Ask any five year old what she wants to be when she grows up, and her response will range from princess to superhero to professional athlete. Ask again when she’s ten, and her answer may be doctor, teacher or police officer.

In middle and high school, she begins to understand how she’s wired, what her interest areas are, what she’s good at and what career paths she wants to pursue. Her pathway will be influenced by her parents, friends, teachers and social media. But more than any other factor, her future will be determined by her experiences during these years.

Lately, schools have been trying to find ways to create real-world work experiences in the classroom. Strategic business partners can offer insight into what industry needs from the future workforce. So getting involved in your local advisory board is always a great idea.

But the best experiences occur on an interpersonal level. If your company goes beyond the advisory level to working face-to-face with a student, that investment will pay off abundantly. Because when it’s time for her to enter the workforce, she will remember your business first.

Here are three ways your business should be working with local students.

1. Hire Students Over School Break

Summer is quickly approaching, and droves of high school and college students will be looking for ways to make extra money. Most will apply for popular student jobs, like fast-food, waiting tables or babysitting. But what if they knew the full spectrum of opportunities available? Like the chance to work with high-tech automation equipment honing valuable hard skills.

Businesses who hire student interns over breaks find their investment turning into long-term employees later Think of the number of eager, talented students who are mechanically-inclined and could be an excellent addition to your facility for the summer. The benefits are really endless: finish projects that have been put on the wayside, create room for an incumbent employee to train new skills, and more. And it gives you a chance to pour into a young person, inspiring and influencing their career pathway.

And it’s not just the gear-heads who make good manufacturing employees. This winter break, university students returned from their semesters all across the country to work in manufacturing facilities in their hometown. These students are pursuing degrees in Business, English, Political Science and Engineering. Their hands-on work experience broadened their perspective on career possibilities and stands out on a resume. Read the full story here.

This is the best option for businesses who haven’t yet taken the leap to get more involved in the local schools, but who still want to provide learning opportunities to students. Since it doesn’t involve any outside organizations and the work is done at your facility, this is a great starting point.

2. Partner with Students for Capstone Projects

If you’re ready to get a little more involved in the curriculum level at your local high school or technical college, volunteering to participate in capstone projects is a great next step.

Graduating seniors in technical education programs will often be assigned a senior capstone project to put their learning into practice. At times instructors will seek a local employer to pair with a student for this project.

The relationship built through this interaction is a win-win. It allows the student to see what working in that industry is really like. At the same time, the employer builds rapport with the school and the student. A semester-long investment can turn into a lifelong employee. And it opens the door for further involvement in school-industry partnerships in the future: when the school is making big decisions, they may ask for your input.

Businesses who invest in students in school projects can get great brand exposureHere’s a firsthand look at capstone project partnerships: Robotics and Automation seniors at Madison College partner with an industrial employer to design and automate a process used on their manufacturing line. These proof-of-concept projects entail working with electrical, pneumatic and mechanical components as well as PLC, HMI and Robot programming.

The company may implement the design into their process, or even hire the student upon graduation. Watch this video for a great example of a student capstone project, or view the album of the 2019 Capstone Showcase.

Check with your local school to see if they are in need of business partners for capstone projects. And if a school-business partnership is new to their project guidelines? It’s a great opportunity for you to get in on the ground floor.

3. Participate in Work-Based Learning and Youth Apprenticeships

Work-based learning and Youth Apprenticeship programs allow students to complete their education while gaining work experience under the mentorship of an industry leader. While this is the largest time investment for an employer, it provides the strongest connection between business and education in developing the career path for a student.

In the program, students receive instruction at school that aligns with skills required by industry. They then get paid to work, led by an experienced mentor while getting a taste of multiple aspects of the industry. Assessments and certifications prove that the student completed a rigorous program and is competent in the skills employers need.

Contact the Department of Workforce Development to get involved in Youth Apprenticeships. There are also groups like GPS Education Partners, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing work-based learning experiences to students across the Midwest.

Bottom Line: Get Involved

The world of work is a place of constant innovation, growth and change. With that growth comes new highly-skilled positions and a need for people to fill them. Educators already have limited resources to update their curriculum and equipment on a regular basis without expecting them to also be in-the-know with the specific skilled labor needs of every industry.

If you want candidates seeking after your company and capable of filling your skilled positions, then it’s up to you to get involved with the future workforce. Whether that’s a small initial investment or going all-in, the face-to-face time with students will set you apart from all the other companies vying for their work.

We can help!

We can connect you to the right people at your local school, strategize on partnerships, or give you more information on technical education initiatives. Fill out the form below and we’ll be in touch!

About the Competition          Register          Learn More About FANUC

LAB Midwest is pleased to announce the first-ever Team Automation and Robotics Competition to be held at the Wisconsin Manufacturing and Technology Show (WIMTS) at the Wisconsin State Fair Park, October 8-10, 2019.

This competition will test teams’ skills in industrial robotics programming and operation, utilizing the FANUC LR Mate 200iD educational robot. This is a one-of-a-kind robotics competition that will give students an opportunity to demonstrate the kind of teamwork, programming and operation skills employers attending the event are looking for in prospective employees.

Winning teams will receive a prize for their school, with additional scholarships awarded to the top 3 teams in the high school and college divisions. Details on prizes will be announced in the coming months, so stay tuned for more information.

Additionally, there will be a special networking opportunity for participants to meet and share their resume with hundreds of employers looking for automation skills to fill high-wage, high-demand jobs.

This is a perfect opportunity for students to practice real-world application of their training and to compare their skills to others in the field.

Competition Overview

New Industrial Robotics Competition for Wisconsin StudentsTeams of 3 will sign up for a three-hour window in which they must design an automated solution to a proposed manufacturing objective. The objective will contain key elements of automation, including dual check safety, end of arm tool selection, robot programming, and robot operation.

A group of industrial robotics experts will judge the final operation of the program. Judging criteria will include teamwork, end of arm tool selection, complexity of the program, success of the operation, and more. A full judging matrix will be available to registrants prior to the competition.

On Thursday, October 10th there will be an awards ceremony during which winning teams will be announced and prizes handed out. The event will also include keynote speakers that are state and industry leaders. Friends and family are welcome to attend the awards ceremony.


Teams will be made up of three students who attend the same high school or college, currently enrolled during the 2019-2020 school year. An instructor from their school must approve and support the team.

For more information or to register for the competition, visit the Team Automation and Robotics Competition page.


The Wisconsin Manufacturing & Technology Show is the Midwest’s industry-leading manufacturing trade show featuring everything from additive manufacturing to robotics, manufacturing centers to welding, tooling and tool management to forming and fabricating and dozens of other essential technologies for today’s marketplace.

“Connections to Technology, Talent & Resources” is the theme of this year’s show, which is aiming to directly connect businesses to the best & brightest manufacturing talent in Wisconsin. One of the Manufacturing Labor Enhancement Initiatives within the show will be its “Connection Reception” Networking Event where students who are participating in the competitions will bring their resumes and meet with exhibitors and VIP attendees on the show floor.

Questions about the competition or FANUC Robotics?

Contact us using the form below.

