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OTC and robot training
Top robot producer pairs with Ogeechee Tech
Bulloch County Schools Career Technical & Agricultural Education Department director Julie Chance, background right, takes a peek at one of the robots in the new mechatronics lab following the opening ceremony of the new Industrial Technology building at Ogeechee Technical College. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

With the debut of Ogeechee Technical College’s new Industrial Technology Building and its robotics lab, FANUC, one of the world’s leading makers of industrial robots, plans to make Ogeechee Tech a satellite learning center specific to FANUC equipment.

“Our end-user customers and our systems integrators – companies that install automation within end-users – those companies have been asking for the last 10 years about talent and work force and where they’re going to get people that understand how to use this type of technology, so we’ve proactively started to partner with education,” said Paul S. Aiello, director of FANUC America Corporation’s certified education program.

Aiello and Wendy Hall, eastern U.S. district account manager for FANUC’s educational program, attended the Feb. 21 grand opening ceremony at the OTC Industrial Technology Building and then toured it with special attention to the robotics lab. 

FANUC has trained about 7,000 to 8,000 students, its industrial customers’ employees, at its own facility, but could not keep up, Aiello said. He cited a projected “skills gap” of 2.5 million workers or more in U.S. manufacturing over the next decade and said the only way for industries to fill it is to partner with schools.

A FANUC video was showing on the high-mounted screen in the lab’s classroom area, which is surrounded on three sides by robots and other automatic devices. So the video served as little more than background lighting while Chamber of Commerce and Development Authority folks and other visitors eyeballed the real machinery in action.

Seven robots

Behind safety barriers, one relatively big, floor-mounted FANUC robot was doing sort of a dance, as if moving invisible objects within its 10-foot reach. It can move things weighing up to 99 pounds and is rated to do so five days a week, 12 hours a day for four years, said OTC instructor Justin Goodman. It can also move its hand at a speed of about 4,000 millimeters, or 13 feet, per second, he said in an earlier interview, explaining the need for the safety fence.

At tabletop workstations, four smaller independent FANUC robots with array sensors that establish invisible green, yellow and red safety zones would halt their programmed motions if someone approached too close.

Also new, the FANUC-manufactured RoboDrill, an encased, vertical CNC milling machine, is paired with a sixth small robot that tends it. Even the Amatrol-manufactured mechatronics trainer, like a small automated assembly line, has a FANUC robot as a component. So that’s a total of seven one-armed, industrial-type robots, all FANUC-made, in one big room.

What’s FANUC?

FANUC America, headquartered in Rochester Hills, Mich., has 22 regional offices around the country. It is a subsidiary of Japan-based FANUC, which Aiello described as “the global leader of all industrial automation.”  It is the largest manufacturer of industrial robots for the U.S. market.

With almost 600,000 robots and about 4 million computer numerical controlled, or CNC, devices installed worldwide, the company holds about 65 percent of the global market share in CNC machines, he said.

The company’s office in Charlotte, N.C., is the nearest one to Statesboro. FANUC also has a training partner site for robotics in Huntsville, Ala., but none in Georgia, Florida or South Carolina. So, when Ogeechee Tech becomes a FANUC Authorized Satellite Training, or FAST, center, it could be the only one in a large area.

“We wanted to get a training center that was both academic and workforce-development in this area to support the manufacturers throughout this whole Southeast region,” Aiello said.

Area manufacturers that gave through the Ogeechee Technical College Foundation helped the college purchase the equipment.

Developing the course

“We worked with them on making sure they have the newest, latest and greatest technology, but then FANUC pays to train and certify their instructors to teach the same curriculum that we teach in industry,” Aiello said.

Ogeechee Tech has not received the FAST certification yet. Aiello said the company wants the college to be “seasoned” for almost a year in developing the robotics course.

“We would then really proactively push our customers and integrators to come here that are in this region for training, to really reduce their travel time to going to one of our facilities,” he said. “So it’s really to be training geographically closer to our customer base.”

With the new lab, Ogeechee Technical College will be able to provide entry-level robotic technician training to students enrolled in its electrical and industrial systems technology programs of study, as well as help train employees of industries, said OTC Vice President for Economic Development Jan Moore.

Goodman, instructor of the college’s for-credit mechatronics courses and also the noncredit industrial maintenance fast track program developed for local industries, was slated to begin teaching a robotics class this week. For now it will be part of the programmable logic control curriculum, he said.

“We’ve got local industries here, like Briggs & Stratton, that have 50 or 60 robots in their facilities, so it’s a pretty big demand, I feel like,” Goodman said.

Investment in labs

In addition to the industrial technology programs, the newest building on Ogeechee Tech’s main campus houses the logistics and electrical technology programs and a warehouse for the college’s supplies. It cost $9.1 million to build and a reported $1.6 million to furnish and equip, not counting the value of some equipment moved from other buildings.

Moore related the investment to the recently begun construction of Georgia Southern University’s $50 million Engineering and Research Building.

“For a city and county and service delivery area of our size, the capability and synergy that are created by having these labs here in conjunction with the school of engineering over at Georgia Southern University are unique, one-of-a-kind in this state,” she said. “Nobody’s got this.” 

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