Meadville Tribune

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March 23, 2013

35 teams set to 'battle their BOTS off' today

MEADVILLE — Weeks of building not only robots but team work come together today at Meadville Area Senior High School during the seventh annual RoboBOTS competition.

Started for high school students in the fall of 2006 with the first competition in May 2007, the program is designed to spark student interest in technical careers, according to Brian Deane, the volunteer coordinator of the program for the northwest Pennsylvania chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association. The local NTMA chapter sponsors the competition.

“It’s been working because we have a couple (of former RoboBOTS competitors) working here,” Deane said of his own firm, NuTec Tooling Systems, a company that builds machines for manufacturing.

In the RoboBOTS program, students get hands-on experience in designing and building 15-pound robots that battle each other.

While students have fun building the robots, they also learn math, science, engineering and manufacturing as they apply classroom theory to robot-building. The idea is to wrap the learning into a project that’s fun for students, according to Deane.

“They’re really doing stealth learning,” Deane said. “We’re trying to fill the pipeline with potential workers.”

The local NTMA chapter estimates it is going to need about 250 skilled workers a year for the five to 10 years to replace current workers who will be retiring — while also expanding businesses and integrating new technology into their firms.

Manufacturing is important to Crawford County since there is a heavier reliance on it here than in other parts of Pennsylvania and the country. About 22 percent of the jobs in the county are related to manufacturing, compared to 10 percent for the state and 11 percent nationally. Many of the area’s tooling and machining shops are suppliers of tools, equipment and parts to major manufacturers.

Crawford and Erie counties have an estimated 280 to 300 tooling and machining shops.

“We’ll need mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, electricians, welders, machinists, and tool and die makers,” Deane said.

While the RoboBOTS initiative was started by the local NTMA chapter, the skills the students develop in the program continue to be used in all types of industries.

“We need good, skilled talent,” Deane said, “because we’re asked by our customers to do things that have not been done before.”

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