There’s a growing use of automation in plant settings, but there aren’t enough skilled employees who know how to maintain and program the equipment, said Joe Ontjes, executive director of recruitment and marketing for the Wichita Area Technical College.
That’s why WATC teamed up with Wichita State University and the National Institute for Aviation Research to offer a new program in robotics.
The program begins Aug. 20 at the National Center for Aviation Training.
Students can earn a certificate of completion, a technical certificate or an associate of applied science in robotics. The programs last three months, nine months or two years, respectively, Ontjes said.
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Those completing the two-year associate of applied science may then move into a mechatronics program offered by WSU, an intense robotics and automation program that introduces engineering components, Ontjes said.
The goal is to provide a pipeline of qualified employees for manufacturers, he said.
In the WATC robotics program, students learn how to program what’s called a “programmable logic controller.”
The controller essentially tells the robot what to do and how to perform its job, Ontjes said.
“If you can program a PLC, then you can assign duties to an automated portion of the manufacturing process,” he said. “It’s a way to train a machine to do a job that you want to have accomplished.”
Programming takes a lot of skill, he said.
WATC also began a related program in January called Electromechanical Systems.
“It’s a complementary track that focuses more on maintenance and upkeep of a wide range of systems,” Ontjes said.
In that program, graduates are guaranteed a job interview with a major Wichita employer, he said.