Looking to the future of manufacturing, we need skilled and excited people for automation. This demands that we encourage and invest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs at schools to help develop the next generation of manufacturing, says Will Healy III, Strategic Marketing Manager for Balluff Inc.
TECHFIT (Teaching Engineering Concepts to Harness Future Innovators and Technologists) sparked as a collaboration between four professors: principle collaborator, Brad Harriger, Professor of Mechanical Engineering Technology at Purdue University; Alka Harriger, Professor of Computer and Information Technology at Purdue University; and Susan & Mike Flynn, Professors in Exercise Science and Sport Pedagogy at the College of Charleston. TECHFITs goals, according to Susan Flynn, are to provide opportunities for children/youth to explore, learn and engage in activities related to the STEM disciplines; and provide the students the tools and knowledge to learn about being healthy for a lifetime.
The program trains middle school teachers of multiple disciplines to run an after school program on the use of basic automation technologies like PLC logic, DC wiring techniques, pushbuttons, indicators and sensor technologies combined with fitness. Reflecting on the beginning of TECHFIT, Brad Harriger states, We looked at existing systems like Dance Dance Revolution and Wii Fit and wondered how we could use something similar to get kids excited about our academic fields. Healy adds, In particular, Balluff likes to support TECHFIT because it drives a life balance between encouraging STEM skills and physical fitness.
TECHFIT is made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation, but the program still required industry support to get started. TECHFIT received product donations from Phoenix Contact, Automation Direct and Balluff. The donated sensor kit from Balluff included connectors and multiple sensing technologies like photoelectric, capacitive, and ultrasonic sensors. Using these donations, students will create interactive fitness games, wire the sensors, and program the logic of their games. Some of the kids ideas include using sensors to count pushups, measure the height of squats, or count kicked soccer goals. Healy states, The opportunity to work with TECHFIT helps us imbue middle school students with an interest in automation, which can benefit everyone in manufacturing.
In the fall, students will begin developing and building their games to compete in a showcase taking place in December 2014 at Purdue University and College of Charleston.