With a clear and simple title, the “How Machines Work” class at New Berlin Eisenhower high school has gained widespread popularity among students as they get to learn hands-on skills for manufacturing and industry. Now, the program has received a feature spotlight from FANUC robotics that shows the transformative power of technical education in shaping the workforce for tomorrow.
How Machines Work is a class that is quite literally designed to help students understand how machines work. It excites those hands-on learners who love taking things apart and putting them back together; students who love to design and build and create.
When deciding what to include in the class, Eisenhower went to their local employers for advice. “When we looked at our industry partners around our school district, we noticed that we have a lot of manufacturing careers around us,” says Dana McLaren, the school’s technology education teacher. “We had the partnerships come in and tell us what they would like our students to learn. And FANUC robotics was one of the items that they wanted our students to learn.”
That comes as no surprise since FANUC robots make up more than 50% of all industrial robots worldwide. Chances are, when a student takes a job in automation, she will be working with FANUC robots of all kinds.
Following the suggestion of their employers, the school purchased a FANUC ER-Mate 6-axis robot from LAB Midwest through FANUC’s CERT program. The CERT program is a unique way schools can have the same robot seen in industry, get all the instructor training and certification they need, and then teach students the automation skills that are in high-demand today.
“We want to get kids hands-on as fast as we can because until you actually get to try it for yourself and see something that you might be doing for a career, it doesn’t really impact the students,” says McLaren.
It was in How Machines Work that senior Aren Schiek’s journey with FANUC robotics began. He recalls his first experience with the technology. “My first introduction to robots here was when we got the FANUC robot at the end of the class. All I was doing then was just drawing circles with it, like just the very basic stuff, learning how to teach points.”
After spending some time with the teach pendant and understanding how the robot is programmed, Aren’s skills took off. Soon, he and two classmates were competing at the 2021 Team Robotics Competition, which they won in a landslide. Their prize was a FANUC M1-iA delta robot to add to their classroom. Just a year later, his team won the inaugural industrial robotics competition at Wisconsin SkillsUSA.
They weren’t the only teams from the school to compete. Eisenhower was represented by multiple teams at each competition as the program continues to gain popularity among students.
McLaren commented on their SkillsUSA win, “The victory had a ripple effect throughout the school. The students’ success in the state competition generated a sense of pride and excitement among their peers, inspiring many other students to become interested in industrial robotics.”
For Aren, the automation exposure in school landed him another opportunity: a production intern role at Viking Masek, a local robotics and automation company.
Nick Sayotovich is the operations manager at Viking Masek and recalls when his HR director suggested Aren as a candidate for the position. “At first, I was like, ‘You’re a high school student,’ but Aren’s resume and background, with extracurricular activities with the robotics team, I was impressed. And it seemed like a great fit. It was an opportunity for us to find somebody who was excited and different from who we might have normally hired.”
Aren spends his time at work doing electrical wiring and mechanical assembly on the case packers and palletizing systems the company builds.
Employers like Viking Masek value candidates like Aren, who possess a strong foundation in robotics and automation. “I think that when you’ve got somebody who’s already working with robots and robotics, that’s a good starting point. By having these programs, it provides us with a pipeline of students who are already kind of mentally prepared for what it takes to do these jobs,” says Sayotovich.
Aren’s journey reflects the power of programs that expose students to manufacturing and automation early on. His understanding of how things are made, coupled with his practical experience, has paved the way for his future. With aspirations to become a robotics engineer, he plans to combine a technical college degree with a mechanical engineering degree, allowing him to contribute to the design of cutting-edge robots and automation systems.
In the rapidly evolving world of manufacturing, Aren’s story serves as an inspiration. He represents the potential of students who are equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to excel in the manufacturing industry. By providing students with hands-on experience and exposure to industry-grade equipment like FANUC robots, technical education programs, along with employer support, can help bridge the skills gap and shape a promising future for manufacturing.
McLaren looks back on how the access to these robots have impacted her students. “By learning about this technology, the students have gained a deep understanding of the practical applications of robotics and automation, and they have developed the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in a highly competitive and rapidly evolving field.”
She continues, “One of the primary benefits of learning FANUC technology is that it prepares students for careers in industry. When students attend industry tours they see FANUC robots and are excited to share they know how to program the robot. They quickly understand that they are learning the same technology that is used in industry, and they feel prepared and ready to tackle any challenge that comes their way. This confidence helps them to be more effective learners and more successful professionals in the future.”