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What should I be teaching? This is a question that all teachers ask themselves when they begin to develop plans for upcoming classes. The answer is easy for some subjects. After all, algebra and ancient history don’t change much from year to year.

However, the question of what to teach takes on greater importance — and can be much more difficult to answer — when you’re a career and technical education (CTE) instructor. When you’re tasked with teaching students the skills that will prepare them to excel in the modern workplace, you must ensure that you’re teaching relevant knowledge and skills that today’s employers need in a work environment constantly impacted by advanced technologies.

For example, many schools across the nation have taught Mechatronics for years. But those basic automation technologies that were once cutting-edge are rapidly being surpassed by newer advanced Industry 4.0 technologies.

Fortunately, those schools that have invested in Amatrol Mechatronics systems are well-positioned to transform those systems into Smart Factories capable of teaching students a wide variety of smart automation skills desperately needed by today’s employers.

In this article, we’ll examine why it’s critical to teach these new skills. Then we’ll explain how easy it is to transform your current Amatrol Mechatronics system into a Smart Factory. We’ll also discuss how teaching these critical skills opens up a new world of opportunity for your students to earn smart automation certifications that will help them prove that they have the in-demand skills employers need.

It’s a Smart New World

Do you have a smartphone? How about a smart watch? Does your home have any smart devices, such as a thermostat, lighting systems, or a video doorbell? From personal experience, it’s easy to understand how advanced smart technologies are impacting our day to day lives.

Businesses are no exception. The fourth Industrial Revolution, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the Industrial Internet, Industry 4.0, Smart Factory…whatever term you use to describe it, industries around the world are leveraging the combination of cyber-physical systems, automation, and the Internet of Things to maximize efficiency and productivity.

Adding advanced automation devices, such as smart sensors, to equipment allows businesses to collect massive amounts of data. They can then use data analysis software and Internet networks to collect, analyze, and share insights with users throughout the facility or even around the world.

The leaps in productivity and efficiency these technologies provide explain why their increasing use and popularity have been likened to a new industrial revolution. Indeed, smart factories are not just a thing of the future. They exist now, and Industry 4.0 pioneers are leading the way across a broad cross-section of industries.

Are your students prepared to work in a Smart Factory? Do they have the advanced Industry 4.0 skills employers desperately need? Chances are that they don’t, because industries are currently struggling to fill thousands of open positions due to an ongoing skills gap. Let’s take a closer look at what you can do to change that.

Transforming Your Training

Users of Amatrol’s 870-series Mechatronics training systems will be glad to know that it’s possible — and easy — to transform their current Mechatronics system into a working Smart Factory. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel or invest in an entirely new system.

Amatrol’s Mechatronics system was designed to be expandable to adapt to and integrate with the latest advances in technology. Adding Smart Factory capabilities is as simple as adding a variety of new components, including smart sensors, smart product ID tools, maintenance and production software, and network communications and security. In the sections that follow, we’ll take a closer look at each of these elements.

Smart Sensors

Smart sensors are device-level components that collect and transmit data via Ethernet/IP (with Allen-Bradley PLCs) or PROFINET (with Siemens PLCs) and I/O Link protocol. Adding smart sensors to your current Mechatronics system provides flexible manufacturing, predictive maintenance, and data analytics capabilities.

Amatrol’s Smart Factory components include smart sensors for most of the current Mechatronics carts. These sensors include the following:

  • Pneumatics/Vacuum Sensor (87-SN1)
  • Ultrasonic Sensor (87-SN2)
  • Photoeye (Photoelectric) Sensor (87-SN3)
  • Stack Light (87-SN4)
  • Electrical (Current Monitoring) Sensor (87-SN6)
  • Analog Position Sensor (Potentiometer) (87-SN7)
  • Analog Pressure (Pneumatic Pressure) Sensor (87-SN9)

These smart sensors collect data as parts pass through the system. They communicate with other parts of the system and provide data that will be processed and analyzed by other components of the Smart Factory system.

Smart Product ID

In addition to smart sensors, your current Mechatronics system can be upgraded to include smart product identification devices that trigger “intelligent” actions, including parts tracking, production history, sorting, part accept/reject, and inventory control. These devices include the following:

  • Barcode scanner (87-BR2): teaches programming and operation of barcode reading identification systems and communications with other intelligent automation devices;
  • RF Identification (87-RF1): teaches programming and operation of radio frequency identification (RFID) systems and communications with other intelligent automation devices; and
  • Vision Inspection (87-VS1): teaches the use of machine vision systems in smart factory applications.

Smart Maintenance & Production

Amatrol adds Smart Maintenance and Production capabilities via industry-standard software that connects users directly to the automated system and each other to create a real-world environment where maintenance team members can collaborate to resolve issues quickly and effectively.

For example, this software utilizes data from the Smart Sensors and Smart Product ID devices to automatically trigger maintenance operations. These capabilities are provided by two systems:

  • Smart Factory Visual Communications (87-VC)
  • Smart Factory Manufacturing Execution (87-ME)

The Smart Factory Visual Communications system teaches web-based maintenance communications in Smart Factory applications using IGear Squeaks software. This cloud-based data acquisition software retrieves data from each sensor and makes it available throughout the system, including on mobile devices.

This allows users to monitor real-time processes via graphic displays, receive preventive maintenance notifications, manage maintenance needs, and communicate with other team members to minimize equipment downtime.

