As the Los Angeles Times noted in an Aug. 21 article, “Manufacturing, long known for plant closings and layoffs, is now clamoring for workers to fill high-paying, skilled jobs.”
A new degree program that started in the College of Technology this fall addresses the country’s serious skilled-labor shortage by preparing students to work in the manufacturing, processing and construction industries. Electro-mechanical Systems Technology (EMST), or “mechatronics,” provides students the necessary mathematics, computer and mechanical abilities to deal with production control, electrical and mechanical power systems and manufacturing processes.
Broader than robotics, the program is designed to develop graduates skilled to meet the demands of modern, integrated electro-mechanical systems. This frequently requires dealing with complex systems, often beyond any single technological discipline, say program directors Dr. Sri Kolla, electronics and computer technology, and Dr. Sudershan Jetley, manufacturing technology. Drs. David Border and Erik Mayer, electronic and computer technology, are the other faculty with the program.
“Over the last 10-15 years, industry has become much more integrated in all areas,” Jetley said. “U.S. industry increasingly uses the Japanese concept of teaming. Engineers are required to interact with workers in other areas of the company. People with this training will be needed in virtually all aspects of manufacturing.
“This has become even more important with globalization, when the design office is here and production is 3,000 miles away. You need people who can communicate and understand all facets of the process.”
The EMST major consists of a strong foundation in physics, math and communication; work experiences through co-op requirements, and a solid knowledge and understanding of electro-mechanical systems found in the manufacturing and processing industry. The program is modeled to meet National Association of Industrial Technology accreditation requirements.
Graduates of the EMST program will work in installing, maintaining and troubleshooting production systems involving mechanical, electronic and electrical controls and machinery. They will work mainly on the shop floor with mechanical, manufacturing and electrical engineers.
At Findlay-based Marathon Petroleum LLC, where the College of Technology has a number of co-op students each semester, gasoline is loaded into trucks at large terminals through an automated process. Douglas Herrmann, manager of electronics services, said it would be advantageous to have the skill set provided by the EMST degree to work in his field. “We need people with a broad mix of skills. They have to be able to do disassembly to make electronics repairs and to work with the minicomputer microprocessors and pass data over the network. And there will be more and more of a need for those skills in the future, since industry is becoming more automated and robotized.”
EMST majors are prepared to become supervisors and managers within a couple years of beginning work. “All our technology graduates have a fair amount of management training,” Jetley said. “They know the technical side and they also have the management knowledge. They have a much greater opportunity to rise in the organization.”
That is in part what drew Anthony Brugnone, a sophomore from Oak Harbor, to enroll in the program. An electronic technician with Modine Manufacturing in Pemberville, he is already working in the engineering area and said the company requires its employees to have a bachelor’s degree to advance in the organization. In addition, “learning more about the mechanical area is rounding out my skills and makes me more marketable,” he said. “For a company, if you can utilize one person in all three areas instead of someone for electrical, another for mechanical and so on, it is much more efficient.”
As the L.A. Times article said, “While millions of manufacturing jobs have been outsourced or automated out of existence during the past decade, many of the remaining jobs require higher skills and pay well—$50,000 to $80,000 a year for workers with the necessary math, computer and mechanical skills.”
BGSU is working out articulation agreements with a number of two-year colleges so students there may continue their studies. “A number of schools, including BGSU Firelands, offer a two-year degree, but few have four-year programs such as Bowling Green’s,” Jetley said. The two-year programs lack the basic sciences and higher math of the four-year degree, as well as the liberal arts component, he added.
EMST majors will get that background, including a special BG Perspective class on the social aspects of technology.
The degree program draws together existing courses at BGSU and was created in response to what college faculty were hearing from management when they visited the students in their co-op programs. “We found this was an area of skills that was needed that our students didn’t quite fit in,” Jetley said.
The college already had experience designing such a program from when it created one for the former Lima Technical College, now James A. Rhodes State College.
“We’re excited about the new degree program, and we’re eager to spread the word,” Jetley said.