FANUC Robot Operator Certification Eligible for Act 59 CTE Technical Incentive Grants

In conjunction with the Wisconsin Technical College System Office (WTCS), the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) have announced the list of certifications approved for CTE Technical Incentive Grants for 2020. Newly added to this list is the FANUC Certified Robot Operator 1 certification, available through FANUC’s Cert program.

Schools can now apply for Act 59 funding for any student that earns a FANUC certification. As more Wisconsin high schools invest in FANUC robots, instructors and administrators should be taking advantage of these grant opportunities.

About the Certification

An industry-recognized certification, the FANUC Cert program focuses on core robot operation skills that are needed by entry-level workers in any automation field. Competencies include basic robot operations and programming, material handling, and Roboguide simulation software.

The Robot Operator 1 certification is recognized and validated by NOCTI, the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute. It was developed by subject matter experts from industry, automation systems integrators and instructors and advisors from high schools, technical colleges and universities. Their goal was to equip students with the automation technology skills to strengthen the pipeline of skilled workers for the advanced manufacturing industry.

The certification process consists of a written assessment that measures a student’s knowledge in robot operations, frame setup, program writing, modifying and executing basic motion programs, program offsets, backups and restorations, and creating and modifying simulations.


While delivered on FANUC’s software and industrial robots, the program was designed to teach skills that can be applied to any industrial robot.

However, as FANUC is the leading manufacturer of industrial robots in the world, students going through the Cert program have an advantage when seeking a career in automation. FANUC’s yellow robots comprise over half the world’s industrial robots, and it is the brand they are most likely to encounter in industry. Hands-on experience on FANUC robots will provide students a leg-up for competitive, in-demand careers.

Learn More

To become a FANUC Cert school or to learn more about FANUC certifications, contact LAB Midwest.

The First Industrial Robotics Competition for Wisconsin Students

October 8-10, 2019 at the Wisconsin Manufacturing and Technology Show – Milwaukee, WI

Get a chance to…

  • Test your robotic programming knowledge
  • Compete against other automation and robotics students from around the state
  • Earn prizes for your team and school
  • Network with hundreds of employers who need your programming skills for high-demand, high-wage jobs

Download the Competition Flyer

About the Wisconsin Robotics Competition

Competition will take place throughout Tuesday and Wednesday, October 8-9, and the Awards Ceremony will take place Thursday, October 10th.

Teams of 3 students will be given three hours to complete a set of tasks on a FANUC LR Mate 200iD education robot. The tasks are aligned to foundational knowledge taught in FANUC’s coursework, so students will be familiar with the objectives.

There will be multiple levels with increasing difficulty, allowing beginners to test their knowledge and more advanced students to challenge themselves. It will be the perfect challenge for any school!

The objective will include program planning, end of arm tool selection, robot programming, teamwork, and more.

Teams will be judged by a panel of experts on their ability to complete the objective, efficiency, teamwork, and robotics knowledge. 

All Wisconsin high school and college students are encouraged to participate in this competition.

Grand Prizes for Winning Teams

No matter your skill level, you’ll want to compete just to get a shot at one of these AMAZING grand prize packages!

High School Grand Prize: The winning team will receive an all-expense paid trip to IMTS 2020 in Chicago to be featured in FANUC’s educational booth! All 3 team members and one sponsoring adult will be provided for.

College Grand Prize: The winning team will receive a brand-new FANUC M1iA 4-axis robot for their school! Made by the world’s foremost robotics manufacturer, this robot will be perfect for teaching industrial robotics operation & programming.

Additional Perks for Participants

Resume Rendezvous: On Tuesday evening, students will get to network with employers hiring for industrial robot operators and programmers. Students can hand out their resumes to as many employers as they’d like. 

It’s a great way for your students to see the connection between their coursework and the great jobs available all throughout the state.

Awards Ceremony: On Thursday, the student competition awards ceremony will be presented by a special guest: stay tuned for the big announcement! Winning teams will be presented their awards on the Mainstage. Friends and family are encouraged to attend!

Competition Flyer                          Competition Rules



Questions? Contact us.

Wisconsin Robotics Competition

Without a doubt, the greatest trend in training for manufacturing skills has been an investment in portable options.

As manufacturing continues to grow in the US, schools and training centers are looking for ways to educate more learners for a growing number of job vacancies. Yet this endeavor carries a number of hurdles, a key one being space.

For schools, classroom space can be difficult to come by. Co-ops have the added challenge of finding a way to share equipment among member schools. 

For industrial employers, it can be more time- and cost-efficient to train employees onsite rather than sending them to the local technical college. But finding the space or having multiple facilities can make this difficult.

As a result, more and more schools and training centers are looking to mobile learning and portability as the solution. But how to implement portability without compromising quality? 

This checklist will help ensure any mobile learning lab has the key features to deliver world-class training to students and employees.

1. True Portability

Amatrol portable trainers prepare students and employees for every competency in manufacturingInstructors shouldn’t have to worry about whether their equipment will make it safely from one classroom or building to the next. True portability takes into account ease of setup/teardown, quality of the protective case, and ease of transport.

Amatrol’s portable trainers come in sturdy rolling pelican cases for easy setup and portability. The cases feature a collapsible handle and wheels that make moving them easy. Multiple latches securely fasten the workstation’s durable lid during transport to protect the system components.

2. Portables for Every Competency

Learners shouldn’t be limited in the potential skills they can acquire. That’s why Amatrol challenged its engineers to design portable trainers to deliver the same skill outcomes in every competency as the full-sized systems.

And there’s no difference in quality, either. These portables teach the same knowledge and hands-on skills using industry-standard components.

Competencies include:

  • AC/DC Electrical Systems
  • Motor Drives
  • Programmable Logic Controllers (Allen-Bradley and Siemens)
  • Hydraulics and Pneumatics
  • Process Control
  • Mechanical Drives
  • …and more!

A number of these trainers also come in Troubleshooting versions using FaultPro fault insertion. In total, there are over 20 portable training options available.

3. Interactive Multimedia-based eLearning

Industrial robotics is a huge part of manufacturing - having portable training options helps learners and businessesCurriculum support ensures training is standardized and of the highest quality. Amatrol’s eLearning library contains over 3,000 hours of course content coming from a team of 50 experts building and improving curriculum daily.

While portable trainers provide hands-on learning, eLearning engages the mind through reading, audio, video and multimedia interactions with the software. It provides subject area knowledge for each competency so the learner can have a holistic view of each concept.

Multimedia eLearning is customizable, caters to each learner’s pace and knowledge-level and teaches and assesses virtual skills in addition to hands-on physical trainers.

4. Skill Boss

While each portable trainer focuses on a specific competency area, the Skill Boss teaches and assesses over 60 skills in a single trainer. It features a genuine Allen-Bradley HMI and is fully programmable with interchangeable components. It is a perfect way to teach how each individual skill works together in a system.

Additionally, the Skill Boss is an industry-certified assessment and training tool for the Certified Production Technician Plus certification. Learners earning a CPT certification can apply their knowledge on the Skill Boss to receive the additional certification.

5. Alignment to Technical Colleges State-Wide and Regional

As a benefit for both high schools and employers, learners can earn transcripted credits to 16 technical colleges in Wisconsin as well as many others across the Midwest. These colleges are using the same course curriculum, portable trainers and eLearning platforms, so students can easily transfer their knowledge and skills.

