A new How Machines Work class is gaining positive attention for its relevant curriculum and hands-on skills in preparing New Berlin students for a multitude of career pathways. The class is in its flagship year after an Industry 4.0 community night in May raised awareness about the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


The program was designed to prepare students for multiple pathways by exposing them to technology and hands-on skills for engineering, automation, machining, computer science, and more. It’s all part of a broader academic initiative that started six years ago when the School District of New Berlin developed Academic and Career Planning pathways for their students. 

How Machines Work student operates a FANUC teach pendant on Roboguide softwareSuperintendent Joe Garza remarked, “As a state, we need to go beyond the traditional measures of College and Career Readiness if our students are to succeed in the projected economy. It is our collective work to help students develop a diverse set of talents that can fuel innovation and job creation while supporting projected workforce needs.”

How Machines Work is a course that resulted from this initiative – but it is just a part of the greater pathway for a Manufacturing student at SDNB. Other other career readiness options include Project Lead the Way classes, TechKNOW, Applied Data Science, CTSO, work experience, MSSC Independent Study, and post-secondary coursework.

The course structure and subjects were informed partly by a white paper published by the Milwaukee 7 Regional Talent Partnership: Preparing M7 for Industry 4.0.

Laura Schmidt was on the M7 board that drafted the white paper and was instrumental in putting together the manufacturing student pathway at SDNB.

“Digital disruption affects every industry,” she said. “As we were redesigning the manufacturing course, we knew we needed to align both the current and future needs, and industry feedback confirmed this. How Machines Work supports pathways in traditional manufacturing, advanced manufacturing, IT and applied analytics. It was the right next step.”


How Machines Work is broken up into multiple segments. First, students learn basic manufacturing practices, safety and procedures. Then, they get 10-hour hands-on rotations on a number of modules including turning, mechatronics and applied fluid power, CNC and manual milling, vacuum thermoforming and fluid power concepts, and automation and robotics. The course wraps up with a section on Industry 4.0 and connected systems, including IIoT, cybersecurity and data analytics.

70 students at two district high schools – Eisenhower and West – are taking How Machines Work this year. And in an effort to promote student choice in multiple pathways, the class is open to all high school grades and contains students with vastly different future plans.

At a recent open house event for community partners, students from 9th-12th grade demonstrated each piece of equipment, how it works, what they’re learning, and what they’re making.

Two freshman boys worked on the FANUC robot simulation software, using a teach pendant to program the robot to spell letters.

How Machines Work student demonstrates Amatrol's Tabletop Mechatronics System to community partnersAt another station, two seniors demonstrated Amatrol’s Tabletop Mechatronics system. Luke, one of the students, explained each module and sensor for each station of the system. “I like that we learned each process individually so we could build the unit and see the entire system come together,” he said.

He also likes that, after learning the ins and outs of the mechatronics system, one class will come in and reprogram it so the next class will have to troubleshoot and adjust. Luke plans to get a four-year Civil Engineering degree and likes how this class complements the engineering courses he’s already taken.

Blair, also a senior, is already in his second year apprenticeship in the workforce and is using his experience as a student-aid in the How Machines Work class. During the open house, he shared with community partners how his apprenticeship has given him the knowledge to benefit his peers and excel in the new class. He is open to several career pathways next year, including continuing to work full-time and getting a degree from WCTC to supplement his skills.


Soon, the students will begin applying their technical knowledge to Industry 4.0 skills. Pindel Global Precision, a key industry partner in the creation of the program, will come in to teach about data sets and have the students work through them.

In January, the class will spend a day at Waukesha County Technical College where they will have the opportunity learn welding and program a FANUC robot.

Dana McLaren teaches How Machines Work and is especially enthused about the relevance of the coursework – including the trip to WCTC and tours of industrial facilities.

How Machines Work student presents to a room of community partnersStudents are given the opportunity to learn industry-specific machines and programs, so when they get the opportunity to go to facility tours, they’re asking in-depth questions about the equipment being used, ” she commented.

The program’s success is due in part to support from community partners. In addition to Pindel and WCTC, contributors include Husco International, the National Fluid Power Association, Dynatek, LAB Midwest, SpinGroup, Stanek Tool, Foxconn, the Waukesha County Business Alliance, and a Fast Forward grant from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

Whether it’s donating funds, providing equipment, bringing in data and teaching, or providing scholarships, each of these partners’ contributions sets a precedent for success in career pathways.

Seeing the community backing of the new program is inspiring, but it opens dialogue about how Industry 4.0 technologies are changing more than just manufacturing.

“Moving forward, we need to better understand, and subsequently articulate, how this impacts other industries as well,” remarked Laura Schmidt. “We cannot adequately prepare students to effectively navigate higher education and work if they do not understand this.”

As Industry 4.0 education continues to adapt and conform to industry needs, schools districts like New Berlin are helping to lead the way into the future.

A fab lab functions to teach students to think critically, problem solve, plan, design and create using a number of computer-operated procedures. The best fab labs teach relevant skills using authentic industrial equipment and materials.

1. 3D Printer

Markforged Desktop 3D printer perfect for a fab labThe best fab labs will have a 3D printer capable of printing in a wide array of materials, including nylon and durable carbon fiber composites. We recommend the Markforged Onyx One. It comes with Eiger software compatible with STL files from any CAD/CAM program. Markforged’s line of industrial and Metal X printers are widely used by industry, giving your students access to a classroom-friendly 3D printer that is a cut above the rest.

2. Injection Molding

Additive manufacturing is a key component to fab lab requirements, so injection molding is a must-have in addition to your 3D printer. Amatrol’s 96-PLS1 Plastics Technology 1 Learning System is designed to teach modern technical skills in plastics and polymer science using injection molding. LJ Create’s Injection Moulding Trainer offers a classroom-based resource for investigating the techniques used to create thermo-plastic products.

