Published on September 22, 2020
Dow Canada provides students with robots to learn about safety and automation
For many people, when they hear the word robots, images of human-like machines from science fiction movies or TV shows often come to mind. Mimicking the human touch, robots have been used in the manufacturing industry for decades to lend a hand to complete dull, dirty and dangerous tasks.
Long-time NAIT industry partner Dow Canada is using robotic automation to make their worksites in Alberta more efficient and safer, including Fort Saskatchewan where more than 60% of workers are NAIT graduates. The company uses robots to perform tasks that could be potentially dangerous to employees, such as working in confined spaces.
“Last year alone, we eliminated close to 50 confined space entries by using robotics, which is a much safer alternative than having a worker do this activity,” says Catherine Costin, site director for Dow’s Alberta Operations.
With robot automation, however, comes a need for skilled operators to develop the processes, programs and maintain the robots in manufacturing shops and plants—skills that are currently underdeveloped within industry.
“We supported the robotics equipment because it directly links to our focus on revolutionizing the way we use technology at our manufacturing facilities."
Thanks to a donation from Dow, NAIT has purchased robots for a new mandatory course that will train Mechanical Engineering Technology students on how to use robotic automation. The course, launching in January 2021, is one of the first at NAIT to use robotics in manufacturing automation.
“We supported the robotics equipment because it directly links to our focus on revolutionizing the way we use technology at our manufacturing facilities,” says Costin. “To have our prospective workforce using robotics equipment in their curriculum at NAIT is a win-win for both our organizations.”
Robotic arm a first for NAIT program
When the robots arrived on campus in June 2020 from the United States, Alex Shum, academic chair of the Mechanical Engineering Technology program, admits it felt a bit like Christmas morning.
“It’s exciting to be renewing our technology to be current and relevant to industry,” he says. “It also ensures that students can learn on the latest and greatest from industry that will fit our market in Alberta.”
A few years ago, NAIT industry partners identified the need for students to have some knowledge in programming robotics. Plans were already underway to introduce the course when Dow Canada stepped in to advance its development.
Ensuring that the robot purchased would align with what students would be using in the workplace was important to Shum, which meant researching multiple options, before choosing the industrial robotic arm from Yaskawa-Motoman.
“The speed is nice, the accuracy and precision is amazing. If you look at the size, it’s not that big, but it could hold up to 8 kilograms. It’s robust and strong,” he says.
The program also purchased a collaborative robotic arm from Universal Robots using money remaining from Dow's donation to cover part of the costs.
“Dow wanted their donation to be meaningful to students, and this robot for sure will be."
Both units will enhance the student learning experience and improve their understanding of robot functionality in various manufacturing scenarios. Students will rotate in groups using offline programming software to plan and automate the robot to perform tasks and processes.
Within its first year from launch, up to 100 students will have completed the course. Working with Dow, says Shum, was critical to the program being able to add the course into the curriculum.
“Dow wanted their donation to be meaningful to students, and this robot for sure will be,” he says. “Students are going to learn something, on a real product, that they will use in industry.”
As a polytechnic, NAIT appreciates the partnerships we have with industry— small and medium-sized businesses, local suppliers and global companies—to help us keep our programs relevant and responsive. In many ways, we have our donors to thank for equipping our classrooms and labs with the best tools and technology available.
See how donations support student learning.