6. Industry-Recognized Certifications

Portable and efficient, the Skill Boss is excellent for training on a wide range of manufacturing skillsEducators and employers searching for the right mobile learning solution will certainly consider space, budget and skills learned. Many training systems out there meet those requirements, and yet the learner will still come away without a certified assessment and validation of the skills they worked so hard to gain.

So a key factor to a solution’s quality is whether or not the training provides industry-recognized certifications.

With Amatrol’s mobile learning, students can earn certifications through the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC) and NIMS for production careers.

Students and employees can walk away with verified proof of their new skills – something they can add to their resume or use to gain a promotion or pay raise.

Learn more

Want to implement portable training options in your facility? Contact us using the form below.

There’s no better provider of engineering research and education systems than Quanser. With over 30 years in academia and 2,500 teaching institutions using their learning systems, Quanser has the knowledge and expertise to provide world class hardware and software to engineering students.

About Quanser

The name Quanser comes from a combination of Question and Answer. The company’s vision is to look at engineering questions and then design labs that provide the research capabilities to answer them.

Quanser Engineering EducationResearch is a key component to the Quanser line of engineering education solutions. Over 3,000 research papers have been published globally using Quanser technology. Universities teaching high-level engineering concepts will especially benefit from the turn-key solutions offered by Quanser.

The LAB Midwest team visited Quanser’s Toronto headquarters in February where they were absolutely impressed by the technology and curriculum built by the company. And this is because the Quanser team is comprised of individuals who are passionate about quality products, research-based learning and cutting-edge technologies.

“Quanser’s research labs and technology are backed by a team of engineers who are truly experts in their field,” remarked LAB Midwest CEO Renee Kirchner. “They have a dedication to developing teaching equipment that prepares students for a broad scope of engineering careers.”

That Quanser has established itself as the world leader in its field is no accident. The company has involved itself in developing curriculum and research equipment, doing research for government projects, holds positions in global engineering education leadership including the Global Engineering Dean’s Council and the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association, and in consulting with universities to help develop new engineering programs around the world.

Quanser Technology

Quanser’s transformational labs create collaborative, multi-disciplinary environments that bring to life math and engineering theory, combining research with application. Their solutions cover disciplines such as:

The full line of hardware is integrated with Quarc software, which leverages MATLAB and Simulink software. This allows programs to utilize the same software students are already familiar with while getting feedback and inserting inputs in real-time.

Quanser Engineering EducationQuanser’s solutions teach every level of engineering education, from basic servos to full autonomous vehicle research labs.

The Qube Servo 2 is the only fully integrated lab experiment that covers the spectrum of controls topics from undergraduate linear control concepts to graduate level non-linear controls.

The Autonomous Vehicles Research Studio integrates QDrone quadrotors, QBot 2 ground vehicles, a ground control station, and vision and safety equipment to create a lab of autonomous vehicles operating simultaneously using smart technologies.

Quanser’s solutions are perfect for mechanical, electrical, civil and aerospace engineering programs and both the university and technical college level. Backed by research and curriculum, these labs will benefit any program looking to upgrade its impact on students.

Learn more about Quanser Solutions for Your School

Manufacturing technology is changing: the Fourth Industrial Revolution has brought about smart sensors, connected systems and smart factories, cloud-based data analytics and integrated software. “Industry 4.0” technology is systematically evolving manufacturing processes, creating a need for highly-skilled workers.

Wisconsin’s educators have identified this shift and are responding in suit.

I want to get involved in the Industry 4.0 educational movement. 

The Beginning of a Movement

The movement began this fall when over 30 high school programs adopted Industry 4.0 curriculum to introduce students to advanced manufacturing technology and processes.

Kenosha Unified, Gateway Technical College’s high school consortium, and the Trempealeau Valley Co-op are among the school districts implementing this curriculum. The latter made headlines this fall for their state-of-the-art mobile skills lab, the result of an investment by Ashley Furniture’s Education Foundation.

The Ashley Furniture Mobile Skills Lab loaded with Industry 4.0 educational equipmentJim Dotta, Vice President of Casegoods/Engineering with Ashley Furniture Industries, recognizes that these efforts help “all our local high schools to foster technical and engineering careers and career pathways in many fields of study – from agriculture to advanced manufacturing to information technology to engineering and computer-aided design.”

The high school program consists of four courses: Introduction to Mechatronics, Introduction to Industrial Controls, Introduction to Industrial Robotics and Introduction to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Even middle schools, like Random Lake, have jumped on the opportunity to expose students to connected manufacturing technologies.

Mike Trimberger, Superintendent for Random Lake School District, said the decision was made after months of consulting with employers in the community about what students need to know when they enter the workforce.

“As we see the increase of devices that are connecting to the Internet every day, our students will have an advantage over others if they understand the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0 as it relates to careers they are interested in for the future,” Trimberger remarked.

The middle school curriculum used by RLSD builds a foundation in mechatronics, robotics, drones and autonomous vehicles, alternative energy and data analytics to grades 5-8 with student-led projects that require problem solving, creative thinking and hands-on learning.

And it continues into technical colleges and universities. Gateway is currently building a 35,000 square foot Advanced Manufacturing facility to train students in Industry 4.0 skills and Chippewa Valley Technical College installed a fully-automated Industry 4.0 system.

Standardization of Industry 4.0 Pathways

Through Pathways Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has been identifying high-skill, high-demand industries for which to develop “ready-made” Academic and Career Plans. With this Industry 4.0 movement, Manufacturing has been targeted as the next pathway.

Industry 4.0 education includes automation technology, like this FANUC ROBOGUIDE softwareKarin Smith, Regional Pathways Director for Milwaukee, remarked, “the Regional Manufacturing Pathways that are being developed will infuse Industry 4.0 careers and related post-secondary education and training options. It will also highlight Industry 4.0 skills and certification that will help high school students get a jump start on exciting careers in manufacturing!”

The Manufacturing Pathway will prepare students for careers in a range of skill levels, from Maintenance Technician through Industrial Engineer and from Operator to Automation Engineer, Electrical-Mechanical Engineer, and Industrial Data Scientist, for example.

Dr. Bryan Albrecht, President and CEO of Gateway Technical College, is a strong proponent of these efforts. “We are proud to partner with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to develop a statewide pathway defining the knowledge, skills and career opportunities in the Industry 4.0 manufacturing sector. It builds off the rich history of manufacturing in Wisconsin.”

The process began when the DPI gathered over 100 industry and education leaders to pinpoint career ladders, technical skills and academic skills required for a manufacturing career. Follow-up meetings helped bring ideas to a consensus as the pathway outline began to form.

Next, five pilot regions (Indianhead, Madison, Milwaukee, Gateway and Moraine Park) will discuss the draft to see how it fits into the needs of their individual region. For schools already offering the courses, credits, work experience, and certifications required, they will have the benefit of being named on the pathway. For schools who aren’t quite there yet, a standardized map will empower them to implement items needed to meet the criteria.

And this is key: As Industry 4.0 technologies create more opportunity in manufacturing, schools need the guidance and resources to develop a program that enables students to succeed in a manufacturing career.

