fall,” said Dettmer. “Students who successfully complete the course will receive FANUC Robotics’ industry certification in vision and robot programming.”

FANUC Robotics CERT Program

Launched in 2008, FANUC Robotics’ CERT program certifies instructors at educational institutions to train their students to program FANUC robots through on-line and hands-on training courses.

“As more companies incorporate robotics into their operations, the demand for high paying careers related to designing, implementing and using industrial robots is increasing,” said Aiello. “Graduates of certified programs like the one offered at Madison College will start their careers with industry-recognized certifications. Those who are better-trained robot operators will set themselves apart in the workforce.”


From “NTC takes next step in connecting students with gold collar careers” — Advances in technology and an increasing demand for skilled workers have transformed the manufacturing world, leaving employees to trade in those trusty old blue collars for ones with a gilded sheen.

With the help of its partners in local industry and education, Northcentral Technical College (NTC) is taking the next step in giving students a chance to wear that gold collar, provided it is a good fit for them, said Bobbi Damrow, dean of NTC’s North Campus in Phillips.

Positions making up the shiny, new field of gold collar careers fall into a variety of trade areas, including welding, electromechanical work, fabrication and even to some extent, information technology, as Damrow explained.

Workers who enter jobs forming today’s manufacturing sector aren’t likely to find the shop conditions that awaited their grandparents; use of robotic equipment and other advanced technology are now all part of a day’s work, according to Damrow.

NTC is but one partner in a group of northwest Wisconsin educational institutes and businesses that have joined together in advancing the Gold Collar Careers initiative – a grassroots response to challenges regional manufacturers were facing in their efforts to secure workers equipped with the advanced skills needed to thrive in the industry.

“Manufacturing growth was being inhibited due to a shortage of these skilled workers,” according to the introduction page on the Gold Collar Careers initiative Web site.

Damrow said that NTC has been involved in the movement for probably over five years due to demographic trends showing where job openings would be as Price County’s workforce ages. “In Phillips, we have a manufacturing focus.”

That focus is evident on a much larger scale at the Wausau campus where “they’ve got a number of very high tech, complete programs for the gold collar career sector,” Damrow said.

NTC’s North Campus already offers Phillips and Chequamegon High School students an introduction to this in-demand career sector along with a shot at earning 12 transferable college credits in the same certificate area via its newly introduced Manufacturing Electronics Maintenance (MEM) Academy.

Now, the campus is poised to debut a symposium on that same class of high demand careers geared at students in grades 7-12. They’ll be holding the Gold Collar Careers Symposium at Phillips Middle School Thursday, April 4 at 5:30 p.m. in partnership with the Chequamegon School District, Phillips High School, Price County Economic Development Association and Northwest Wisconsin CEP (Concentrated Employment Program) Inc. Among other areas of work, CEP offers youth apprenticeship programming.

Students in all three Price County school districts – Chequamegon, Phillips and Prentice – are invited to take part in the event.

One simple goal stands as the driving force behind the symposium:

“…We want to give the students some orientation that we do have gold collar careers in Price County,” Damrow said.

The event is set to open with displays presented by Price County manufacturers and a spread of light snacks. Students, whether already taking transcripted courses with NTC or just starting to think about future career options, will get a chance to learn about local industries, the products they produce and employment needs foreseen in the future. The second part of the event, slated to run from 6:30-7:30 p.m., will feature a panel discussion with local gold collar employees, employers and Northwest Wisconsin CEP reps weighing in on industry topics. After that, viewing of tabletop displays and talks with local manufacturers should resume, according to Damrow.

Students are asked to come to the event accompanied by a parent or guardian.

“I think it’s important that everyone is on the same page for what types of jobs are in the area,” Damrow said.

Price County students who’d like to participate in the event are asked to return a registration slip to their high school offices by March 22.

While Damrow said that she realizes gold collar careers won’t be a good fit for everyone, she would like each student to get a chance to try the job field on for size in case it suits them well.

