College robots power education, productivity

Frank Musso and John Coccimiglio welcome the addition of two robots to Sault College.

Two new robots will give Sault College students more hands-on training and offer area manufacturers a chance to improve their productivity.

National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, through its College and Community Innovation program’s Applied Research Tools and Instrument grant, approved $150,000 for a robotic simulation lab.

A full-size industrial, and smaller robot, will be installed in an electrical engineering laboratory in the college’s B wing. Use begins during the 2014-2015 academic year.

“This was perfect for us,” John Coccimiglio, applied research and innovation manager, told the college’s board of governors. “It fits in with our strengths. It really fits the needs of the community.”

The fully equipped robots, with grippers, vacuum grippers, high resolution vision and welding capabilities will likely be used by second-year students taking electrical engineering and mechanical engineering technology and welding and fabrication.

Course content includes theory of robotics and advanced manufacturing.

Engineering technology students are taught process automation, but the college did not have any robots as training tools until now.

“It was mainly theory, but now with these we’ll be able to actually do teaching on the robots,” said Coccimiglio. “Students can do real live projects that are collaborative or they can do lab projects.”

The college can help businesses get funding from provincial and federal agencies, such as NSERC or Ontario Centres of Excellence, if they want to automate production of their products.

Those funds help the college run a simulation of the work firms want robots to do. If the company determines their initial investment paid off, it could then invest in the robots needed.

Students can do simulations, such as how a robot would move material from one position to another or weld a part, using related software.

The program can then be uploaded into one of the robots. Students can “actually see the robot doing (the task),” says Coccimiglio.

“Robotic technology has really accelerated in the last decade or so with new enhancements in vision. By adopting robotics into their organization (manufacturers) can actually improve their productivity and remain globally competitive.”

Sault College would give the firm the software created for its needed use.

“It shortens the time required to actually develop the process,” said Coccimiglio. “Obviously it’s a lot more efficient from a cost perspective.”

Sault College launched its applied research centre in 2010. The post-secondary institution works with other agencies, such as Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corp. and Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre, that promote innovation.

Sault College has done about 15 projects with city partners and involving students, faculty and staff. About half of the students who helped with those ventures were hired by the companies they worked with, says Coccimiglio.

“Once they see the capabilities of the student, inevitably there’s more work to be done once the project completes,” he said. “It’s a natural thing just for them to hire the student and continue on their development.”

Sault College graduates, he adds, will be that much more valuable to prospective employers with the hands-on robotic training.

Frank Musso, a member of the college’s electrical program faculty, says the robots will be “very valuable” to the college.

Sault College received approval to administer funds from NSERC in early 2012. That consent allows the school to apply to its funding programs.

Source: SaultStar


The college’s applied research centre has done projects in areas such as renewable energy and natural environment.

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