Additional benefits of the Manufacturing Pathway include:

  • Adherence to Academic and Career Planning mandates
  • Provides a better understanding of modern manufacturing career ladders and Industry 4.0
  • College credits and apprenticeship opportunities
  • Empowers teachers to communicate with parents
  • Builds relationships between schools, community and industry partners
  • Ensures students will graduate with the hard skills potential employers are looking for
  • Certifications through SACA, MSSC, and NIMS


Industry 4.0 Certifications

SACA Technical Workgroups validate hard and soft skills required for Industry 4.0 certificationsCertifications are an especially important benefit. While those obtained from MSSC and NIMS cover basic manufacturing processes, SACA adds in the Industry 4.0 component. But what is SACA?

The Smart Automation Certification Alliance was founded to bridge the skills gap for Industry 4.0 technologies. Jim Wall, Executive Director of SACA remarked, “with the rapid deployment of Industry 4.0 technologies, companies are increasingly finding they have a critical shortage of skilled workers.”

To solve that problem, SACA created standardized certifications for a range of skill levels. Competencies are determined and validated by technical experts in a variety of industries across the country.

And education recognizes the validity of these certification standards. “SACA represents industry’s voice on the knowledge and skills needed to perform in an Industry 4.0 work environment,” Bryan Albrecht commented.

Guided by clear pathways and equipped with credits, certifications and hard skills, Wisconsin’s students will be well-prepared for successful careers in manufacturing technology.

Get involved in the Industry 4.0 Movement

You can get involved, too! We’re at the leading edge of Industry 4.0 education, and those that implement this curriculum now will be recognized as thought leaders in technical education.

March 6-8, 2019 – Wisconsin Dells, WI

LAB Midwest is proud to support the 50th annual WTEA conference – where educators come to network, learn best practices and see hands-on equipment for STEM & Tech Ed programs. Attendees will see some of the collaborative projects and technologies being implemented across the state that are setting Wisconsin up as a leader technical education.

The 50th Annual WTEA Conference

This year, the event will be held on March 6-8 at the Chula Vista resort in Wisconsin Dells. Keynote speakers are Wilson R. Jones, President and CEO of Oshkosh Corporation, and Jim Benson, Chairman Emeritus of Bemidji State University.

Breakout sessions cover a wide variety of topics, including:

  • Successful Dual Enrollment Leads to Successful Career Pathways – Jim Mackey, Wisconsin Technical College System
  • Finding Funding for your Classroom – Sylvia Tiala, UW-Stout
  • Adapting for Jobs of Tomorrow – Josh Gamer, Western Technical College
  • Meeting the Needs of Advanced Manufacturing – Ray Koukari, Gateway Technical College
  • Partnerships in Education – Kristopher Gengler, Ashley Furniture Industries

Still need to register to attend? Click here.

LAB Midwest to Showcase Biggest Advances in WI

Wisconsin is making record-breaking advances in technical education, especially in the last year. LAB Midwest is proud to be a collaborator in many of these advances, and attendees at the conference will be able to see some of this work displayed. 

  • Ashley Furniture’s Partnerships in Education
  • Industrial-Grade Robotics
  • Industry 4.0 for Middle School
  • Portable Learning Systems
  • 3D Printing, Drones and Rovers, Hands-on Engineering Kits, and more!

Come see this technology in action, learn about turn-key programs and solutions, and talk with one of us about how we can help implement these systems in your school.

About the Wisconsin Technology Education Association

From the WTEA’s website:

The WTEA is an association made up of educators and other interested stakeholders with a desire to improve technology & engineering education at all grade levels within the state of Wisconsin. A wide variety of individuals, agencies and organizations have representation in the Association, including public schools, private schools, correctional institutions, technical colleges, universities, business and industry representatives, classroom teachers, teacher supervisors, administrators, and college students preparing for the profession.

The WTEA works in cooperation with the International Technology Engineering Education Association, Wisconsin Association for Career and Technical Education, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Wisconsin Technical College System Board, Wisconsin Society of Science Teachers,  Skills USA, and technology education collegiate student associations.

Career and Technical Education Recognized

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development recognized West Bend School District’s Career and Technical Education department during a student showcase and tour. The event was part of statewide efforts to highlight CTE during the month of February, which is CTE Month.

Department of Workforce Development Applauds CTE Program and Industry PartnersAttendees included educators, school board members and industry leaders who have contributed to the programs and who directly benefit from the education and certification being offered in these courses.

WBSD’s CTE program is extensive, including Automotive, Graphic Communications, Engineering, Digital Media, Architecture and Construction, Manufacturing and Welding, Culinary Arts, Finance and Accounting, Computer Science and IT, Fashion and Interior Design. Each of these programs offers benefits to students, including certificates, youth apprenticeship opportunities and articulated credits to Moraine Park Technical College.

As attendees arrived, students showcased their projects and talked about their coursework, certifications, and work-based learning opportunities. For some, the classes reinforced career plans and gave them opportunities many students would not have until post-secondary education. For others, the classes introduced new career paths they might not have otherwise considered.

Collaboration Leads to Success

As the event began, Superintendent Dan Kirkegaard addressed the room, acknowledging the role the DWD had in fostering the progress of CTE at the school.

“The success of our programs are due in part to the grant opportunities through the Department of Workforce Development such as the manufacturing equipment grant,” he said.

In September 2018, WBSD was announced as one of 35 school districts to receive a Wisconsin Fast Forward Advanced Manufacturing Technical Education Equipment Grant. Fast Forward grants have benefited many schools and companies across the state in the last few years, but government isn’t the only avenue for upgrading and expanding resources in schools.

Department of Workforce Development Applauds CTE Program and Industry PartnersIn fact, DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman reinforced this idea during his speech at the event. After acknowledging the DWD’s support of CTE programs, he shifted focus toward the partnerships between local industry and education.

“We really applaud this type of investment in our schools and in our students…It’s so important that they start these conversations early and often as to what we can do to introduce students to different careers and industries to make sure they get a full spectrum of what’s out there.”

Frostman went on to recognize Metalcraft of Mayville for their investment in West Bend’s manufacturing program. The company recently worked with LAB Midwest to install industrial-grade robotics equipment from FANUC, the world’s leading industrial robotics manufacturer.

“I think it’s pretty evident what happens when you partner with groups like that for our children, for our economy, and for our community,” remarked Frostman.

Relevant and Hands-On CTE

The evidence was clear during the tour that followed.

Each CTE classroom was filled with authentic technology for teaching industry-relevant skills. Perhaps most impressive of all was the Metalcraft Learning Lab, where instructor Jacob Gitter was able to explain how the equipment is used in the Manufacturing and Welding program:

Our manufacturing program is very robust. We offer students a choice of six courses. Ranging from introductory to a high level capstone course where students run a small business. Throughout all these courses we seek to expose and teach the students methods, processes, and techniques that are only relevant to the industries which we support. The students who participate in the capstone course also experience a taste of a real manufacturing environment. This includes workplace expectations, deadlines and customer interaction. This course is very helpful to prepare students for a “real” world manufacturing environment.

The Learning Lab includes a FANUC Robot loaded machining center with a Levil CNC machine and FANUC CNC controls, a FANUC LR Mate Robot Cert Cart, FANUC/Lincoln Electric Robot Welding Cell, a FANUC CNC Simulator, and ROBOGUIDE software.