One other upcoming event aims at giving students an even earlier introduction to manufacturing careers. The program Get S.M.A.R.T. (Science and Math Activities Using Real-World Thinking) delivers “a day of hands-on fun and exploration” to area students in grades 5-12.

Get S.M.A.R.T. is scheduled to be held at the Manufacturing Lab of the NTC North Campus in Phillips Saturday, March 9 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Program participants will be divided into two separate sessions. They can expect to spend half of their day at NTC completing a welding project and the other half creating a mystery project using state-of-the-art technology. As in the symposium, students taking part in this program will need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Seventeen of the available 24 spots had already filled up as of Monday, Feb. 25, so Damrow encouraged any students who might be interested in participating to act fast and register today. There is a $10 fee for the event to cover the cost of electronics kits used in program activities. The registration fee will secure students lunch, a T-shirt, their completed projects and door prizes.

Damrow said that she’s excited for the chance to be able to give younger students a taste of the type of work at the heart of gold collar careers.

“It’s going to be a fun day,” Damrow said, adding that Get S.M.A.R.T. events will be held at all three of the largest NTC campuses, including Antigo and Wausau in addition to Phillips. Each of the events are structured consistently so that students will find the same experience, both educational and enjoyable, no matter which site they head to for the event, according to Damrow.

NTC has gradually cast a wider net in terms of getting educational offerings in the area to complement the needs of businesses, as Damrow explained.

First, new welding and MEM training was introduced in response to feedback from members of local industry that they’d like to see programs at the Phillips campus oriented more toward the demands of the manufacturing field. The next step was bringing MEM programming to the county’s high schools via academy courses.

“Now, we’re actually bringing some of those very basic concepts down to the middle schools,” Damrow said.

She explained the benefit of introducing students to the career field at these younger grade levels, touching on the key role technology has come to take on in every area of life, not just manufacturing.

“They’re very tech savvy and with the gold collar careers kind of adding that very technical, automated element, I think that introducing it to them at such a young age should really instill in them some excitement about that type of career path,” Damrow said.

Anyone with questions about the Get S.M.A.R.T. program is asked to give Samantha Buchberger a call at (715) 803-1711 or send her an email at

From “Wave Robotics gears up for challenge” — Bright and early Jan. 5, students, parents and mentors convened at Fox Valley Technical College in Oshkosh to anxiously await the announcement of the FIRST® Robotics Competition’s 2013 game. In a darkened room, more than 100 people associated with the local FIRST® team, Wave Robotics, watched the projector screen for hints of this year’s challenge. The FIRST® organization first went over the benefits of involvement: fun, scholarship opportunities and college entrance and then finally announced it, “Ultimate Ascent.”

Rumbles emanated from the crowd as scenes of flying disc-throwing robots and pyramids appeared on screen. The students were shown the Ultimate Ascent playing field and received a kit of parts made up of motors, batteries, a control system, a PC, and a mix of automation components — with no instructions.

Within minutes of the announcement, mentors and students were already buzzing around laptops and in groups talking about alignment and aerodynamics. The game is played by two competing alliances on a flat, 27 x 54 foot field. Each alliance consists of three robots, and they compete to score as many discs into their goals as they can during a two-minute and fifteen-second match. The higher the goal in which the disc is scored, the more points the alliance receives.

The match ends with robots attempting to climb up pyramids located near the middle of the field. Each robot earns points based on how high it climbs. The Wave team has never built a robot designed to climb or aim and throw flying discs.

Jake Fischer, a mentor who works at Oshkosh Corporation, said he was surprised by the challenge. “Throwing a Frisbee has never been attempted in the FIRST® arena. Conceptually and mechanically it will be the most difficult challenge to date.” He continued, laughing, “humans routinely struggle with throwing Frisbees well and we have to do it with a robot in only six weeks.”

Micheal Lau, a third year Wave Participant from Oshkosh West, said the biggest challenges Wave faced was the climbing aspect. He said over the last few years the team has learned a lot, especially to expedite game piece collection, and he hopes to use that experience this year to deal with trying to pick the flying discs up quickly.