3. Robotics

ERIK RobotA world-class fab lab will have a robotics component that combines engineering and programming. We recommend ERIK, the Educational Robotics Invention Kit from LJ Create. With multiple design options, ERIK teaches students to work with intelligent servo motors, sensors, a programmable controller and a range of construction parts.

Additionally, students can learn authentic industrial robotic programming with FANUC‘s Intro Robotics package. The set features 6 permanent seats of ROBOGUIDE software and a teach pendant that can connect to a computer. Students can program and operate simulated versions of the world’s most-used industrial robot brand.

4. Precision Measurement

A fundamental skill, precision measuring will add to any process performed in your fab lab. Amatrol’s Portable Measurement Tools Learning System introduces principles of measurement using both the U.S. customary system and S.I. metric system. Students will learn a variety of skills including basic and precision measurement, direct and indirect gauging, and dimensional measurements.

5. CNC Router

A compact 3 axis CNC Router will be the perfect fit for your lab. The Denford Compact 1000 Pro is capable of cutting a range of materials including hard and soft wood, plastic, modeling foam, acrylic and prototyping materials, and non-ferrous metals.

6. CNC Milling Machine

The Denford Micromill is a compact 3 axis milling machine that fits right on your tabletop. It comes equipped with VR CNC milling operating software. The variable spindle speeds and feedrates make it ideal for cutting resistant materials such as wax, plastic, acrylic, aluminum and free cutting alloys.

7. PLC

Programmable Logic Controllers are essential in any digital fab lab, and you’ll want a sturdy yet portable model. With Allen-Bradley and Siemens options available, Amatrol’s Portable PLC trainers teach skills that are directly transferable to industry careers.

8. Welding

Miller Welding AugmentedArcIntroduce your students to foundational welding principles in a safe, virtual environment before graduating them to live welding. Lincoln Electric’s VRTEX Engage and Miller’s AugmentedArc are foundational systems designed to introduce students to the skilled trades – specifically arc welding. The portable systems include a touch screen monitor, welding gun, tracking device and a work surface. Students will learn safety, machine and process selection, welding procedure set up, welding theory and more.


Let’s Build Your Wish List!

As professional educational consultants, we’d be happy to help personalize your fab lab with just the right equipment for your needs. Contact us for one-on-one assistance!



Powder Coating is a complex process, and proper training on these skills can prevent waste, increase efficiency, and cut time and costs for employers.

1. Basic techniques for Powder Coat spraying

It goes without saying that every powder coater should have a solid grasp of the basics. So before moving on to more difficult techniques, make sure you understand how distance, angle and speed need to be adjusted for painting each part.

2. Identify & Prevent Coating Defects

Powder coaters should understand proper thickness (mil build) and will be able to avoid common coating defects like Orange Peel, Fisheye and Scaling. It takes training to understand how to prepare, paint, and cure each part based on a range of variables that could result in defects. Knowing how to identify and prevent potential defects will save your company time and money.

3. Maximize Transfer Efficiency

Skilled powder coaters will have a high rate of first-pass transfer efficiency, applying paint with little to no waste. Certainly, collection and reconditioning of overspray can be used for subsequent passes, but additional steps come with a price. Maximize efficiency in the process by avoiding wasted material, labor and time.

product finishing powder coating4. Match Existing Finishes

When painting next to a finished product, you should be able to use blending techniques to match the color and mil build of the existing part.

5. Maximize Conveyor Throughput

Racking maximizes profitability by increasing line speed and density and decreasing paint waste. Avoid daisy-chaining! Experienced powder coaters will choose the most efficient rack design, eliminate manual handling of racks when possible, and maximize throughput on their conveyor.

6. Understand the Faraday Effect

The Faraday Effect creates an invisible electrical cage that prevents charged powder particles from reaching tight corners on parts with complex designs. Knowing how to fully coat these sections will prevent premature corrosion and save your company time on multiple passes and manual touch-ups.

7. Master Abrasive Blasting

Every powder coater should know how to choose the right media for abrasive blasting depending on the job to be done. He should be able to successfully remove paint and debris for powder coating.

8. Choose the Right Spray Gun

Airless, Air Assisted Airless or HVLP? It depends on many variables, like fluid viscosity, production requirements, finished quality requirements, and length and diversity of use. Make sure you’re confident in which to use.

9. Proper Curing Techniques

A powder coater should know how to create the right cure schedule based on parts and paint. If the polymer chains don’t link correctly in baking, your part will be compromised. This results in cracking, discoloration, brittleness, and premature corrosion.

10. Set-up and Operate Equipment

No matter the environment or line set-up, an experienced powder coater will understand how to set up his equipment, use it properly, clean and take care of it for long-term use.


SimSpray is a Virtual Reality Powder Coating training system, complete with equipment, software and curriculum to help product finishers master all 10 essential skills. Click here to learn more about SimSpray, or contact us for more information.

Authentic Industrial Equipment in the Classroom

Instructors at Lomira School District are passionate about giving their students access to authentic automation, robotics, and advanced manufacturing equipment as early as middle school. They were using Project Lead the Way curriculum already, but they wanted to give students hands-on experiences.

Lomira Middle School students work with ROBOGUIDE software, CNC Simulators, and FANUC Cert CartShanna Martin, 8th Grade Social Studies instructor and Personalized Learning Coordinator for the district, said her background in project-based learning was motivation to get a makerspace or STEM lab for the school.

“We want to give the kids an opportunity to open up their eyes and see what’s out there,” she said.

That’s when they found Metalcraft of Mayville, Inc., an Original Equipment and Contract Manufacturer that has invested in several schools in the region, including West Bend and Palmyra.

Randy Gloede, President at Metalcraft, said the company’s investments in local schoolsis intended to inspire [students] toward rewarding careers in industry and to equip them with the skills they will need in the quickly evolving world of advanced manufacturing.”