Metalcraft’s vision was to create a hands-on learning environment that simulated authentic industrial practices so students can transition directly to work on the same machines.

Department of Workforce Development Applauds CTE Program and Industry Partners

Sonal Ramani, HR at Metalcraft, said the company currently has five WB high school students working various shifts in the facility. One of those is Jakob, a senior who works in the company’s machining department measuring materials for tolerance and loading the machines.

When asked how his CTE experience has prepared him for work, he explained,

“I learned a lot. I pretty much just took this program here – the intro and the advanced – and it’s pretty much the same as Metalcraft.”

Jakob will be attending Moraine Park Technical College in the fall, completing the CNC program with the hopes of remaining at Metalcraft as a full CNC programmer.

Technical college is just one of many career pathways available to CTE students. Credits and certifications open the door to many options, like apprenticeships, university, or entering directly into the workforce. This is the value of career and technical education: it gives students a chance to explore their interests and talents so they learn what they don’t want to do as well as what they do want to pursue in life.

Click here to view the full album from the event.


My classmates used to brag about their plans to become doctors, lawyers and investment bankers. Tomorrow’s “cool” careers may follow the rise of advanced manufacturing.

I am a lifelong resident of southeastern Wisconsin, a region chosen last year by the largest contract manufacturer in the world to build a 20-million-square-foot complex (yes, you read that right, 20,000,000 square feet) that is being billed as the most technologically advanced manufacturing facility on the planet. Predictions about the impact of this project abound, but my favorite one is that the Midwest will become the nation’s “epicenter of Industry 4.0 technology,” bringing with it a host of new career opportunities.

One of the lead industrial engineers working on this transformative project shared some examples with me earlier this year. Thirty years ago, my classmates used to brag about their plans to be doctors, lawyers and investment bankers. Those were the cool careers. Tomorrow’s “cool” careers may look more like those below.

Each includes an MKF—My Kid Factor—meaning, “I would want my kid to consider this job.” The scale is 1-10.

App Developer

As mobile apps become ubiquitous in industrial processes (think monitoring quality and productivity directly from your smartphone), people possessing a familiarity with manufacturing, combined with the requisite software and programming skills, will find a prosperous future in industry. (MKF 8)

Automation Engineer

These people design, develop and test advanced manufacturing technology. Curiously, this occupation is the “fourth happiest job in America” according to USA Today, in part, I believe, because automation engineers get to work with really amazing technology (and also maybe because their bosses have no idea how they do what they do, so they get left alone at work). (MKF 9)

Electrical Engineer

Responsible for the electrical aspects of systems, from the device level (a smart sensor on a machine) to the enterprise level and everything in between, electrical engineers will be in high demand in an Industry 4.0 economy. (MKF 6)

Industrial Engineer

The purpose of this role is to optimize industrial processes, reducing bottlenecks, eliminating waste, increasing yield and thereby maximizing efficiency. As technology on the manufacturing floor has become more complex and software-driven, so, too, have the aptitudes necessary to be successful in this career. (MKF 5)

Interface Developer

People who choose this career develop the software and hardware that connect people to machines and software. Think the human machine interfaces common in many industrial facilities. (MKF 8)

Mechanical Engineer

Imhotep is said to have built the Pyramid of Djoser in about 2630 B.C., dawning the role of the mechanical engineer. No longer designing pyramids for pharaohs, in an industrial setting, the mechanical engineer’s responsibilities might include the planning and design of mechanical systems and processes, conveyorized and automated material handling and product transfer systems. (MKF 6)

Production Engineer

The role of the production engineer is similar to that of the industrial engineer, but with increased emphasis on the execution of manufacturing processes. (MKF 5)

PLC Programmer

Called by some the computer of manufacturing, the programmable logic controller receives information and turns it into output. For example, a material-handling system on an automated production or processing line is likely controlled by a PLC, taking an input signal from a sensor that indicates a part is ready to me moved and sending an output signal to a mechanical lift system to move the part. PLC programmers design these programs, enter them into the PLCs and troubleshoot industrial operations when necessary. (MKF 6)

Quality Engineer

Responsible for overall product quality throughout the supply chain, quality engineers may also have a role in executing the processes designed by the test engineers. (MKF 5)

Systems Integrator

Robotics, conveyors, material-handling systems, PLCs, industrial control systems and computer networks and the related software are becoming inextricably linked in manufacturing, requiring people with knowledge in all of these who are capable of making them work in concert. (MKF 9)

Test Engineer

These individuals design and operate the processes and systems used to ensure a product conforms to its specification. As quality control functions are performed automatically and in process, using technologies such as vision systems, 3D scanning, advanced coordinate measuring machines and tomography, the role of the test engineer is becoming an increasingly technical and engaging vocation. (MKF 8)

The same engineer who shared these careers with me was asked whether each would require a four-year degree or if candidates with associate degrees also could be considered. No offense intended to those with bachelor’s or master’s degrees among us (myself included), but the engineer’s response was “a lot of times the two-year people are smarter than the four-year people.”

Know a young person considering a career pathway? Encourage him or her to consider the careers above and be open to the possibility that a four-year degree and the debt that may accompany it is just one of many means to an end.

If your career choice has already been made, prepare for a future of lifelong learning, the only way to ensure your aptitudes remain relevant and your skills valued in what promises to be a wild ride.

Article written by Matt Kirchner, originally published in Products Finishing.

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Students familiar with connected technologies face a higher job placement and starting wage than students who haven’t. Attract the best minds to your institution by providing the resources they need for these jobs. Fill out the form below, and we’ll help you accomplish this.


When the University of Northwestern St. Paul set out to build new labs while meeting degree accreditation requirements, they scoured the educational teaching equipment market for a supplier that could deliver:

  • High quality products and customer service
  • Competitive prices
  • Purpose-built equipment with teaching flexibility in mind
  • A single supplier source for the majority of the practical teaching needs

“We chose TecQuipment because they ticked all the boxes and some more. They were great to work with from start to finish,  from initial discussions at ASEE 2016 in New Orleans through to the more recent installation, training and commissioning in August 2018. Even when we encountered problems, the Lab Midwest team and TecQuipment dealt with the situation with smiles and joyfulness,” explained Rachel Friesen, Lab Technician at the University of Northwestern.

Degree Accreditation

University of Northwester Students - TecQuipment - EngineeringThe legacy of teaching engineering at the University of Northwestern goes back to the debut of pre-engineering in 1983-1984 and then to the establishment of the Engineering Dual Degree program in conjunction with the University of Minnesota in 2000.  Students in the Dual Degree program would typically enroll in mathematics, science, and engineering courses at University of Northwestern for three years and then transfer to the University of Minnesota for the final two years of the curriculum.

The decision to offer a complete bachelor’s degree program in engineering at Northwestern beginning in 2016 was made with accreditation as a high priority. They already had a strong teaching team with lots of experience, but another requirement for accreditation was the addition of modern and practical teaching equipment to prepare students for the industry workforce.

Flexible Teaching Requirements and Space Limitations

“Our current lab space was renovated from art studios and kitchens, which means space is a high concern”, explained Friesen. “This was another reason why we opted for TecQuipment products that are compact, while still being big enough for groups of students to work on them together.”

In addition to this, they were looking for equipment that would run pre-set experiments, as well as offer flexibility for the teaching team to design their own lab experiments.