There was a lot of nervous excitement during kick-off and it was obvious the students and mentors have a lot of work ahead of them in the next few weeks. From the FIRST press release: “Working with adult Mentors, students have six weeks to design, build, program, and test their robots to meet the season’s engineering challenge. Once these young inventors create a robot, their teams will participate in 77 Regional competitions with over 2550 other high schools. Competitions measure the effectiveness of each robot, the power of collaboration, and the determination of students.” Wave will be competing at the Northern Lights Regional in Duluth, Minn., and will be returning to the Wisconsin Regional held at the US Cellular Arena in Milwaukee in March where they will be looking to capture a regional victory for the third straight year. Winning a regional event will qualify Wave to compete at the World Championships with 400 other high schools in St. Louis, Mo., at the Edward Jones Dome, home of the St. Louis Rams.

Visit the team’s Facebook page and to see the team’s progress throughout the build and competition season. Wave Robotics is possible through the generosity, donations and time of parents, mentors, volunteers and area businesses.


From “Students show off robotics at college” — It isn’t every day a person walks into a room with a blackjack table and faces a robotic dealer. For that matter, people have probably never watched a robot operate a single-cup coffeemaker or change a toy tire.

Members of the public had the chance to witness all three Wednesday at Madison College’s Watertown campus, 1300 W. Main St.

Students in the Robotics II class at Madison College completed the projects during the eight-week course. They spent 4 1/2 hours in class per week and came in on weekends to complete their robots, instructor Peter Dettmer said.

The students planned their projects, did all the procedures, fixtured and tooled the robots, tested the robots and ran them in automatic mode.

Local and regional manufacturing companies contributed resources to help the students, including parts and services, Dettmer said.

Four players at a time stepped up to see if they could beat the robotic blackjack dealer programmed by Andrew Rush of New Berlin, Natalie Berget of Watertown and Matt Glaus of New Berlin. The robot pulls a card from the deck and slides it along a camera before dealing it. The camera captures the card’s number and stores it, remembering which player received each card and keeping count of his or her score, Rush said.

When delivering a card to a player, the robot flips the card so the person can see it before laying it face up on the table. The whole flipping process and getting the card to lay proved to be the most difficult tasks the team programmed the robot to do, the group said.

Using a single-cup coffeemaker and a FANUC robot, the trio of Jeff Hoppe, Jon Mundy and Kyle Bingen, all of Watertown, made cups of coffee for anyone who needed a pick-me-up.

The robot pulls a coffee cup from a dispenser, places it under the coffee pot, grabs a Keurig cup from the stand to its right, places the cup in the coffee pot, shuts the lid and presses the start button. Seventy short seconds later when the coffee finishes brewing, the robot lifts the lid and puts the empty Keurig cup in a trash bin. The whole process takes 125 seconds, and the only thing a human has to do is take the coffee cup once it’s filled.

The group chose the coffee pot because no other class had done it before, they said. The program set for the robot is actually three, one for each action the robot carries out: grabbing the coffee cup, grabbing the Keurig cup and brewing the coffee.

After many hours of work, the students were pleased with their outcome, even throwing out a few jokes about it.

“This is a $30,000 coffee pot,” Bingen said with a laugh.

Allen Nelson of Fort Atkinson found toy Goodyear tires at a car show not long before the groups started brainstorming ideas for their projects. Along with teammates Chris Daly of Waterloo and Larry Smith of Madison, Nelson programmed a FANUC robot to pick up a tire and put two small bolts into it.

What someone watching the robot in action doesn’t see is how much programming goes into one machine, Daly said.

“The complexity of what it takes to get the robot to do a simple movement was the most difficult part,” he said. “It’s amazing how much time it took …  you have to teach the robot every little thing.”

Robots are machines, and therefore must be programmed to complete each individual movement, from picking up the tire to turning it and pushing it on a stand, Daly said.

All of the students in the class are adults with full-time jobs in the manufacturing industry. Berget, of the blackjack dealing team, works at Fisher-Barton in Watertown. While she doesn’t use FANUC robots at work, she said the technical aspects of the FANUC robots and the ones she uses are the same, which has allowed her to troubleshoot at work.