The school acquired three CNC Simulators, ROBOGUIDE software, a Robotic CERT Cart, and a Robotic Weld Cell as part of the investment from Metalcraft.

Middle Schoolers are Enthusiastic Learners

Lomira is getting students in the lab as early as 8th grade to learn on FANUC Roboguide and CNC Simulators. This strategy coincides with research by the Manufacturing Institute, which found that a vast majority of students will choose a career path based primarily on their experiences in middle and high school.

Martin is especially passionate about utilizing the potential of middle school curiosity.

I am really excited to see middle school students engaged in and applying real skills they can use later on in the workforce. We are very grateful that Metalcraft has provided these tools to Lomira School District. The equipment challenges student learning while giving them hands on skills that they can use in a future career.”

And she’s helping her middle schoolers connect the dots, too. The students performed investigative research on jobs and salaries available to skilled positions using the very skills they’re learning in the classroom. Many came away both surprised and excited about career pathways they didn’t know existed.

For students whose parents work in manufacturing (and many do), the lab is an opportunity for children to relate their hands-on learning to tasks performed by their parents in the workforce. The connection fosters familial conversation and is an asset when these parents volunteer in the Tech Ed classroom.

Building the Future Workforce

The generational connection is inspiring, but it is also crucial. With manufacturing in the US growing, unemployment rates dropping, and much of the current workforce preparing to retire, a pipeline of skilled workers needs to be cultivated.

An October 2018 report by the National Science and Technology Council argues:

“to prepare the STEM workforce for future manufacturing jobs, national investments should prioritize life-long STEM education–across elementary, high school, career and technical education (CTE)…–and include diversified platforms for hands-on learning and self-directed learning.”

Lomira School District is doing just that. Hands-on technical education begins in middle school, but there is a clear progression through the high school level. The department’s 5-year plan impressed Metalcraft, and it’s already impacting students.

8th grade students work with instructors Shanna Martin and Blake Bogenhagen on FANUC CNC Simulators, ROBOGUIDE software, even the CERT Cell. In high school, instructor Jon Marx works with the students on higher progressions with the curriculum and introduces the Robotic Weld Cell.

Within the progression, the ROBOGUIDE curriculum allows for individualized learning so students can work at their own pace. While the students will admit it’s not easy, they take to the technology rather quickly. Yet the independent structure allows instructors to assist students as they need it on certain tasks, more advanced students are able to move through the lessons on their own time.

And this is just the beginning for Lomira’s lab. “The kids will learn the basics here but there’s always room for growth,” remarked Martin.

Early exposure to hands-on skills, trips to tour Metalcraft and local manufacturers, and integration of new technologies into the lab are all part of the program’s growth plan. With this trajectory, students of Lomira School District will someday be leaders of the advanced manufacturing workforce.

Lomira 8th graders work with their new robot

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Sturtevant, WI — Industry and education leaders from across the country came together to support the groundbreaking of a 35,000 square foot expansion of the SC Johnson iMET Center at Gateway Technical College. The project, which includes updates to 12,000 square feet of existing space, will add new labs for Industrial Control, Engineering, Mechanical Systems and Material Science, as well as new CNC Manufacturing space and IT Analytics Computer classrooms. It is one of the first flexible manufacturing labs equipped to train workers and students for advanced manufacturing careers.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was joined by key partners to dedicate ground to the expansion project. Partners included Amatrol, Ashley Furniture Industries, FANUC, LAB Midwest, Rockwell Automation, SC Johnson, and Foxconn. The expansion is made possible by a $5 million grant from the State of Wisconsin in addition to collaboration from industry partners.

Foxconn’s investment in Wisconsin is evidenced by the growth of manufacturing careers and education awareness in the region. Soon the tech giant will be looking to fill an initial 13,000 jobs at its Mt. Pleasant facility. As a result, tech colleges like Gateway are investing in training and education for skilled jobs in Industry 4.0 positions. In his speech Monday, Scott Walker commented on Wisconsin’s low unemployment rate and bright future for Wisconsin manufacturing.

Scott Walker addresses the crowd at the Gateway expansion ceremony

“Foxconn’s ripple effect is growing once again with the expansion of Gateway Technical College’s iMET Center. This center is one more example of Wisconsin’s educational institutions creating more opportunities for their students because of Foxconn’s decision to build in Wisconsin. With eight straight months of unemployment at or below 3%, it makes worker training all the more important. And, this will provide hands-on opportunities for students that will help them gain the skills to work for one of Wisconsin’s many growing companies.”

Alan Yeung, Director of US Strategic Initiatives at Foxconn said, “[Foxconn] came, we were impressed and we wanted to be part of Wisconsin. We saw speed, we saw cost-effectiveness, and we saw talent.”

Wisconsin truly is living up to Foxconn’s vision as the hub of advanced manufacturing progress.

Among the advanced technologies taught in the new center will be FANUC Robotics’ Zero Down Time (ZDT) Technology. ZDT is an application that uploads and analyzes key performance data on the cloud for all integrated robots. Predictive analytics can prevent downtime and keep production lines running efficiently.

Additionally, Gateway will be the first college to offer Industry 4.0 certifications from the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA).

In his address at the event, Gateway President and CEO Bryan Albrecht remarked, “The SC Johnson Integrated Manufacturing and Engineering Technology Center will be the model for training technicians throughout the world.”

Dakota County, MN – High school students in Minnesota are benefitting from exposure to state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing technology in multiple classroom settings.

Intermediate School District (ISD) 917 serves nine school districts in Dakota County, Minnesota. Housed in Dakota County Technical College, the school provides increased opportunities for personal and career skill development for students in specialized classes that their local high schools don’t offer.

For example, all nine Dakota County high schools have their own robotics teams, but none offer robotics as a class. At ISD 917, students can learn the concepts and skills needed to program and use industrial-grade robots as a course, not simply a hobby.

