‘Mechatronics' prepares industrial specialists

BOWLING GREEN, O.—A new degree program in Bowling Green State University's College of Technology is addressing the country's serious shortage of skilled-labor in the manufacturing, processing and construction industries. As a recent Los Angeles Times article pointed out, “Manufacturing, long known for plant closings and layoffs, is now clamoring for workers to fill high-paying, skilled jobs.”

Electro-mechanical Systems Technology (EMST), or   “mechatronics,” provides Bowling Green students the necessary mathematics, computer and mechanical abilities to deal with production control, electrical and mechanical power systems and manufacturing processes.

Broader-based than robotics, the new program is designed to develop graduates able to meet the demands of modern, integrated electro-mechanical systems. This frequently requires dealing with complex systems, often beyond any single technological discipline, say program directors Dr. Sri Kolla, a professor of electronics and computer technology, and Dr. Sudershan Jetley, an associate professor of manufacturing technology.

“Over the last 10 to 15 years, industry has become much more integrated in all areas,” Jetley said. “U.S. industry increasingly uses the Japanese concept of teaming. Engineers are required to interact with workers in other areas of the company. People with this training will be needed in virtually all aspects of manufacturing.

“This has become even more important with globalization, when the design office is here and production is 3,000 miles away. You need people who can communicate and understand all facets of the process.”

In addition to gaining a strong foundation in physics, math and communication, students get work experience through co-op requirements and obtain an understanding of electro-mechanical systems used in the manufacturing and processing industry. The academic program is modeled to meet National Association of Industrial Technology accreditation requirements.

Graduates will work in installing, maintaining and troubleshooting production systems involving mechanical, electronic and electrical controls and machinery. They will work mainly on the shop floor, side-by-side mechanical, manufacturing and electrical engineers.

At Findlay-based Marathon Petroleum LLC, where BGSU has a number of College of Technology co-op students each semester, gasoline is loaded into trucks at large terminals through an automated process. Douglas Herrmann, manager of electronics services, said it would be advantageous to have the skills provided by the EMST degree to work in his field.

“We need people with a broad mix of skills. They have to be able to do disassembly to make electronics repairs and to work with the minicomputer microprocessors and pass data over the network. And there will be more and more of a need for those skills in the future, since industry is becoming more automated and robotized,” Herman said.

EMST majors also are prepared to become supervisors and managers within a couple years of beginning work. “All our technology graduates have a fair amount of management training,” Jetley said. “They know the technical side and they also have the management knowledge. They have a much greater opportunity to rise in the organization.”

That is, in part, what drew Anthony Brugnone, a sophomore from Oak Harbor, to enroll in the program. An electronic technician with Modine Manufacturing in Pemberville, he is already working in the engineering area and said the company requires its employees to have a bachelor's degree to advance in the organization. In addition, “learning more about the mechanical area is rounding out my skills and makes me more marketable,” he said. “For a company, if you can utilize one person in all three areas instead of someone for electrical, another for mechanical and so on, it is much more efficient.”

As the L.A. Times article pointed out, “While millions of manufacturing jobs have been outsourced or automated out of existence during the past decade, many of the remaining jobs require higher skills and pay well—$50,000 to $80,000 a year for workers with the necessary math, computer and mechanical skills.”

“A number of schools, including BGSU Firelands, offer a two-year degree, but few have four-year programs such as Bowling Green's,” Jetley said. The two-year programs lack the basic sciences and higher math of the four-year degree, as well as the liberal arts component, he added.

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(Posted October 02, 2006 )