Richmond Community College has officially kicked off registration season for the fall semester, which means the College is enrolling students for the first time in its Mechatronics Engineering Technology program.
Mechatronics is a course of study that prepares students to use basic engineering principles and technical skills to solve technical problems in various types of industry. The curriculum includes courses in safety, math, physics, electricity, engineering technology, and technology-specific specialty areas. Mechatronics engineering technology graduates will be qualified for employment in industrial maintenance and manufacturing including assembly, testing, startup, troubleshooting, repair, process improvement, and control systems.
“We feel that mechatronics is a great fit with our other engineering and industrial programs,” said RCC President Dr. Dale McInnis.
“Mechatronics is a multidisciplinary program,” said RCC’s Engineering Department Chair Amir Niczad. “It combines aspects of mechanical, computer and electrical engineering with our industrial systems degree program. It really is a marriage of mechanical and electronics.”
According to McInnis, the decision to add mechatronics to RCC’s course offerings came from listening to business partners in the community.
“This degree will allow our students to become automation and instrumentation technicians in a manufacturing or industrial setting,” McInnis said. “Our corporate partners in Richmond and Scotland counties, including Cascades and Pilkington, have identified these skills sets as a need, and we paid attention to their feedback.”
Anthony Nessel, a Senior Process Engineer at Cascades Tissue Group, sees great value in the skills the graduates will gain through the degree program.
“We rely heavily here on our employees being multi-skilled,” Nessel said. “Having folks coming to us who can do more than a little of each – mechanical and electrical – will be very beneficial to our operation. We are moving more toward automated process and programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and need people who can work on those systems.”
Cascades’ maintenance director Jake Elder agreed.
“PLCs are controlling more and more of our process,” said Elder, “and, quite honestly, it’s our weakest link from a maintenance standpoint. Not that our folks aren’t great, they are. They are just limited because they don’t have the education like what RCC is now offering.”
Expanded Capabilities at RCC
RCC was awarded $474,000 from Golden LEAF last December for the purchase of equipment to enhance the College’s technical training capabilities with a focus on manufacturing automation and programmable logic controllers (PLCs). The equipment includes PLC simulator trainers that will be used to teach installation, maintenance, programming and troubleshooting, and computer-integrated manufacturing work-cell trainers that will allow students opportunities to become familiar with the configuration, programming, optimization, and troubleshooting of a manufacturing processes.
This equipment will be used in the mechatronics program in addition to other engineering and industrial programs at the College.
“Automation and systems integration training is critical to the success of our next-generation workforce of the manufacturing industry,” said Niczad. “The equipment purchased through this project will ensure that the RCC continues to be capable of providing quality training for careers in advanced manufacturing.
“Any machine controlled by a computer, our mechatronics grads will be able to operate, maintain, troubleshoot and repair.”
Mechatronics Engineering Technology graduates will be eligible for myriad jobs in industrial environments upon completion of the two-year degree.
“The list of jobs is very long,” said Niczad. “It includes automation and instrumentation technicians, robot installers and technicians and control technicians.”
According to Elder, he has trouble finding qualified candidates to fill these positions.
“The last time we hired an electronics and instrumentation technician, we had a 600-mile search radius,” Elder said. “We found one candidate.”
For Elder, experience in industrial environments is not essential; actually he prefers to hire employees fresh out of school.
“They have fewer bad habits,” Elder said.
Nessel sees value in having mechatronics grads working in production.
“This is a good degree for folks operating our machines because they will know how to troubleshoot our equipment,” said Nessel, “even if there aren’t any maintenance jobs at the time.”
According to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, electro-mechanical technicians have a median salary of approximately $25 per hour. According to Elder, entry-level positions in the field at Cascades pay $20 to $21 per hour.
RCC is currently enrolling students for the fall semester in mechatronics as well as its other certificate-, diploma- and degree-granting programs. Contact student services at (910) 410-1730 or visit RCC online at www.richmondcc.edu for more information.