One of the goals at ISD 917 is to create an educated and skilled population that can easily assimilate into the workforce. Recently, the school recognized a need to revitalize their Technology Education courses to accomplish this goal.

Building Connections

The program often takes students on field trips to tour local manufacturing facilities. There, students see what goes on in the day-to-day of a manufacturer’s career. Concepts learned in math and science courses are clearly present during the tours: measurement, geometry, coordinates, and circuits, for example. But lately there has been a disconnect between classroom concepts and practical skills. When employees started talking about mechatronics and Programmable Logic Controls, they were speaking a language the students couldn’t understand.

ISD 917 students gather around the Amatrol Skill Boss

“We were seeing advanced manufacturing processes in the Amazon plant nearby,” said ISD 917 Principal Eric Van Brocklin. “So we thought, how do we get this into the schools?”

The school board set out to refocus some of their curriculum. They began to ask a few key questions, like what do businesses want students to be able to do when they leave the program?

With industry on the verge of its fourth revolution, technology and connected systems are advancing rapidly, and employers are looking for workers who are familiar with these concepts. Students need hands-on learning using robotics, mechatronics, and PLCs as early as high school to secure these skilled positions.

The school board concluded that advanced manufacturing curriculum and trainers would give students a baseline for a successful career in industry.

This summer ISD 917 acquired an Amatrol Skill Boss and an AC/DC trainer, and they implemented Amatrol’s eLearning platform in several classrooms. Now, when classes visit a manufacturing facility and hear employees talk about mechatronics or PLCs, the students can envision themselves in these jobs because they already have hands-on experience with the same skills.

This is the school’s marker for success: “The biggest hope we have is that our students will be confident when they leave here about their career opportunities,” said Van Brocklin.

Industry 4.0 in the Classroom

Lynn Morris and Dale Engman are the two ISD 917 instructors currently implementing this technology in their classrooms. They attended the first-ever Industry 4.0 Train the Trainer event at Gateway Technical College and are excited to watch the program develop in its flagship year.

Morris, a math teacher, is able to use the equipment in her classroom to give kinesthetic learners a visual representation of math concepts.

“The portables are great because they are hands-on, and students can learn hard skills on things they’ve never seen before,” says Morris.

ISD 917, FANUC robotics, and Amatrol Skill Boss

She also teaches a Geometry in Construction course where students apply math concepts to actually building a three-bedroom home. She looks forward to adding more Amatrol portables, like Precision Measurement, to supplement this course.

Engman teaches several Computer Science courses and focuses on the Industry 4.0 curriculum, as connected systems, data analytics and algorithms are the cornerstones of IIoT.

“The network piece is blooming, and with the Internet of Things, there’s a huge niche for Industry 4.0 to be incorporated into Computer Networking,” he said.

Launching New Programs

This is just the beginning for ISD 917. They have big goals in mind for long-term.

It’s all about building momentum. When students get excited about advanced manufacturing technology, they share this with classmates, parents and teachers. Excitement builds enrollment, and soon other local high schools, technical colleges, and businesses will see the relevance of teaching Industry 4.0 skills.

“We’re hoping to expose more students to this program and to be on the forefront for other schools,” remarked Morris.

Long-term, the school hopes to build a full industry program with classes that cover all things manufacturing and Industry 4.0. They would also like to see more technical colleges continue to build up their advanced manufacturing programs so ISD 917 students have a clear next step in their education pathway.

High schools and technical colleges all across the Midwest are starting to catch wind of the importance of advanced manufacturing education, and ISD 917 may just be the spark that ignites momentum in Dakota County.

Develop your own Advanced Manufacturing Program!

Fill out the form below with any questions, and we’ll be in touch with how we can make this happen in your district.


Mobile Skills Lab Recognized by Education, Industry and Government Leaders

The Ashley Furniture Mobile Skills Lab had its grand opening on Tuesday, October 9. Educators and community leaders were joined by Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and Ashley Furniture Chairman and Founder Ron Wanek for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch addresses the crowd at the grand-opening of the Ashley Mobile Skills Lab

The lab originally debuted at the Ashley for the Arts festival this August. It will serve over 3000 students this year from across four school districts: Whitehall, Independence, Blair-Taylor, and Arcadia. Students will get hands-on experience operating advanced manufacturing technology like programmable logic controllers and robots from industry-leaders Amatrol and FANUC.

The lab will spend one quarter at each of the four school districts in the Trempealeau Valley Co-op. Instructor Zach Olsen from UW Stout will remain with the lab as it travels and will teach advanced manufacturing courses. 

LAB Midwest’s Mike Dietrich was on site at the ceremony and remarked on Olsen’s passion as a teacher. “Zack has undertaken a tremendous responsibility to not only get kids excited about this new technology, but also to ensure that his students are meeting the strict academic standards for transcripted credits at several technical colleges and universities.”

Olsen was among the first instructors to receive training on brand-new Industry 4.0 curriculum in preparation for this semester. This training took place at Gateway Technical College’s iMET Center, and over 30 other schools and colleges across the nation have implemented the curriculum this fall.

The Mobile Skills Lab was made possible through a donation by Ashley Furniture’s Education Foundation. “It is clear to see Ashley Furniture and all of the educators within the co-op are working to make a difference in the community to help solve the serious problem of a shrinking workforce across all industries and career paths,” remarked Dietrich.

The Labs grand-opening was a great success.

Other schools and organizations are taking notice of the Mobile Skills Lab. The Wisconsin Association of School Boards featured the lab on the front cover of their October 2018 edition of Wisconsin School News journal.

LAB Midwest is proud to partner with Ashley Furniture and many other manufacturers who are investing in their local schools to give students hands-on experience with authentic industrial technology. To read more success stories, click here, here, and here.