Hoppe and Mundy also work at Fisher-Barton. Hoppe said he has implemented what he’s learned in the classroom at work to save time. An employee at Diversey in Watertown, Bingen said after a co-worker retires in the near future, he will be the only employee who knows how to program the company’s two FANUC robots. The robotics courses at Madison College have made him more comfortable handling the robots at his job, he said.

“I’m not afraid to make an adjustment to the robot to make it run correctly,” Bingen said. “It’s not as intimidating and I know I can fix a problem.”

Kim Erdmann, of the Watertown Economic Development Corp., said Watertown needs more skilled manufacturing workers who can program robotic equipment like the nine students.

“The thing people don’t know is the huge career someone can get from these jobs. These are jobs that will sustain a family, and the technology isn’t going away,” Erdmann said.

Starting next fall, Madison College will offer an associate’s degree in automated manufacturing, which the robotics classes would count toward.

The robots featured on Wednesday are not only some of the most complex ever attempted in the class, but also the only ones to be finished, Dettmer said.

“The robots are fantastic. They did an amazing job,” he said.

From  Robotics camp for girls — APPLETON — Some area girls spent the week learning more about robots and how they work at a summer camp hosted by Fox Valley Technical College. They even got to build their own robot as part of the week-long camp. Despite the event being for girls only organizers say it would be a great event for boys, too. At the end of the week, the girls pitted their bots against each other in a friendly competition.

From “High-tech training at FVTC” — GRAND CHUTE – For seventeen years, Barry Degler has been an electrician at the ThyssenKrupp Waupaca Foundry. On this day, he is learning about robots.

“We’re installing new robots for the first time ever in our plant, so this will give me a basic idea of how to deal with them, and how to work with them,” said Degler.

This sixteen-hour course teaches the basics.

“We’re bringing them up-to-speed. They see that they need to have more of those people on the line aware of how the robots work, how it operates, and how to troubleshoot it,” said FVTC instructor Kurt Thern.

Instructors say these workers turned students are learning quickly.

“When I started this class the only thing I knew how to do was move a robot. Now, I can pretty much write a program, make modifications, adjustments to the robot,” said Dan Sauve, ThyssenKrupp electrician.

It costs $10,000 for the two-day course. A state grant picked up half the cost. The company paid for the rest. Leaders at ThyssenKrupp Waupaca say its money well spent.

“A lot of times we may call maintenance, to come up and help us fix a problem, and find out it’s something that maybe could have been taken care of by the operator themselves,” said Gordy Barth, ThyssenKrupp training manager. “Anytime we can keep things moving along, improve productivity, reduce the downtime is a huge benefit for the company and the employees as well.”

And the employees say they don’t mind spending a little time in the classroom.

“I’ll feel confident on making a robot adjustment definitely. After this class, good education,” said Sauve.

“I like learning. I am still young enough to learn,” said Degler.

Fox Valley Tech offers advanced classes in robotics as well. Students can take advantage of programs in the field of electrical and mechanical maintenance.

From “Rise of the machine: High school students embrace robotics” — They climb poles, shoot hoops and stack inner tubes. No, it’s not a summer camp. These exercises are being done by robots created by high school students.

An open house at Western Technical College showcased the interactive machines Monday as three La Crosse area high schools prepare to launch robotics teams.

Central, Aquinas and Onalaska Luther have joined thousands of high schools competing for regional and national prizes from FIRST: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

“I was excited because I could see our students competing — academically competing — with other students,” said Paul Callan, a physics and technology teacher at Aquinas.

The three teams will form a new coalition with Minnesota’s La Crescent-Hokah High School, which has competed in regional events for three years.

While hundreds of Minnesota schools already participate, FIRST teams are less common in Wisconsin. Logistics Health will sponsor the teams, covering yearly expenses that can reach $10,000.

Robotics offers hands-on lessons in math and science, as students learn everything from engineering to hydraulics, Callan said.

“All of that comes together to build a robot,” he said.

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