With seven sets of controls, but perfectly capable of assembling small pneumatic valves on its own, the mechatronics training system at Ogeechee Technical College is ready to help ramp up production of industrial maintenance technicians, and skill sets for those already employed, in 2017.
Poof! Pop! Whirrr! A miniature, automated assembly line operating at tabletop level, the mechatronics system made by the Amatrol company consists of seven modules, or learning stations. The robotic assembly arm may be the most eye-catching, but the system includes other moving gizmos such as a synchronous belt drive, a star-shaped wheel that positions parts for indexing, and devices for gauging components and sorting finished valves.
The learning stations are currently joined as a single machine, but can be unplugged from one another for independent use by students learning troubleshooting and repair.
“Process control, cycle time, there are so many things on here, other than just the mechanisms, that they can learn,” said Justin Goodman, a maintenance supervisor at Briggs & Stratton’s Statesboro engine factory who teaches industrial maintenance at Ogeechee Tech.
So far, Goodman and fellow adjunct instructor Tony Reagan, whose day job is with the Koyo Bearings plant in Sylvania, each teach one evening a week, often with one or two students at a time. Employees of industries such as Briggs and Koyo come to learn skills specific to workplace needs.
After doing their textbook-type lessons online, the students use the OTC industrial maintenance lab, which was already nearly filled with smaller Amatrol training stations, for hands-on learning. Each of the smaller training stations is devoted to a discrete technology area, such as electrical wiring, vibration analysis or mechanical drives.
But the $210,000 mechatronics training system, installed in mid-November, brings many of the technical areas together. With its industrial maintenance lab now fully equipped, Ogeechee Tech plans to ramp up its course offerings to include a non-credit “fast-track” course in basic industrial maintenance beginning in January and for-credit certificate and diploma programs next fall.
Although the Industrial Maintenance Fast-Track Program will not be for official credit, the short courses should help meet the demand of local industries for maintenance technicians, said OTC Continuing Education and Industry Training Director Kathleen Kosmoski.
“It’s an eight-week program to take people with no industrial maintenance background and get them trained up in a short amount of time to start filling these entry-level positions in the companies,” Kosmoski said. “Some companies now have eight to 10 vacancies in this area. There’s just a huge shortage of industrial maintenance employees across the state.”
Three separate sessions of the fast-track program are slated, the first from Jan. 23 to March 17, the second from April 3 to May 26, and the third from June 5 to Aug. 4. The course will include lessons in electronics, industrial wiring, motor controls, fluid power, mechanical systems, instrumentation, programmable logic controllers and troubleshooting.
The for-credit Basic Mechatronics Certificate program is planned for launch fall semester, beginning in August. A diploma program may be called the Industrial Systems Technology Diploma, pending approval by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, OTC Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness Brandy Taylor said in an email.
OTC Vice President for Economic Development Jan Moore expects about 10 students for the first fast track course but said that time will reveal the full demand.
“We know that there’s a demand for it, and it may be that the demand is training 20 people in our area every year, it may be training 10,” Moore said. “We may end up training people from all over southeastern Georgia and parts of South Carolina, until we’re running this non-degree program two or three times a year.”
Beginners will not start their lab work on the new mechatronics system. Students will probably need to complete units in AC-DC electrical, motor control, programmable logic controllers and two units in pneumatics first, said Goodman and Reagan.
The money to buy the mechatronics training system came from a state OneGeorgia Authority grant to the Development Authority of Bulloch County, Georgia Southern University and Ogeechee Tech that also helped equip Georgia Southern’s FabLab in downtown Statesboro. A couple of smaller Amatrol devices in the OTC lab were also purchased with the grant funds, Kosmoski said.
But Koyo, Briggs & Stratton, Brodie International, Viracon, Claxton Poultry and the Bulloch and Screven County development authorities have also provided funds for the purchase of equipment in the lab, she noted.
Ogeechee Tech launched its industrial maintenance lab about 18 months ago in the college’s Screven County center, then moved the equipment to the lab in the new Natural Resources Building on the main campus south of Statesboro in January.
Leaders of area industries have been talking about a shortage of trained maintenance people for several years. The jobs pay well, Goodman and Reagan said.
“We have technicians at work that make what an entry-level engineer makes in our front office,” Goodman said.
In other words, industrial maintenance technicians with experience can make over $50,000 a year with some companies.
“To me, that’s competitive. That’s good pay for the area,” he said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.