Cost Savings

The University of Northwestern looked at four main suppliers of equipment, comparing the product specifications, cost and comprehensive equipment provision. “TecQuipment was both cost effective as well as able to provide the majority of the equipment that we needed to teach both our thermal-fluids and materials labs,” commented Friesen.

The Laboratory Set-up

University of Northwester Students - TecQuipment - EngineeringAt the University of Northwestern, theory and lab courses do not relate one to one.  For example, the materials lab consists of mainly destructive testing equipment that explores concepts from both the material science and mechanics of materials courses.

“Our favourite piece of equipment has been the Universal Testing Machine. Despite also having a higher capacity piece of equipment in the lab, we like this one because it is an easy to manipulate, hands-on machine,” explained Friesen.

The compact size means that the instructors have the freedom to move it around and can allow students to operate it. Plus, if it should break, they felt confident about the repair process.

Friesen explained further: “It is so very fun to watch the students pumping the hydraulic arm and then see them edge further and further away as they anticipate the break in material. It has also given the engineering department an opportunity to educate the rest of the university and local community about what we do. We’ve had groups from our alumni community, human resources and the local community come along to the department, get hands on and break something with this piece of equipment. It allows us to show them that engineering is not all equations and work on computers.”

Other equipment for exploring materials included the purchase of the Torsion Testing Machine and Creep Testing Machine.

Dedicated Thermo-fluids Laboratory

For the thermo-fluids lab, they purchased a Digital Hydraulic Bench and experiments to mount on it including the Flow Measurement Methods apparatus and Flow Calibration apparatus. They also purchased freestanding apparatuses including the Piping Networks apparatus and Two-Stage (Series and Parallel) Pumps.

For learning about heat transfer and thermodynamics, they opted for the Heat Transfer Experiment base unit with a range of experiments, Heat Exchanger Service Module base unit and experiments, a Free and Forced Convection Experiment, a Radiation Experiment, and lastly a Refrigeration Cycle Experiment.

A Seamless Experience

University of Northwester Students - TecQuipment - Engineering“Throughout the process of purchase we have had excellent service from the TecQuipment team and local agent Lab Midwest. It extended from the initial quote, where it was clear to see what was and what wasn’t included, through to the set up and installation – which was incredible. Paul Holslin from Lab Midwest worked with me for a week in ninety-degree heat unpacking crates. Then, TecQuipment specialist Matthew Fellows did a wonderful job of walking us through all the products, answering questions and resolving the small transit damage issues,” summarised Friesen.

Rachel Friesen went on to emphasise the people element. “Another thing I really appreciate about working with TecQuipment is that you are working with people, not just with nameless assistance at a generic email addresses. It’s that personal care and attention that has never left me feeling that I’m waiting unnecessarily.”

This article was originally published by TecQuipment at:

Tecquipment for Your Engineering Program

To learn more about TecQuipment programs for engineering education, visit their product page on our website, or fill out the form below and we’ll be in touch with more information!

Spring semester starts this week, and most college students will struggle to get back into the habit of a structured schedule after a month of vacation. But not six Whitefish Bay area students: they’re headed back to school with several weeks of valuable work experience at longstanding local manufacturing companies. (And they have the added bonus of extra money in their pocket.)

Noah started as a press operator at Engel Tool and Forge over the summer and came back to work during his winter break. Since 1923, Engel Tool and Forge has been engineering and manufacturing solutions for customers.

Jen worked as a molding operator at Molded Dimensions. The company has molded rubber and cast polyurethane products since 1954.

At Grover Corporation, twins Xander and Josh did manual labor, including painting, inventory organization and deburring while Jack worked on the machines, sorting and doing quality inspection. Their classmate Betsy assisted several departments in the office. Grover Corporation has manufactured custom piston rings for hydraulic applications since 1929.

First Experiences in Manufacturing

For the Whitefish Bay students, the firsthand exposure to a manufacturing environment enlightened them to how a large portion of Americans work on a daily basis.

Noah, a student at the University of Wisconsin, works at Engel Tool and Forge on the manufacturing floor during winter breakNoah recalled his first day on the job. In addition to the usual nervous questions (​How am I going to impress my boss?​) he found himself asking new questions: ​Will I remember all the safety procedures? How will I earn the respect of my coworkers who come from a much different background than me?

Working in an environment out of their comfort zone, the students quickly picked up on the traits necessary to succeed on the job: timeliness, following directions, and respecting safety protocols. While most teenagers work in retail, food service, or other service-industry jobs, the students found value in learning about the complex and highly-structured processes that a manufacturing company runs on.

“I never realized how intricate a factory was,” remarked Betsy. “I liked getting a behind-the-scenes look at a company like this. Before this, I never even knew what a piston was.”

Charles Engel, President and Owner of Engel Tool and Forge, says this is a reason his company supports employing students. “We’re bringing more manufacturing back to the US, and it’s important to ​make​ something rather than relying on being a service industry.” He added that it takes a certain curiosity about how things are made to succeed in a job like this.

A Win-Win Situation

Hiring college students on a temporary basis was a huge benefit for the companies as well.

With many industry employers finding themselves in a skilled-labor shortage, mundane tasks tend to fall to the wayside as more pressing projects take precedent. A student can help complete much of that work.

At Grover Corporation, Betsy was able to do scanning, filing, and data entry that freed up other office workers for more difficult projects.

At Molded Dimensions, Jen’s time on the molding press gave the regular molding operator the opportunity to be cross-trained on another piece of equipment.Jen, a university student, works on a molding press during her winter break

The work might be challenging, but the lessons learned are invaluable. For one, the experience is a small slice of what adulthood beyond college will look like.

“It gives them a taste of what it means to show up every day,” remarked Alan Brown, Chief Operating Officer at Grover Corporation. “This is what your first job is going to be like; you’re going to come in at the bottom end and have to learn basic tasks. This is what it takes.”

Mike Katz, President at Molded Dimension, agrees. “They’re learning soft skills about interpersonal interaction that will help in their careers.”

The students are adding a number of soft skills to their resume, including time management, taking directions, developing strong work ethic, respecting safety procedures, collaboration and teamwork.

But there’s a deeper investment these employers have in the students. They hope the experience in manufacturing will give them a new perspective about how things are made.

“This is what America is built on – manufacturing,” said Brown. “Manufacturing creates products. You can actually see durable products being made that will go into things that make a difference.”

Jen is able to take her experience at Molded Dimensions back to college to help her in her Engineering degree.

But what about the other 5 students who are majoring in subjects like Business, Biology, English, and Government? What benefit will this manufacturing work experience have on their careers?

The Benefits of Manufacturing

Noah recalled interviewing for a job on campus. “They asked me, ‘Do you have any experience working in a diverse environment? Have you ever had to step out of your comfort zone? What are some times you had to problem solve at work?’ I kept thinking of all these examples of my time at Engel that I could use!”

In her time at the office, Betsy said she was able to work with several different departments to learn new skills she can add to her resume, like working with Excel spreadsheets, creating invoices, and getting a more solid grasp of how a business is run.

Betsy, a student at Wesleyan, works in the office assisting a manufacturing company called Grover CorporationThese students already stood out from their peers by working over winter break. But a job in manufacturing will stand out even more. And when many college students are all vying for the same jobs after graduation, a diverse work experience might be the deciding factor in landing their dream job.

