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High school career center creates statewide robotics pipeline

Manufacturers want students to learn the technology found in industrial plants
Ritch Ramey is the RAMTEC coordinator at the Tri-Rivers Career Center.
Ritch Ramey is the RAMTEC coordinator at the Tri-Rivers Career Center.

Today’s industrial jobs demand skilled workers to handle the fast-changing needs of industry.

Tri-Rivers Career Center, a voc-tech high school in Marion, Ohio, was receiving calls from local companies saying there weren’t enough skilled workers entering the trades, especially manufacturing. So in 2012 the career center launched the Robotics & Advanced Manufacturing Technology Education Collaborative (RAMTEC), whose mission is helping industry meet skilled labor needs.

Instead of educating students to learn the skills required for a single manufacturing job, the RAMTEC program is a “career pathway” for high schoolers. RAMTEC forged partnerships with manufacturers and post-secondary education organizations. These industry partnerships ensure RAMTEC produces graduates with skills that sync with industry needs.

“Employers want graduates who have an industrial robotic certification on the equipment they’ll meet on the job,” says Bob Graff, senior sales manager for education at Yaskawa America’s Motoman Robotic Division.

High school students attending one of nine RAMTEC centers work with the same machines and tools used by many Ohio manufacturers. For example, Yaskawa Motoman became an integral partner with RAMTEC because of many local manufacturers, including Honda, that use Yaskawa robots in their Ohio factories.

With input from industrial robot makers, in 2013 RAMTEC began developing a phased-in, three-year robotics curriculum of industry-level instruction and certifications for high school students headed to vocational school or college. Over the course of the program, students attend classes on advanced industrial automation, including programming, troubleshooting, maintenance and more.

Students design the equipment

RAMTEC students learn to integrate robots with industrial technology and peripheral equipment. They learn advanced programming and how to build a work cell (designed to improve the quality, speed and cost of a process).

These skills will prove necessary, for example, if a local industrial partner asks students to program a robot for automating processes such as palletizing bags for shipping, or a pick-and-place robot that handles repetitive manufacturing procedures.

RAMTEC also reached out to industry to develop an advanced STEM robotics platform or cart, which includes a robot and controller, and integrates with a suite of industrial-grade academic tools. These modular platforms are designed for education and training programs in advanced manufacturing and robotics.

RAMTEC uses the lightweight carts in classrooms and labs. Tri-Rivers students re-designed RAMTEC’s existing STEM cart, both ergonomically and functionally.

It’s an example of creating solutions to align with workforce needs.

Expansion across Ohio

In 2014, Tri-Rivers Career Center received a $15 million “Straight A Grant” from Ohio to expand the RAMTEC program to eight additional career centers across Ohio. These centers replicate the RAMTEC training and certification model used at Tri-Rivers Career Center.

Using the curriculum that was co-developed by Tri-Rivers and its industry partners, the Tri-Rivers RAMTEC center has certified approximately 40 students to program, operate and repair robots.

Ohio’s RAMTEC locations allow hundreds of local high schools to offer robotic certification. Industrial partners near the RAMTEC locations can also have their employees trained, certified or recertified in robotics.

In February 2016, the Ohio Department of Education awarded Tri-Rivers several Straight A Grants to expand the RAMTEC program into 12 additional vocational centers.

Most of the kids at RAMTEC will go to a two-year school and then right into industry because robotics and manufacturing technician jobs are in great demand. To get these jobs, high school students have to understand the relationship between industry and robots.

Industry partnerships are key to getting RAMTEC credentialed to allow students to step successfully into these jobs.

Ritch Ramey is the RAMTEC coordinator at the Tri-Rivers Career Center. He can be reached at rramey@tririvers.com.