Robotics classroom meets the challenges of 2020

FANUC robot in staircase
Instructor Peter Dettmer stands outside Truax Campus wearing a mask.

This time of year, instructor Peter Dettmer is normally in the lab looking over his students’ shoulders as they program robotic machines. This year the program has a different energy.  

Rising to challenges 

As with most Madison College classes, COVID-19 has brought changes to how the Electro-Mechanical Technology classroom operates.  

“This was the busiest summer for us as we prepared for the semester,” said Peter.  

The program moved to a hybrid model that allows students to do as much as possible in the virtual classroom. Students complete work virtually and come to campus on a limited basis for labs that fulfill graduation requirements. 

One of the biggest challenges was preparing the technology for students to work from home. The program worked closely with Madison College’s Technology Services department to install industrial software on laptops. 

Virtual classroom success 

Each student is supplied with a laptop. Students have access to the same software from home that they would in the lab on campus.  

The simulation software gives students a robot to move in the virtual classroom.  

While it is not the same as a physical robot, “there is no danger of them running into anything,” said Peter. 

The program worked with manufacturing partners like Rockwell Automation to provide additional learning opportunities. Rockwell’s entire learning library is available in all languages for the entire year.  

“We are not able to look over a student’s shoulder,” he said about the virtual classroom. So, the program adjusted with video meetings to help students troubleshoot issues that pop up. 

Graduate outlook 

COVID-19 has halted work in many industries, but manufacturing is not one of them. More companies are turning to automation to adapt to changes in the 2020 workforce.  

This is good news for graduates.  

“The United States has lagged behind and COVID has been a wakeup call. We have to automate,” said Peter. “Our grads can help with integrations and maintenance of these machines.”  

Students stand spaced apart in classroom while wearing masks.

Future classroom 

This is still a traditionally hands-on program, but Peter said they may keep some aspects of hybrid learning moving forward.  

“It is a time savings doing it on campus, but we try to give students the best experience possible.” 

Learn more about the Electro-Mechanical Technology program