Katz encourages this for students. “Do something different or interesting. As someone who hires engineers, it’s amazing the little things on the resume that we latch onto. Everyone applying for your job has the same resume, so do something that sets you apart.”

And who knows, a temporary work experience in manufacturing may be enough to spark interest in a new career path or move the students to share about the benefits of a manufacturing career with their peers.

At the very least, it provides exposure to the work it takes to create the very items that run this country. And that new perspective will remain with these students for the rest of their careers.

In an excellent start to 2019, LAB Midwest hosted teacher and instructor training for a four-course Industry 4.0 program at the Mequon Tech Center. The program was developed to prepare learners and prospective industrial employers for the changing manufacturing landscape.

This is the second round of instructor training held in Wisconsin; the first training occurred this fall at Gateway Technical College’s iMET Center in Sturtevant. The program has gained so much momentum in its first six months that another round of instructors signed up.

Attendees included technical college instructors, high school teachers and industrial employers who are collaborating to create statewide pathways for careers in advanced manufacturing and are being prepared to deliver the four courses in their classrooms and labs. Milwaukee Area Technical College and Gateway Technical College have been major proponents of the Industry 4.0 education movement in the state.

WISN 12 News caught wind of the training and featured LAB Midwest on two of their live broadcasts, highlighting the great work being done for STEM education in Wisconsin.

Matt Kirchner demonstrated the Amatrol Skill Boss which teaches and assesses over 60 manufacturing skills. “We’ve encompassed every single aspect of advanced manufacturing, from programmable logic controllers which are the computers we use to run manufacturing equipment, to electric motors, to a three-axis robot, smart sensors, wireless communication.”

The Skill Boss demonstration can be viewed below:

Mike Dietrich then demonstrated operating a FANUC pick-and-place robot, showing how students are benefitting from exposure to authentic industrial skills like robotic programming.

“We are seeing this a lot more in K-12 and technical colleges to be able to teach kids what the aspects of automation are,” remarked Dietrich. “And how it can be applied into a real job setting and even have some really cool certifications attached to it.”

He went on to comment about how skills learned through these programs can open up exciting career pathways in automation that many students might not have known about otherwise.

The FANUC robot demonstration video can be viewed below.

What these demonstrations show is how dynamic learning practices are changing the way instructors teach valuable skills. With equipment like the Skill Boss and pick-and-place robot, students get the added layer of first-hand operation of the STEM concepts they’re learning in classrooms.

“Students get a really hands-on, interactive experience, which is a great way to reinforce learning,” remarked Matt Kirchner.

The Industry 4.0 education wave continues to surge across the Midwest, and LAB Midwest is proud to be a part of its influence.

More photos from the instructor training event can be found here. For more information on the four-course Industry 4.0 program mentioned in this article, contact us or download the flyer.

How and why should we be teaching students Industry 4.0?

In the fall of 2017, a white paper was published that changed the trajectory of technical education in the Midwest. “Teaching the Industrial Internet of Things: Preparing Students and Learners for Industry 4.0” recognized that the Fourth Industrial Revolution demands a response from education in equipping students for future careers in a world of constantly-progressing technologies.

The paper established six building blocks for Industry 4.0 education. Each of these building blocks is meant to be utilized at every level of education, from K-8 through high school and post-secondary education. Below is an overview of the six building blocks, extracted from the white paper.

Click here for the downloadable Building Blocks Infographic

Building Block 1 – Industrial Success Skills

Industry 4.0 is not a destination or end unto itself. Rather, it’s a systematic tool to continuously improve and drive waste out of their processes. For an individual to reach the workforce Industry 4.0-ready, they must have a basic understanding of the basic disciplines that underpin industrial success, including:

  • Workplace safety and safe work practices.
  • Basic throughput equation and the basic industrial need to maximize efficiency and productivity.
  • The Seven Deadly Wastes and how they manifest themselves in industrial and related processes.
  • Industrial Standardized Quality Systems.
  • Troubleshooting industrial processes and equipment.
  • Soft industrial skills including collaboration, problem solving, discipline and time management.


Building Block 2 – Industrial Equipment and Technology

Widely viewed as the world leader in CNC Controls and Automation for industry, FANUC has led the charge to an Industry 4.0 world. Mike Cicco serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of FANUC America. “It’s important that our people know how to write analytics to derive useful data,” Cicco suggested during his participation in our research, “but it’s equally important that that person has a deep knowledge of what manufacturing is in the first place.”

Cicco’s observation is astute. As industrial equipment collects more and more data about its own condition and performance, the need to discern usable and pertinent data from that which is not becomes vital. If the person performing analysis or creating algorithms does not understand the underlying industrial technology, their ability to perform such tasks will be severely deficient.

Building Block 2 is the understanding of the production and manufacturing equipment that underlie Industry 4.0.

Examples of such equipment and processes include Industrial Robotics, Machining, Extruding, Casting, Manual and Robotic Welding, Conveyors, Mechanical Drives, Mechanical Fabrication, Forging, Stamping, Forming, Molding and more.

Understanding basic manufacturing technology, such as AC/DC Electricity, Thermal Science, Pneumatics, Hydraulics, Fastening, Product Finishing, Materials and Metrology is also of great value.

Building Block 3 – Smart Sensors and Smart Devices

At the core of Industry 4.0 are Smart Sensors and Smart Devices. This technology gathers virtually infinite volumes of information about its own environment and then uses embedded intelligence to complete programmed functions before sharing the information with other systems and devices via computer networks and the Internet.

Smart sensors are an integral part of Industry 4.0 technologySmart Sensors and Devices take a wide variety of forms and perform a wide variety of functions. Examples include vacuum sensors that detect the condition of vacuum pickup, ultrasonic height sensors, and current and pressure sensors.

Smart sensors can also measure and act on data pertaining to conditions such as temperature, proximity, the presence and levels of smoke and gas, fluid level, humidity, force, torque and acceleration.

In addition to his role as the president of Jeffersonville, Indiana’s skills-based, interactive technical learning provider Amatrol, Inc., Paul Perkins serves as Chair of the State of Indiana Workforce Innovation Council and on the National Governors Association of State Workforce Board Chairs.

Perkins’ company is a leader in delivering IIoT learning systems and he believes that a student’s knowledge must expand beyond a simple understanding of smart sensor and device types. “It’s really giving students the opportunity to experience working with each type of data, including analog data, discrete on/off data, position, torque, pressure and more so they understand how to embed data in the device and how to retrieve it,” says Perkins.

Building Block 4 – Control Systems

Industrial Equipment and Technology perform the work of manufacturing: machining, forming, extruding and molding materials into usable products. Smart Sensors and Devices monitor the process of doing so and provide direction and feedback to the process, and Control Systems oversee the processes. Functioning in real time to control the entire manufacturing process, these systems serve as the brain of each operation.

