Jobs outlook bright in robotics field

By Ethan Ball

Angela Lingg/Collegian - Colten Tipton, Hutchinson, explains how a robot works in an robotics class in Shears Technology Center.
Angela Lingg/Collegian - Colten Tipton, Hutchinson, explains how a robot works in an robotics class in Shears Technology Center.

Imagine a world where employees work constant 24-hour shifts and never miss a single second, never call in sick, and never strike due to a decrease in wages.

This world became reality in 1954 when George Devo designed the first industrial robot.

Capable of transferring objects from one point to another within a distance of 12 feet, this new invention would soon come to be one of the most productive technological advancements of the 20th century.

Robotics is a field where the person is taken out of the job, replaced by a machine, and is given a new job interpreting data and sharing it with the machines.

Robotics is used for a variety of different reasons. They can pick and place, draw, suction cup, weld, run a torch, cut, palletize and sort parts and sort batteries. Anything you can do on a production line you can do with one of these machines.

The robot software taught is a set of coded commands that tell a robot what tasks to perform.

Angela Lingg/Collegian - Robotics instructor Bob Blume talks with Ryan Bengston, Inman, about ways to use a remote control to give commands to a robotic arm  in the classroom lab, in Shears Technology Center. There now are five robots being used in the class, as students learn to  program them for industrial work.
Angela Lingg/Collegian - Robotics instructor Bob Blume talks with Ryan Bengston, Inman, about ways to use a remote control to give commands to a robotic arm in the classroom lab, in Shears Technology Center. There now are five robots being used in the class, as students learn to program them for industrial work.

Robert Blume, Hutchinson Community College Automation Engineer and Technology Coordinator, has been teaching robotics at HCC for 2 years, though he has cumulatively taught for 32 years, starting out with motor controls.

“The first thing I teach is safety principles,” said Blume. “Do you think the robot cares if you’re standing in front of him? Definitely not.”

“If I program a robot to pick up 40lb boxes all day is he ever going to get tired? Is he going to stop for a break? Does he need to stop for lunch? Does he need lights? No. He needs somebody smart enough to program him,” said Blume.

Students taught at HCC may be taught a little differently than students at other colleges.

“Our kids in this atmosphere know more than at a 4-year college. These kids may not know more out of a book, but they know what they’re doing. I teach a little different than most. For every hour I’m in the classroom, I’m going to be in the lab for an hour,” said Blume.

“Right now we’re rearranging the blocks to where we make the robot spell out our names,” said Ryan Bengston, Inman. “We’re taught how to program, troubleshoot, and work with robots.”

“We’ll place our blocks down on a piece of paper and move the robot to where we want it to go, and step by step we’ll program what we want it to do and eventually at the end of the program it’ll do it completely, automatically, to where all we have to do is press go,” said Bengston.

“We can program them to do anything. Like literally anything you can dream of we can do it.”

Industrial Technology students at HCC work with a programmable logic controller equipped with a microprocessor, which is a digital computer used for automation of industrial electromechanical processes such as controlling machinery on amusement rides, assembly lines, and light fixtures.

“If you walk in and flip on a light switch, what’s going to happen? The light is going to turn on. Not in the PLC world. It might be looking at motion, time of day, and even amount of lighting in a room. It could be looking at four or five different things, and it may do it in five milliseconds,” Blume said.

Programming these robots aren’t easy. “The most basic understanding of programming and troubleshooting takes about a semester to learn,” said Blume.

“The hardest concept for me to grasp were the different frames that you can operate,” said Marcus Gaeddert, Hutchinson.

A human/machine interface linked to a programmable logic controller is the best system for machine automation, he said.

An HMI provides a visual representation of a control system and provides real time data acquisition. An HMI can increase productivity by having a centralized control center that is extremely user-friendly.

“You’re going to see the temperature, how far the valve is open, how much pressure is on and how fast the motor is running so you can tell better how the piece of equipment is operating,” said Blume.

A lot of students go to college for 2 to 4 years, graduate, and wonder if there’s going to be a job well-paying enough to pay off student loans.

“Jobs are going to disappear. There’s no getting around that. This program is probably the most overlooked program on the whole campus,” said Blume. “Last year we had 37 jobs to fill and only 9 kids to fill them. We’re talking jobs that pay $23-$24 dollar an hour for people with a two year education.”

If you’re high school student, college student, or even an adult looking for a promising career, don’t overlook industrial robotics. The anticipated growth of industrial robotics is near doubling due to expanding demands of automation, from $27B to $41B by 2020.

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