Improving Technician Training in Automation Technologies for Advanced Manufacturing
Recent advances in automation technologies are creating new employment opportunities for technicians in advanced manufacturing. To maintain a competitive advantage, many manufacturers are implementing these new technologies to create Industry 4.0 smart factories. Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) play a central role in this new automation architecture and require extensive training to implement and maintain. To meet industry needs in Northeastern Florida, Florida State College at Jacksonville will develop a new curriculum that focuses on PLCs and related automation technologies. To do so, the project will create a new track in an existing engineering technology program that will enable students to earn three national certifications in automation. Given regional demographics, this project also provides an opportunity to broaden participation of women and minorities in the advanced manufacturing workforce. For example, to increase participation in academic pathways leading to technical careers in advanced manufacturing, the project will develop a dual enrollment program in mechatronics at a local high school. In addition, it will offer hands-on learning experiences using advanced manufacturing technologies for high school students and provide professional development for high school teachers.
The goal of this project is to increase the number of skilled technicians who can implement and maintain PLCs, robotics, and mechatronics systems. To achieve this goal, the project will: 1) implement a new, four-course PLC program track to enable students to earn national PLC industry credentials; 2) establish a new automation education lab for students including Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) learning software and PLC/automation hardware and software; 3) offer hands-on learning experiences using AR/VR software, robot literacy activities, and advanced manufacturing technologies for high school students; and 4) provide professional development for secondary and postsecondary instructors. The impact of the project on student demographics will be assessed by analyzing institutional data at the beginning and end of the project. Findings will be disseminated through national and regional venues such as the Florida Advanced Technological Education Center, the First Coast Manufacturing Association, the Florida College System, and the Northeast Florida STEM HUB.