Grant to bring robotics training to WSCC

Numerous trade and business journals for the past several years have chronicled the growth of robotic processes in manufacturing.

All have said the main factor that has held that growth back is lack of trained robotics engineers and operators.

Washington State Community College will join 23 other similar institutions in Ohio soon in offering advanced robotics training. The college Tuesday announced a $618,500 grant from the Appalachian Regional Council to implement the program.

College President Vicky Wood said the grant will be used to purchase equipment and curriculum and train faculty.

“As we’ve visited industries in the region, we saw that many are moving to more robotics and automation, so we knew we needed to develop a curriculum,” Wood said. The college in May implemented a robotics and mechatronics associate degree program, an interdisciplinary program involving its existing mechanical and electronic engineering training. The new program will focus on automation, robotics, mechatronics, computer numerical control, welding and industrial maintenance.

Wood said that in her previous position as vice president and provost of Marion Technical College, she had experience with the first RAMTEC ( Robotics and Advanced Manufacturing Technology Education Collaborative) in the state, and after being hired by Washington State took several industry and public school representatives to tour the facility.

“Everyone who’s seen it was eager to see this type of development here,” she said.

Bernie Anderson, who is manager of the Miba bearing plant in Beverly and also a trustee on Washington State’s board, said Tuesday he’s seen automation develop at his plant for more than 20 years.

“At first, it was ergonomic challenges like heavy lifting – we make very large and heavy bearings, like those for locomotives – and we continued to utilize robots in several applications, increasing productivity to remain competitive,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’re a highly automated site, like you’d see in assembly lines at a car manufacturing plant, but it’s important technology to us, and it’s important for us to remain competitive.”

Anderson said he expects challenges in the future to find trained employees.

“For recruitment, it’s been so far, so good, but I see a point where the amount of automation we have definitely will have to increase. I don’t think that’s going to stop; the curve is really taking off on us,” he said. “It’s vitally important to us to have the Washington State Community College curriculum aligned to our needs.”

Anderson said Miba has made efforts to connect with local schools and the college.

“One place where we (the U.S.) trail the world is how connected business and industry are with the education system,” he said. “With this, we’re making up some of that deficit. It’s really a great thing, and I hope just the first step in more improvement in training in southeast Ohio. This is what separates the best areas for economic development.”

Wood said the program will offer “stackable” credentials, with a one-year certification and two-year associate degrees available.

She also noted that the new robotics lab and program at the college will have increased reach in career guidance in the Marietta City Schools system, particularly if the district is successful in passing the levy for new facilities Nov. 5. The levy would build a consolidated K-12 campus on Washington State Community College land adjacent to the college buildings.

“That’s the other thing we’ll be able to do, with robotics clubs, engaging students at a young age, with STEM and math through robotics, from fifth grade on,” she said. “This is going to be more than educating college students.”

The college said it expects to hire a course coordinator and acquire and install the necessary equipment over the winter and spring. The course should become available by fall of 2020.

Michael Kelly can be contacted at