Industrial-Grade Robotics

In November 2016, voters in Germantown approved an $84 million referendum that would go toward upgrading buildings and classrooms in the Germantown School District. To capitalize on this, the School Board voted to use $1.2 million out of a fund to equip Germantown High School’s Technology Education Department with state-of-the-art industrial-grade technology.

Tim Mehring, Technology Education Instructor at Germantown High School, said his department has been using Project Lead the Way (PLTW) curriculum for over 10 years. With this new funding he looks forward to increasing PLTW’s value by incorporating industry-level equipment.

With the help of LAB Midwest, the department recently purchased a FANUC Fenceless CERT Cart Robot, a Robot-Loaded Machining Center, and a Robotic Weld Cell. Now, PLTW students can get exposure to authentic industrial practices instead of simulations alone.

Germantown High School technology education student, guided by LAB Midwest's Mike Deitrich, operates a FANUC Fenceless CERT Cart Robot

This is part of the plan behind the referendum: to create a Technology Education program that mimics industry, and it will be carried out in three steps:

Step 1: Basic Manufacturing

Step 2: CNC / Machining

Step 3: Full integration with Robotics

Last year, Tech Ed students worked mostly with building VEX robots. Now, the FANUC robots will be incorporated into higher-level progressions of the PLTW curriculum when students learn about industrial-grade robotics.

Real-World Impact

The decision to incorporate hands-on, real-life industrial technology stems from the expansion of manufacturing and the plethora of jobs available – and the lack of skilled workers to fill these jobs.

As a result, colleges and industry are getting involved in technology education at the high school level in order to support the future workforce of America. Milwaukee Area Technical College is working on establishing dual credits with Germantown. And local companies are investing in their Tech Ed program, as well.

J.W. Speaker is one of those companies supporting PLTW curriculum in its $50,000 donation to the Germantown School District . Founded in downtown Milwaukee 1935, it moved it Germantown in 1988. The manufacturing company has seen massive expansion over the last 10 years, and has plans to continue expansion of its campus in the city.

Leslie Fee, Development Specialist at J.W. Speaker, says the company invested in the school as a way of benefitting both the company and the students.

“With all this growth and future projects, we know that we’re going to need more people working for J.W. Speaker. So we wanted to work with the high school, knowing that not everyone is interested in a traditional four-year college. The future of manufacturing is bright at J.W. Speaker and we’re excited to share the possibilities with the students at Germantown High School.”

This summer, the company hosted a week-long externship for six teachers from Germantown High School across a variety of departments. Teachers had an opportunity to learn more about the manufacturing processes at J.W. Speaker so they could take this knowledge back to their programs and work to implement curriculum that feeds into skills relevant for the workplace.

The company is also invested in preparing students for the future workforce with on-the-job training. Over the summer a 16-year-old Germantown student worked at J.W. Speaker, and his work productivity was beyond expectation. Future plans for J.W. Speaker include a youth apprenticeship program in order to provide students an opportunity to experience firsthand what a career in manufacturing could look like.

Robotics Technology for All Students

But Tech Ed students aren’t the only ones to benefit from the new equipment. Mehring explained,

Technology should be in every classroom. Over the past years, Germantown School District has begun to incorporate an educational approach that allows teachers to provide hands-on and real-life examples within their respective subject areas. With the addition of three brand new FANUC Robots the district recently purchased, the Technology Department is well-positioned to incorporate aspects of its curriculum with the core subject areas (Math, Science, and English), which will bring a new level of realism to the subject matter taught in these core areas.”

Germantown High School technology education student operates a FANUC Fenceless CERT Cart Robot

Students who might never have entered the fab lab will now have the opportunity to apply concepts learned in core classes like geometry and physics. And getting practical will help solidify conceptual knowledge for kinesthetic learners.

“Incorporating the FANUC Robots into the core subject areas will allow students to apply principles taught in the core subject areas – from simple points in space to complex calculations with torque and payload – in a hands-on, real-life manner,” Mehring explained.


The department hopes to fully integrate technology into all classrooms in the next two years.

And there’s an added bonus to this plan: before, many students might not have considered a career in manufacturing. Now, exposure to advanced robotic equipment in core classes may redirect their career trajectory.

Mehring hopes so. “Because much of the robotics equipment, such as the robotic arms, are easily transportable thanks to the Cert Carts, we look forward to exposing not only these resources, but also technology and manufacturing, to a large group of students who many never have enrolled in a technology class or have even thought about the multitude of career opportunities within the technology field,” he said.

Modern manufacturing is innovative, advancing, and as a career, it offers job security. With schools like Germantown embracing advanced manufacturing equipment and curriculum, and with companies like J.W. Speaker offering jobs and training to students who want to explore these career possibilities, there may just be a close in the skills-gap as manufacturing reestablishes a dominant place in the American workforce.


How can FANUC robots impact learning at your school?

Send us a message, and we can share more info about how schools are using FANUC robots to fit into their existing programs!

Best Colleges for Adult Learners

2018 College Rankings by Washington Monthly: Best Colleges for Adult Learners: 2 Year Colleges

Washington Monthly is known for their annual rankings of colleges and universities with lists like Top 4-year Universities or Best Bang for Your Buck in each US region. And since 2016, Best Colleges for Adult Learners. 

This is an important addition to college rankings since reports indicate that one-third of college attendees are adults (aged 25 and older), many who are part-time students with families and jobs. Washington Monthly claims to be the only publication to rank colleges in terms of their benefit for adult learners. 

The publication takes many factors into account, eliminating schools from eligibility if they don’t partake in the College Board’s Annual Survey of Colleges, for example. Other restrictions eliminate schools who only offer graduate programs, certificates, or who are specialized programs like medical or rabbinical schools.

The rankings are based on 8 factors:

  • Ease of transfer/enrollment
  • Flexibility of programs
  • Services available for adult students
  • Percentage of adult students (25+) at the college
  • Graduation rates of part-time students
  • Mean earnings of adult students ten years after entering college
  • Loan repayment rates of adult students five years after entering repayment
  • Tuition fees for in-district students

To read more about the methodologies and rankings factors, click here.