To be prepared for an Industry 4.0 world a student’s understanding of these systems is imperative and should include an aptitude in the following:

  • Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) Operation and Programming
  • Safety PLC Operation and Programming
  • Operator and Human Machine Interfaces
  • Distributed I/O
  • Electronic and Variable Frequency Drives
  • Motor and Motion Control
  • Power & Control Electronics

Building Block 5 – Connectivity and Networking

If Control Systems are the heart of Industry 4.0 then networks carry the lifeblood. Industrial networking isn’t anything new – Industry 3.0 was full of industrial computer networks. What changes in an Industry 4.0 world is the increasing use of Internet Protocol in the overall system or “Fieldbus”. As industrial equipment is increasingly internet connected a wide range of issues arise.

Industry 4.0 technologies are connected via wireless and smart devicesCisco claims the spot as the worldwide leader in IT and Networking and Brian Tantzen is the General Manager of the company’s Connected Industry and Manufacturing Business Unit. Also leading the formation of Cisco’s Industries Product Group which drives engineering and cloud applications for Cisco’s industry and IoT products and solutions across multiple vertical markets, Tantzen participated in our research.

“The big opportunity for the future are the people who can do both [Operational and Information Technology],” says Tantzen. “Cisco is providing factory networking, security and training for the move from proprietary systems to IP-based systems and working to bridge these two worlds together.”

As these two systems converge students will require greater understanding of the computer networks that carry the data produced by smart devices and control systems. This understanding must include learning multiple technologies, including Network Servers, Distributed Servers, Routers, Switches, Gateway Devices, Ethernet, Foundation Fieldbus, Profibus, Wireless Communication, Linking Technologies and Multi-User Applications.

Perhaps an industrial company’s most significant anxiety at the advent of Industry 4.0 is the idea of connecting all of its manufacturing intellectual property to the internet. The very intrinsic value of many such companies lies in the processes and systems used in manufacturing their products and the risk that this property could be stolen is of grave concern.

Concerning also is the risk of a supply or manufacturing system interruption resulting from the introduction of a virus or ransomware into an industrial company’s computer network. As Tantzen puts it, “Network Security is one of the barriers to implementing Industry 4.0 technology. There is a growing wave of attacks in factories and catastrophic risk they could be facing as a result. Factories were intentionally built to be air gapped and now we’re connecting them.”

For these reasons a student’s appreciation for and working knowledge of network security tools and appliances is imperative.

Building Block 6 – Inform-Actionable© Data

It’s a made-up word but it fits perfectly. More data was created in the last two years than was created in the last 5,000 years of human existence. For many industrial companies one challenge of Industry 3.0 was a lack of data. As companies embarked on continuous improvement projects many lacked the necessary information to perform analysis, draw conclusions and take action.

Understanding Informactionable data allows for more efficient processes in an Industry 4.0 environmentWith the presence of smart sensor and smart device technology, and the resulting nearly infinite abundance of data, the problem in Industry 4.0 will quickly become not the absence of data but way too much of it.

Individuals possessing the skills and knowledge necessary to analyze data and prescribe corresponding action will be of absolute necessity in the era of Industry 4.0.

As FANUC’s Cicco noted, “[In a connected environment] the amount of data pouring out of a piece of industrial equipment at any given time requires new analytics on an ongoing basis. Some data is important to some and other data is important to others. Finding people who can sift through the data is really important.”

In addition to analyzing data, a student’s ability to write the analytics, the computerized analysis of industrial information and data, will be highly valued. Not that every individual moving to an industrial employer will need to possess this skill, but, as Cisco’s Tantzen shared with us, there will be a considerable role for data scientists with an aptitude for statistics, regression analysis, lightweight programming and familiarization with SQL, SSAS and R.

Finally, students will require a working knowledge of cloud-based production control and an understanding of how production data, gathered using Industry 4.0 technology, is utilized to manage an entire industrial enterprise.

Of all the building blocks, Block 6 is perhaps the most challenging to align with a student’s educational needs. As Operational Technology and Information Technology continue their convergence the point at which one leaves off and the other begins will become increasingly blurry and eventually overlap. Thus the need to ensure that, at each level of education and in each educational program, the importance of inform-actionable© data and the processes by which it is gathered and acted upon is communicated and understood.

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Industry 4.0 technologies are rapidly transforming how people work in manufacturing, engineering, computer science and other sectors. New technologies increase productivity by connecting cloud-based data analytics software to smart devices.

With these changes comes a need for education to respond at all levels, preparing students for Industry 4.0 careers.

Middle School is the Critical Age

Middle school is a critical age: studies show that a majority of students will have already decided whether or not to pursue a STEM career by 8th grade. A study published by the Manufacturing Institute found that 63% of students said their own interests and experiences were the number one factor in determining their future pathway. (For reference, the next highest-scoring factor was parents, coming in at 32%.)

Student Influences in Career PathwaysSo here we have a clear vision of the future workforce: all industries will be affected by connected technologies, making Industry 4.0 skills more important than ever. And educators have a clear mission: get more students to stick with STEM education by integrating experiential, hands-on learning of new technologies into middle school curriculum.

Industry 4.0 Solutions

Industry 4.0 Foundations is an education solution for 5th – 8th grade that provides an opportunity for middle schoolers to explore topics related to pathways in advanced manufacturing, robotics, engineering, computer science, electrical technology, and more.

The curriculum focuses on a number of key topics: basic mechatronics (including electricity, fluid power, mechanical systems and controls), autonomous vehicles and drones, smart sensors and devices, robotics and automation, computer science and coding, 3D printing, data analytics, and alternative energy.

Basic mechatronics teaches engineering design, computer science, and electrical technology. The capstone robotics project guides students to build a humanoid robot using intelligent servo motors, bluetooth controls, sensors, and software for coding, flowcharting and robot motion editing.

In the automated guided vehicles and aerial drones units, students build drones and AGVs while learning the science behind each component, including sensors and servos, variable force and motion, drone coding, physics of flight, and more.

The alternative energy unit provides experiments for understanding concepts in alternative and renewable energy, including photovoltaics, wind power, hydro power, electric mobility and fuel cells, all while allowing students to use creativity, data logging and analysis.

Students also get an introduction to 3D printing, including design, materials, and projects for printing components that can be used in tooling, mechatronics, robotics, and more.

The program is excellent for teachers because it provides full LMS platforms, teacher training, ready-to-go kits, student-led projects, assessment tools, and is scalable to any size program.

Students Get an Advantage

Random Lake Middle School is already implementing curriculum and engineering robotics kits from the Industry 4.0 Foundations program.

Mike Trimberger, Superintendent for Random Lake School District, said the decision was made after months of consulting with employers in the community about what students need to know when they enter the workforce.ERIK

“As we see the increase of devices that are connecting to the Internet every day, our students will have an advantage over others if they understand the IoT and Industry 4.0 as it relates to careers they are interested in for the future,” Trimberger remarked.

At RLSD, students learn about mechanical systems, sensors, and coding as they put together the ERIK robot (Educational Robotics Invention Kit).

Industry 4.0 Foundations provides a framework that can be built upon in high school and beyond, including the four-course Industry 4.0 Fundamentals program that’s already being implemented in high schools and technical colleges across the Midwest.

But most importantly, it gives middle schoolers the chance to see firsthand what a STEM career could look like. And with demand for STEM skills growing in all industries, this early exposure is crucial to our students’ futures.

View the Industry 4.0 Foundations web page, download the flyer for Industry 4.0 Foundations to learn more, or contact us to see how this solution is right for your middle schoolers.