While Northeast Wisconsin Technical College has taken some of its trainings directly to employers and schools for several years, people still had to travel to campus to learn some skills including electro-mechanical coursework. The program’s instructors decided to change that by creating mobile modular trainers.
The trainers — trademarked under the Mobile Modular name — were featured at SXSW (South by Southwest) EDU in Austin, Texas, earlier this month, exposing the portable training devices to more people.
Before the trainers were created, students or employees came to the Green Bay campus to learn electro-mechanical skills.
“The equipment was too big to take out into the community,” says Andy Herson, one of the instructors who helped create the trainers. “We were able to make something using standard industrial components affixed to metal plates that could be carried place to place and connected together to simulate electro-mechanical systems.”
Herson and some of his colleagues — all trained engineers who are now teaching at NWTC — worked on the Mobile Modular trainers for about two years. They not only designed and developed the tools, but then tested them to make sure they worked. A third-party manufacturer makes the trainers based on the original prototype and design.
The units weigh about 50 pounds, which makes it easier to move them to various locations, and do not require any special electrical wiring. The trainer includes different modular components that can be connected quickly and easily to expand skills training without additional cost.
Herson says manufacturers using the trainers are able to save on training costs and space. “They are easy to move and use, so any available space can easily become a training location —businesses don’t need to have a separate training room,” he says.
Along with the trainers, Herson and his fellow instructors created a curriculum that can be used in a classroom, one-on-one training, online or self-paced training programs. “It’s very hands-on and is flexible enough to integrate into existing training systems and curriculum,” he says.
Not only do businesses and schools in NWTC’s coverage area use the devices for training sessions, other learning institutions also purchase them for their own training programs.
“The response to the trainers has been very good,” Herson says. “They can be used in a lot of settings — schools and workplaces — to teach certain skills.”
Dave Stroud, a technology and engineering instructor at Ashwaubenon High School, says the trainers are necessary for his students to complete its Automation and Electricity class. Students can take two of four courses during a nine-week term — Automation 1, Automation 2, Fluids 1: Basic Pneumatics, and DC1: Introduction. If they enjoy the class, students can take it again so they can complete the other two courses.
“The trainers are needed for the lab work that’s involved in all of the classes,” Stroud says. The trainers “give students an authentic experience using devices that they will not only see if they choose to attend NWTC but will also see in the industry. Exposing students to these technologies has opened their eyes to many high-paying, in-demand opportunities that exist in manufacturing in Northeast Wisconsin.”
Ashwaubenon’s classes are articulated with NWTC, which allows the students the opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school.
Herson says the trainers also are popular with businesses since they bring the training directly to them instead of having employees travel to the NWTC campus. “They can put these out in a conference room and have all the training right there,” he says.
There are trainers available for: automation, control devices, pneumatics, variable frequency drive (VFD), servo motion, human machine interface (HMI), an Allen-Bradley Compact Logix PLC trainer, an Allen-Bradley Control Logix PLC trainer and an Allen-Bradley Micro Logix PLC trainer. The trainers are made from industry-standard components designed to simulate industrial systems. They can be stored on racks that can hold multiple units, making it convenient to transport them from site to site and store them
NWTC also has a trailer it can take to different locations for either training or to expose community members or students to possible careers in the electro-mechanical industry. The trailer includes the Mobile Modular trainers, 12 student workstations and one instructor station. When parked at a community event, the trailer provides visitors with an up-close look at not only the trainers, but also an opportunity to see how they work.
“We’ve had it all over. It’s been a great tool,” Herson says.
NWTC also has Mobile Modular trainers at its Marinette campus for students and businesses to use.
“We have had a lot of positive response to having them located there,” Herson says. “The trainers’ design provides superior training and repeatable results.”
Stroud says the trainers are one tool that Ashwaubenon High School is using to create a pipeline from high school to postsecondary education, which will lead to more workers for the region’s manufacturing sector.
“Students pick up on the technologies quickly and are always looking for additional challenges,” he says. “The trainers are great because they allow me to witness lights going on in students’ minds and on the trainers at the same time. It’s really cool!”