Wisconsin Tops the Charts

In the 2018 Best Colleges for Adult Learners: 2 Year Colleges, Wisconsin schools outshine the others.

29 states have at least one college appearing on the list, and only one state has more colleges in the top 100 than Wisconsin. Here are the top states, ranked by number of colleges appearing in the top 100:

  • Washington: 13
  • Wisconsin: 11
  • Pennsylvania: 11
  • California: 11
  • Massachusetts: 9
  • New York: 5
  • Maryland: 5

To see the full 2018 list, click here.

Wisconsin’s ranking has steadily increased since the first year these statistics were released (2016).

In 2016, Wisconsin had 7 colleges in the top 100, with the 7th coming in at the 100th spot on the list.

In 2017, Wisconsin again had 7 colleges in the top 100, but the lowest WI rank in that list was 57th.

In 2018, not only did Wisconsin have 11 colleges in the top 100, but all 11 appeared in the top 75, and 7 of those appeared in the top 27.

Wisconsin Technical College System

There are 16 schools in the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) accounting for a total of 49 campuses across the state.

According to the WTCS website, the schools are especially valuable to adult learners because they “provide countless on-line learning opportunities, or blended options that combine on-line learning with hands-on skills instruction. The colleges also provide customized business solutions that help employers ensure a skilled incumbent workforce ready to improve processes or incorporate new technology.”

The 11 that ranked in the top 100 of 2018 are:


A friend whose son had recently accepted an entry-level industrial position asked me what advice I have for someone on their first day in manufacturing. This is what I told him.Man in manufacturing job welding a vehicle

1. Manufacturing can be a job, or it can be a career.

It is still one of the few vocations where you can start out sweeping the floor and end up running or owning the company. These types of results don’t happen in too many occupations, but they still do in manufacturing.

2. The people working on the shop floor are much like you.

They are parents, children and siblings. They started their day in a home and will return to one at the end of the day. They have past experiences and dreams for the future like you do. Be open to getting to know them. Don’t try too hard to fit in. You’ll be the uncomfortable outsider at first, but soon enough will find your place on the team. Don’t forget to smile.

3. Be patient.

Your first day will be hard, and by Day Four you may want to quit. In much the same way the new season’s first weeks of football practice are a drag until you build endurance and stamina, it will take a while for your body to harden to the rigors of work. Give it time. It gets better every day.

4. Safety rules exist for a reason. Understand and follow them.

I’ll never forget the time a new employee of ours watched a seasoned one put his hand in a harmless rinse tank on a metal plating line only to have the newbie think it would be just as safe to put his into an acid tank. Safety rules exist for a reason. Understand and follow them. Wear your safety glasses even when the supervisor isn’t watching. You likely passed a drug test before you were hired and with good reason. You will be working around equipment and processes that have the potential to cause harm to you and others if not used in the right manner. If you stayed off drugs long enough to pass the test, keep it that way.

5. Arrive early and work until it’s time to quit.

It’s not OK to call in sick unless you are genuinely too sick to work. Don’t stretch your breaks. Volunteer for overtime.

6. Take initiative.

If something is out of place, put it back. If your work area needs to be cleaned, don’t wait to be told. If you’re not sure what to do next, ask before being instructed. Take direction well and take pride in your work. At some point, your supervisor will ask you to do something you think is pointless. Unless it’s unethical, illegal or immoral, do it anyway—your time to lead will come soon enough.

7. You’re all on the same team.

Every shop has at least one complainer, and likely several who waste their days disparaging their employer and the work the company does. Ignore them. Their contagious bad attitudes will drag you down with them. When tensions rise, be mindful of the harm such silos do to any business. You’re all on the same team, and any energy exerted fighting each other is energy not invested in improving the futures of the company and yourself.

8. Become a student of manufacturing.

Understand efficiency, bottlenecks, constraints and throughput. Virtually everyone I have known to be successful in industry—and there are many—have read Goldratt, Deming and Womack. You should, too. Remember, on the other side of everything you do is a customer who relies on the quality and timeliness of your work. Take pride in what you do for them.

A half-century ago, seven types of waste were identified by Toyota’s Taiichi Ohno, whose Toyota Production System became the precursor to what is now commonly known as Lean Manufacturing. Waiting, motion, overprocessing, overproduction, inventory, rework and transportation— memorize these. Understand how they manifest themselves in a production process and how to eliminate them. While you’re at it, learn the 5S lean tools used in improving any plant (sort, set to order, standardize, shine and sustain).

9. Prosperous companies create prosperous employees.

Take a genuine interest in the success of your employer. Take care of company-owned equipment. Never steal. If the company has a quality policy, memorize it and the mission statement, vision statement and core values, too. Live them.

10. Above all, know that there is dignity in the vocation of manufacturing.

It is one of the few endeavors in which you will know the satisfaction of looking back at day’s end upon the physical manifestation of what you were able to produce. Your country was built on the foundation of hard work, pride and dedication of people doing the same type of work that you will be.

By Matthew Kirchner

Originally published in Production Machining Magazine, August 2018.

Last week, the Manufacturing Standards Skills Council (MSSC) announced a partnership with Amatrol to launch the CPT+ Skill Boss Training and Certification Program.

The program builds upon MSSC’s Certified Production Technician (CPT) certification program to incorporate hands-on skills for an advanced manufacturing workplace where data and connected systems are standard.

