Creating a Model for Technician Education in Smart Manufacturing


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Marion Star article on the Summer Camp:

Marion Tech's Smart Manufacturing Technology Camp popular with local students

Story by Andrew Carter, Marion Star • 8h ago

MARION − Middle and high school students from Marion and surrounding counties are learning how to assemble, program and operate a robotic car and other skills this week during Smart Manufacturing Technology Camp offered at Marion Technical College.

Elizabeth Azhikannickal, Ph.D., the director of the Engineering Technologies Program and an assistant professor at Marion Technical College, said this is the third year the free camp has been provided for children ages 12-16. She said it's been a popular program since its inception.

"This camp filled up very quickly. When we opened the registration, I'd say it was filled within three weeks," Azhikannickal said. "And we had multiple students on the wait list. We had a lot of repeat customers from last year, too. They enjoyed it and wanted to come back."

Azhikannickal said area schools have responded positively to the Smart Manufacturing Technology Camp and have encouraged their students to attend. She noted that the camp is a valuable launching point for students interested in pursuing a career technology.

Elizabeth Azhikannickal, Ph.D., is the director of the Engineering Technologies Program and an assistant professor at Marion Technical College.© Marion Technical College

"All hands need to be on deck because there's definitely a pipeline of technician (jobs) that need to be filled," she said. "There's our local companies, but then there's also Intel (in Licking County, just east of Columbus) that's going to be hiring 3,000-plus technicians. So I think we all need to get on board if we're going to support STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education and careers and pathways into STEM. I think it's more on people's radar now and they're taking it more seriously."

Students programming robot to do a task

The MTC Smart Manufacturing Technology Camp offers instruction in Python and Scratch programming with Raspberry Pi. Participants will learn how to program an industrial-scale robot to perform a task and troubleshoot a mini factory line with programmable logic controllers (PLCs). Students also will learn how a manufacturing process is controlled using sensors, transmitters, controllers, and valves. The last day of the camp will be spent in the eSports Arena on the MTC campus.

Azhikannickal is the principal investigator for two National Science Foundation (NSF) grants awarded to MTC. Funding from the grants pays for the Smart Manufacturing Summer Camp. Two sessions of camp − morning and afternoon − are offered. She said camp size is limited to about 14 students in each session.

"We want the classes large enough for them to be able to meet new people from other schools, but not too large so that they're not getting that one-on-one interaction with the facilitators," Azhikannickal said. "We think that one-to-one element is an important piece of the camp. They all have different questions while they're assembling the robots and they don't all work at the same pace, so the smaller class size is helpful for them."

Students participating in the Marion Technical College Smart Manufacturing Technology Camp this week will have the chance to program and operate large robots in the college's engineering lab.© Andrew Carter/Marion Star

Interacting with college students

Facilitators for the camp include Ks Ku, an instructor in the MTC Information Technology (IT) Program; Josh Dunn, a student in MTC's Engineering Technologies Program; and Chris Gardner, an alumnus of the MTC IT Program and current staff member at the college. Azhikannickal said having MTC alumni and current students serve as facilitators creates more positive interaction with the children attending the camp.

"It always comes down to who the kids relate to better," Azhikannickal said. "Obviously, the instructor needs to be there. He or she is delivering the theory and how all the pieces fit together, but I think when they interact with the college students, they feel more comfortable asking questions and the situation is just a little more relatable.

"Sometimes the college students can relay information (to the campers) better. They can give some snippets of their own career path and give some personal information to the kids in the camps," she added. "So we wanted to incorporate the college students into the camp and they wanted to do it. They asked when the camp was scheduled because they wanted to volunteer to help."

The Smart Manufacturing Technology Camp is scheduled to wrap up on Thursday.

For information about the Engineering Technologies Program and the Smart Manufacturing Technology Camps offered by Marion Technical College, go to the college website

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