TCC computer science program awarded $27K for robotic arm
Posted on 02/27/2024
Dean Hester, Cole Pullam and Michael Barrett.

The Poplar Bluff Technical Career Center incorporated a six-axis robotic arm into its computer integrated manufacturing class with a $27,000 Delta Workforce grant awarded at the end of last school year.

The program has infused a total of $400,000 split among four learning institutions in Poplar Bluff—including Three Rivers College, the Boys and Girls Club of the Heartland and MERS Goodwill Excel Center, along with the Chamber of Commerce—to help address the unmet skills training and hiring needs in the region.

“We are thankful for this opportunity through Delta Regional Authority for our career center and TCC students,” stated Dr. Leigh Ann Cornman, TCC director. “…This grant will be instrumental in enhancing Poplar Bluff Technical Career Center in preparing the next generation of manufacturers.”

The collaborative grant agreement was initiated by school officials almost one year ago, with oversight provided by the Ozark Foothills Regional Planning Commission. The TCC received its ScorBot ER-4u and related curriculum and programming materials last month and set up the industrial workstation simulation over the ensuing weeks.

“It’s our attempt to kind of work with exactly what they would be tasked to work with at Briggs & Stratton, Gates or Nestlé if they get a job there,” said Michael Barrett, TCC computer science instructor. “These guys will be way ahead of applicants just applying, since they’re familiar with what’s going on, having seen the robotics and put their hands on it.”

The class was previously practicing with an earlier model of the robotic arm donated by the Pemiscot County Career & Technology Center. While the refurbished ScorBot may have been antiquated, Barrett reported that the TCC still managed to place second statewide in the robotics and automation technology category of SkillsUSA in April at State Technical College of Missouri in Linn.

“We didn’t have everything that other schools had to level the playing field, but this year – look out, because we got what they got,” exclaimed Barrett with regard to the upcoming competition in the spring. The newer model includes a handheld pendant and parts slider so the programmable logic controller and photo optic camera can sense whether a part coming across the conveyor is not the proper material or otherwise imperfect, he explained.

The workforce-ready project has been structured to establish training programs for new entry and incumbent workers to receive industry-recognized instruction, degrees or certifications, according to the successful proposal. In a supporting letter, one manufacturer cited a need for more workers that can perform complex machine repairs to succeed an estimated 30 technicians either within a couple of years of retirement or who have already met the age requirement.

“A manufacturing technician at Briggs & Stratton is required to use advanced technical knowledge to troubleshoot and repair production equipment,” wrote Ryan Hendricks of the Human Resources Department. “…If we had more qualified candidates or a talent pipeline, we could reduce the knowledge gap that we are currently experiencing with applicants.”

Computer integrated manufacturing was added a few years ago as an alternative option for TCC students to take instead of cyber security under Project Lead the Way. The course originally focused on teaching students how to write programming and create apps, according to Barrett, until additional equipment and software was acquired to perform 3D printing, computer numerical control, computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing.

“Automation is where the industry is going, and this class is where the rubber meets the road,” Barrett said. “If you’re interested in wiring, electronics, have a programming ability and a mechanical aptitude, naturally—of course math is helpful for your Cartesian coordinate system and your X and Y-axis—there’s great money in this high-demand field.”


Cutline: TCC students (from right) Dean Hester and Cole Pullam demonstrate a program they have written for the ScorBot to sort cubes on a conveyer belt on Thursday, Feb. 22, while instructor Michael Barrett oversees.

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