MSSC Chair Leo Reddy and Amatrol President Paul Perkins post with Skill Boss, used in CPT+ training

MSSC Chair Leo Reddy (left), Amatrol President Paul Perkins (right) with the Skill Boss

Certified Production Technician

As a prerequisite, individuals seeking a CPT+ certification must first complete MSSC’s CPT program which equips individuals with the core competencies needed to succeed in production in all manufacturing sectors.  The program consists of four Modules, each consisting of 40 hours of instruction and training:

  • Safety
  • Quality
  • Production Processes
  • Maintenance Awareness

Because the CPT+ is a “stackable” program, it is not required for individuals to complete the extra training on the Skill Boss to earn a CPT certification, nor does it affect the certification of anyone who has already completed MSSC’s CPT training.

The value-added of the additional Skill Boss training is worth the extra investment, both to individuals going through the program and to employers seeking to sharpen their incumbent workers’ production skills.

Skill Boss

The Skill Boss is a computerized machine, designed and manufactured by Amatrol, that assesses 55 different skills from MSSC National Standards. It is capable of training and assessing users in skills related to advanced manufacturing discrete parts and process manufacturing.

The device is affordable, portable and compact — both it and its associated programmable logic controller (PLC) can fit on a 3×6 foot table. This makes it ideal for classrooms, and the price is affordable enough for even lower-income school districts.

Watch this video to see the Skill Boss in action:

Additional value-add from the Skill Boss:

  • Appeals to tactile learners through hands-on training
  • Offers learners a great introduction to mechatronics
  • Incentivizes individuals to earn CPT training
  • Increases employer confidence in their workers’ competence by requiring evidence of hands-on skills
  • Great for incumbent workers who already are CPT certified
  • Engaging learning through virtual 3D simulation
  • Meets ISO Standard 17024 accreditation requirement

Download the Skill Boss Fact Sheet for more information.


In CPT+ training, instructors will either integrate hands-on learning on the Skill Boss throughout each Module of CPT teaching, or they will complete the Module and afterwards assess the student with hands-on incorporation of skills learned during instruction. The Skill Boss adds an extra 15 hours of training to each Module.

Upon completion of training, CPT+ students will receive:

  • MSSC Transcript for each Module, signed by the trainer and retained in MSSC’s registry
  • Diploma-style certification
  • Two CPT+ arm patches

Learn more about the Skill Boss or CPT+ Certification

Fill out the form below and we’ll be in touch with more information!

Grants Move Wisconsin Forward

“Forward” is Wisconsin’s state motto, and that is certainly the trajectory of industry in this region. For example, Foxconn is continually making progress on the opening of its smart manufacturing facility at the Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park in Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin. The building will be the most technologically-advanced smart manufacturing facility in the world.

To keep up with Foxconn, manufacturers in Wisconsin are investing in their employees’ training and certifications. In turn, the Department of Workforce Development is investing in Wisconsin manufacturers with Fast Forward grants.

The Wisconsin Fast Forward (WFF) grant program was launched in 2014 in an effort to “incentivize Wisconsin employers to implement customized training programs that provide workers with the practical jobs skills they need to succeed in a 21st century workforce,” reads the WFF 2017 Annual Report.

Grants benefit employers by training workers like this welder

Grant programs create pathways for incumbent workers to train for a higher skill level, receiving a pay increase and upward mobility within their workplace. The resulting openings create job opportunities for the unemployed or unskilled to attain entry-level positions.

Program Statistics

Since the program’s inception, 235 customized training projects have been created to upskill over 19,000 workers in the state. As of July 2017, over 12,000 workers had completed these programs. 6,000 of these trainees work in Manufacturing alone. Other highly-represented industries include Health Care, Transportation, and Construction.

Perhaps the most significant statistic in the WFF report is that the number of closed grants with trainee outcomes more than doubled between October 31, 2016 and June 30, 2017. From 2014 to October 2016, there were 2,940 workers who had completed training. Just nine months later, 12,215 total workers had completed training.

Why Apply for a Grant?

What these statistics reveal is an upward trend in employers investing in the continual training of their workers due to a progression in technology and systems, especially in manufacturing. WFF grants match or double what an employer is able to spend on training programs, thereby accelerating employee skill acquisition and company progress.

One company who received a grant in 2017 saw exponential growth as a result of the program. “Thanks to grant training, we were able to accomplish in a year what would have probably taken us five years to do on our own,” said one of its owners.

Grant submission deadlines for the third quarter are approaching quickly – September 30 – with grant awards delivered by November 30, 2018.

Manufacturers looking to raise the bar of their employees’ skills need to have an action plan and partners in mind when applying for the grant. LAB Midwest is proud to provide skills-based training and equipment for Advanced Manufacturing, CNC, Welding, Industrial Technology, Lean Manufacturing, PLCs, and certifications for heavy equipment, forklift operation, supply chain management, and more.

Contact LAB Midwest for more information.

Bucky on Parade

Madison, WI – Anyone visiting Madison, Wisconsin between May 7 and September 12, 2018 will notice an array of 6-foot-tall Buckys scattered all over the city. Bucky on Parade is a free public art installation featuring 85 statues of the UW-Madison mascot painted in a variety of themes.

The statues are a unique draw for visitors. Parade maps guide them on a tour of the beautiful city of Madison. 

Visit the University Book Store and see #GameDayBucky in his bibs and Jump Around shirt ready for Badger Football season.

Or stop by Bascom Hall to see Graduation Bucky decked out in his cap and gown and ready to graduate.

Graduation Bucky is ready for the big day in his cap and gown.#GameDay Bucky has his bibs and Jump Around shirt onThis Bucky has all different variations of Bucky from the school's past

Last Friday, August 17th witnessed the unveiling of the 85th statue, Crazylegs Bucky, at the UW Police Department.

While the installation adds an aesthetic touch to the city, the story behind the idea is particularly intriguing. 64 local and regional artists were selected to paint the statues to depict iconic figures, events, and places around Madison.

So where do robots come into play?

In preparation for the artists to begin their work, the fiberglass statues were first painted with a white base coat at Madison College. While the real art was hand-painted, the base coat was layered on by FANUC robots.

