Shannon Pelky No Comments

For about four years, HUI has been sponsoring a high school robotics team called Fondy Fire (FRC Team 2194). A few weeks ago, the team competed against other high school teams at the Wisconsin Regional in a challenge called the FIRST Robotics Competition. We’re proud to announce that at the end of this regional tournament the team learned they had qualified for the World Championship in Detroit. It’s great having such an impressive team representing the company, but what’s most rewarding is the experience we get to help create for these young minds.

FIRST Robotics Competition

HUI helps by getting involved in much more than funding. We provide the team with an engineering mentor, SOLIDWORKS, manufacturing machines, our shop floor, and training throughout the whole process. Though the students are very appreciative of our help, we feel like we’re the ones reaping the most valuable rewards. We can see how getting involved has helped encourage student’s interest in STEM careers, but we have also been able to spark their interest in manufacturing as well. With so many career options at every student’s fingertips, it can be hard for any industry to stand out, but this competition has given us a chance, and here’s how:

The Students Work at HUI to Build Their Robot

The students are very hands-on when they’re creating the robot. They’re not just coming up with the concept, they’re involved in every step of the process.

Engineering

The students are getting firsthand engineering experience. The FRC starts out the competition with an engineering problem that needs a solution:

The engineering begins after the teams watch this video and review a manual with other restrictions and rules. The competition is set up like a typical project for an engineer. Like engineers, the students are asked to solve the problem, which can have multiple solutions, as long as it falls within restrictions and gets the job done. To test out their ideas the students work in the same programs our engineers use on a daily basis. HUI provides access to our computers with SOLIDWORKS, so they can build their concepts and test them, before physically building the design.

One student on the team, Felicity Barbeau, explains, “This is a fun way to learn. You’re not just sitting in a classroom. This is a hands-on experience, which helps most of the students on the team.” She even shared with me that because she’s had such a good experience working on the robot this year that she’s planning on going to college for Engineering. Before joining the team, she was originally thinking about going for Business. This competition does a great job of exposing students to different career fields, and allows them to discover what aspects of the process they enjoy the most. Giving us hope that maybe one day some of these students will want to work in STEM career for a manufacturing company.

Manufacturing

On the manufacturing side, the students are working on the CNC laser machines, bending metal on the press brakes, welding parts, as well as assembling them together. It’s helping them see what you can do with sheet metal and aluminum, and they’re seeing the process that goes into forming these parts. This exposes students to what kind of quality parts they can create by adding laser detailing and sending the parts through for powder coating. Paying attention to these aesthetics has even helped Fondy Fire receive the Imagery Award at Regionals. Working at our facility plants a seed about what manufacturing really looks like, and they can take their experience here into their future careers.

Their Mentor

Last but certainly not least, the students receive guidance from their mentor, a Manufacturing Engineer/CI Manager for HUI. With his extensive experience, he’s the perfect person to teach team members how to use the different machines at HUI as well as teach them all about the SOLIDWORKS program. Though it is his job to step back as the students design a robotic solution, he’s the key to helping them bring their idea into reality based on what’s possible. The amount of time he’s willing to volunteer to this team puts him in a position to be a role model for these students. I know our engineers don’t get many opportunities to be in the spotlight, but this is a great exception. He’s able to give these students an example of what it means to have a career in the manufacturing industry.

Conclusion about the FIRST Robotics Competition

Robotics Team

So can the FIRST Robotics Competition spark new interest in the manufacturing industry? It has for us, and it can do the same for other companies as well, as long as they continue to get students fully immersed in the manufacturing process. That can include giving students access to your engineering software, your manufacturing machines, and the employees who would make great mentors. Plus this competition is a whole lot of fun, and isn’t that what we all want? For everyone to know manufacturing can be a whole lot of fun too!

If you have any questions for us, or if you would like to share your experience with the FIRST Robotics Competition, please comment below.

If you need HUI’s help with a custom industrial project, please contact us today!

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