Have you ever heard of electro-mechanical engineering? I hadn’t until I spent some time at the Progress Campus.
I’m not at Progress much, but I always hear good things about it, so I decided to go see what it’s all about. Every time I’m there I manage to get lost, but this time, although I was still lost, I managed to learn something new.
Navigating Progress is a task, so I took the chance to go with the flow and find some pictures. The next thing I knew, I was in the basement peering into classrooms. I poked my head into a lab where I saw a group of students huddled around a bunch of orange robots. Turns out, I crashed an automation class for the Electro-Mechanical Engineering Technology – Automation and Robotics program.
The clanks from all the machinery made for a chaotic environment. Everyone was busy, but it all looked cool and I wanted to know more. I stood out like a sore thumb with a camera around my neck but nevertheless, I was welcomed in with open arms.
I met a guy named Sahib Anand, a third-year electro-mechanics student, who’s looking to dive into the robotics industry. We spoke for a while, he explained the importance of his program and told me a little bit about what’s going on with all the robots.
“This is a very new technology…all the industries have it — the food industry, medical industry all have automation,” Anand said in reference to the machines.
The program teaches students a range of automation theory and mechanics, that equips them with the in-depth knowledge and hands-on experience needed in the world of modern technology.
Those machines Anand’s talking about are ABB robotic arms. They work like human arms and are great for picking things up and moving them around — a key component in manufacturing pretty much everything nowadays. For ages there’s been speculation of robots replacing human labour, being that they’re able to work under the harsh conditions of factories. Although some fear that robots will eventually displace humans all together, Anand agrees that robotic technology is inevitably the wave of the future.
“This thing is as capable as 100 employees,” he explained.
“100 employees are going to cost a company easily, say $11.25 per hour. Per 100 [employees], it would be 100 thousand…The return of investment of this thing is maybe a year.
So after a year this thing will be earning 3 years cost…We know the future is laying in this thing,” he said.
Robots are made to mimic human qualities but they can’t think for themselves. That’s where Anand’s class comes in. They program the ABBs to move objects from a computer operated conveyor belt, to a workstation. He describes this process as being similar to an assembly line in a factory.
“You see the manufacturing of coke bottles, right? The pops we drink. So what they do, the robots pick the thing and place it in a certain place. The robots open the cap and the bottle is filled completely. Then another robot closes it…Everything lays in the programming.”
Companies like Nestle and Toyota rely on machines like the ABB to make their goods, and automation programming is essential to their operation. Companies across all industries need automation engineers to keep production running smoothly, it’s people like Anand and his colleagues who ensure that.
“There’s a production line, then there’s a manufacturing line and then there’s the maintenance support team. We’re the maintenance support team,” he said.
I also met Saleha Manjra, another third-year student who’s looking forward to a career as a welding technician.
“I’ve always loved doing programming,” Manjra said.
“When I went for my co-op I worked for a company where I did a lot of welding. I saw that there were people that came in to set up new lines and I talked to them. They told me that they’re on contracts where they treat the robots with welding – I wanna do something like that.”
I noticed that there weren’t many girls in the class — in fact, Manjra was the only one.
She mentioned that she’s one of five girls in the program of 95 students, but it doesn’t phase her.
“I don’t mind,” she said, “I actually like it.”
“Every time somebody asks me “What’re you doing?” I say I’m doing engineering and they’re like “Really? That’s nice!””
Not only is she the only girl in her class, she’s also the first in her family to pursue a career in engineering.
“When I came here I wanted to come for electrical engineering, and when I didn’t get a seat for it, I had an option for electro-mechanical — so I said
“huh…that’s really nice. I can learn electrical plus mechanical. Then I chose this course and realized it had automation and programming too and I liked it.””
The future looks bright for these soon-to-be robotic engineers, programmers, and technicians, especially since the work they do is so vital to the system.
On another note, it’s great to be able to walk into a class and pick up some knowledge. Centennial does a great job creating an all inclusive work environment that makes learning an experience, rather than a chore.
I wonder what else I could learn?