Bucky statues were painted with a white base coat by this FANUC robot

Seeing the work done behind-the-scenes to prepare the statues adds a unique perspective to the collaborative process. From design, to manufacturing, to robotic painting and hand-painting, the Buckys passed through the hands of a number of skilled workers and students to reach their final destination.

“We welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with Madison College on this important project,” said Renee Kirchner, LAB Midwest’s CEO. “To see the skills gained by Madison College’s students used in such an industry-relevant way, and to see the product of their work displayed across the entire city of Madison, was quite rewarding for our whole team, and we felt privileged to participate.”

FANUC’s Paint Robots are built in their facility in Rochester Hills, Michigan. They are the only industrial robotics company with domestic manufacturing capabilities. LAB Midwest, FANUC and a paint robot integrator collaborated in providing the robot to Madison College.

Led by Peter Dettmer and Rick Jacobs, the college is a FANUC CERT School and FAST training site. And it has one of the most advanced industrial robotics programs in the United States. LAB Midwest proudly partners with Madison College across a wide variety of programs.

To learn more about FANUC robots, contact LAB Midwest.


Instructors are trained for Industry 4.0 curriculum and equipment

Industry 4.0 Training

Sturtevant, WI – The new school year is quickly approaching, and educators are getting prepared. Last week teachers, instructors and administrators from throughout the US converged in Sturtevant, WI for Industry 4.0 Train the Trainer instruction delivered at Gateway Technical College’s iMET Center.

Those in attendance were among the first to receive training on cutting-edge Industry 4.0 equipment using a world-class eLearning platform. Two highly-skilled instructors from Amatrol delivered the training.

Trainees spent time working through the curriculum’s eLearning platform, engaging with its state-of-the-art interactive and multimedia modules. They then had the opportunity to work with the accompanying equipment which gives students hands-on training in a classroom setting.

Dr. Bryan Albrecht, President of Gateway Technical College, was encouraged to see the enthusiasm of the teachers as they engaged with the curriculum.

“Teachers inspire hope and opportunity. Gateway’s Industry 4.0 professional development workshops provided in partnership with LAB Midwest and Amatrol are preparing STEM teachers to engage students in advanced skill development for exciting careers in robotics, advanced manufacturing and system automation.”

Amatrol PLCs are part of the Industry 4.0 curriculum

Industry 4.0 Courses

The training covered four courses of Industry 4.0 curriculum: Introduction to Mechatronics, Introduction to Industrial Controls, Introduction to Industrial Robotics and Introduction to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Attendees also got a sneak preview of soon-to-be-announced certifications that will be offered for the completion of these courses.

Smart Manufacturing technology is expanding at an exponential rate. With these technological advances, students are becoming more interested in industry careers. Some of this interest is built on momentum related to Foxconn, which will be building a 20 million-square-foot Smart Manufacturing facility just a few miles from the iMET Center in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin.

Amatrol and LAB Midwest are working hard to stay ahead of the curve and provide industry-leading curriculum and training equipment for schools and tech colleges that wish to remain on the forefront of Industry 4.0 education.

“The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is changing the way we think, work and teach,” remarked Albrecht. “Equipping teachers with new knowledge and skills is essential to preparing students for Smart careers.”

More than 30 schools and colleges across the Midwest will adopt the curriculum used in last week’s training during the fall semester.

Mobile Skills Lab Debut

On August 9-11, Ashley Furniture held its annual charity event, Ashley for the Arts. The initiative started in 2009 as a way to support more than 40 nonprofit organizations. Guests experienced three days of arts and craft fairs, car shows, a 5k run/walk, and live performances by artists like Rascal Flatts, Daughtry and Rick Springfield.

But music and the arts weren’t the only items of interest at the event.

The Mobile Skills Lab is a sleek, 53' long trailer

Commanding the attention of guests entering through the parking lot stood a 53-foot Mobile Skills Laboratory. Fully expanded, it transforms into a 900-square-foot classroom. Funded by Ashley’s Education Foundation, the lab is a center of cutting-edge education technology. Visitors had the opportunity to walk through the lab and interact with the training equipment and eLearning curriculum provided by Amatrol, FANUC and LAB Midwest.

Among the items in the lab were training tools used in Automation, Robotics, Smart Manufacturing technology, smart sensors & devices, Data Analytics, Fluid Power, Mechanical Drives, AC/DC Electrical, Electric Relay Control, Power & Control Electronics, Programmable Logic Controllers and much more.

An estimated 10,000 people explored the lab during its 2-day debut at Ashley for the Arts. But this is just the beginning of its impact on students.

The lab expands into a 900 square foot classroom

Four school districts will use the lab this year — Whitehall, Blair-Taylor, Arcadia and Independence. The districts created a co-op on the foundation of instilling an interest in industry careers and equipping them with valuable advanced manufacturing skills. The Mobile Skills Laboratory is a groundbreaking way to accomplish this goal.

Industry 4.0 in Schools

The future for students in Industry 4.0 is bright, and it’s being made possible by Ashley Furniture’s commitment to education. Jim Dotta, Vice President of Casegoods/Engineering with Ashley Furniture Industries, who is also part of Ashley’s Education Foundation, says the company supports the development of tools and curriculum for industry:

Ashley Furniture has always believed in education. Ashley invested in a Mobile Skills Laboratory for 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 courses in the lab, supplied by LAB Midwest, Amatrol and FANUC are foundational to many careers. The curriculum and trainers are standardized throughout the world and are competency based. Ashley believes that the United States needs to compete on a global stage if it is to continue to improve the economic well-being of its citizens.

The eLearning curriculum and equipment featured in the Mobile Skills Laboratory will be implemented in schools and technical colleges across the Midwest this fall semester. Instructors completed training for these courses this week at Gateway Technical College in Sturtevant, Wisconsin. Students who complete these courses will be eligible for industry certifications.

For more information on the training resources used in the lab, visit LAB Midwest.