The Smart Factory Manufacturing Execution system teaches the use of web-based production control, scheduling, and monitoring in Smart Factory applications using IGear Pulse software. This cloud-based manufacturing execution software displays real-time manufacturing data, such as current system status, active alarms, production data, parts details, and equipment performance.

This allows users to monitor overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) individually and across the system. Users can also monitor order tracking and history, as well as system diagnostics.

Network Communications & Security

Amatrol’s Smart Factory Network Communications and Security components bring everything together to connect students with a fully-functional production system using industrial protocols for real-time control, program transfer, data collection, and changing programs on the fly.

These components are integrated and organized on a new cart for your current Mechatronics system: Amatrol’s Mobile Workstation — Smart Factory Communications (87-MS1A). The included components consist of the following:

  • Wireless Communications (87-WLAS): teaches wireless communications in a Smart Factory environment;
  • Ethernet/PROFINET (87-EN): teaches communications between intelligent automation devices in various topologies in a Smart Factory environment to efficiently control and monitor an automated manufacturing process; and
  • Network Security (87-SN1): teaches how to keep data safe and securely extend operational data to suppliers and customers. Communications security protects the smart factory from unauthorized outside access & provides secure data communications between the plant-wide network and the internet.

Available Options

In addition to the components and systems already discussed, Amatrol’s Smart Factory offerings include a variety of additional options you may want to consider for your current Mechatronics system. These options include the following:

  • HMI Terminal (87-HMI): teaches the use of a human machine interface (HMI) panel in Smart Factory applications by providing a means to operate and monitor status of smart factory processes;
  • PLCs (87-IOS): teaches programming and operation of industrial programmable logic controllers. NOTE: Current Mechatronics customers will also want to consider upgrading the PLCs on their carts to the most current versions: either a Siemens S7-1500 or an Allen-Bradley CompactLogix L16;
  • Smart Robot Workcell (87-SWF): upgrades the robot on the Mechatronics line to an industrial FANUC robot with a laser scanner, mobile workstation with a grid surface, and an interface panel with discrete IO/Ethernet, stack light, and pneumatics;
  • Mechatronics Troubleshooting (87-FTS): teaches troubleshooting of mechatronics systems and components in Smart Factory applications; and
  • Industry 4.0 Fundamentals (I4F), Amatrol’s multi-course program designed to introduce students to Industry 4.0 and prepare them to pursue exciting careers related to Industry 4.0 technologies. I4F is divided into four courses: Introduction to Mechatronics, Industrial Control Systems, Robot Operations and Programming, and Industrial Internet of Things.

Certifications Market Skills

Transforming your current Amatrol Mechatronics system into a Smart Factory is the first step toward preparing your students for the technologies they’ll encounter in the Industry 4.0 jobs of the present and future. The next step is helping them to market those skills to get the jobs that they desire.

Industry-standard certifications go a long way toward helping students prove to employers that they possess the in-demand skills needed to succeed in the Industry 4.0 jobs of today and tomorrow. When it comes to Industry 4.0 certifications, instructors need look no further than the certifications offered by the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA).

SACA offers Industry 4.0 certifications that focus on “connected systems” skills that address the integration of Industry 4.0 technology into advanced industrial processes. Amatrol’s Smart Factory offerings support several different SACA certifications, including:

  • Certified Industry 4.0 Automation Systems Specialist I: prepares individuals to succeed in entry-level maintenance technician positions in modern production environments that use Industry 4.0 technologies. This certification also features a variety of core micro-credentials that are ideal for individuals seeking to become versed in Industry 4.0 automation, such as: C-211 Industry 4.0 Total Productive Maintenance Management; C-212 Ethernet Communications 1; C-213 Smart Sensor and Identification Sys. 1; C-214 Smart Factory Systems 1; C-215 Robot System Operations 1; and C-216 Robot Systems Integration 1.
  • Certified Industry 4.0 Automation Systems Specialist II: prepares individuals to succeed in advanced maintenance technician positions in modern production environments that use Industry 4.0 technologies. This certification also features a variety of core micro-credentials that are ideal for individuals seeking to become versed in Industry 4.0 automation, such as: C-310 Ethernet Communications 2; C-311 Data Analytics 1; C-312 Robot Systems Integration 2; and C-313 Smart Factory Systems 2.

Armed with one or more SACA certifications, your students will be able to market themselves effectively to employers looking for the best and the brightest workers with key Industry 4.0 skills. As they continue their careers, additional SACA certifications can be added in the future to solidify their growing resumes.

Pushing the Envelope

Upgrading your current Mechatronics system to a fully-functioning Smart Factory isn’t the end of the line when it comes to Amatrol’s Smart Factory training offerings. For those schools that want to be on the cutting-edge of Industry 4.0 instruction, additional components and learning systems can be added to Amatrol’s Smart Factory to create a state-of-the-art Smart Factory Enterprise system.

Amatrol’s Smart Factory Enterprise system was first released and installed at Gateway Technical College in October 2019 in conjunction with the unveiling of Gateway’s expanded SC Johnson Integrated Manufacturing and Engineering Technology (iMET) center in Sturtevant, Wisconsin.

To see the Smart Factory Enterprise system in action at Gateway, click below to watch a video filmed at the debut event:

Amatrol’s Smart Factory Enterprise represents true connected systems training at the enterprise level. It’s a groundbreaking approach to teaching Industry 4.0 skills with a multi-station automated manufacturing system that builds upon the flagship Smart Factory Mechatronics line by adding additional Smart Factory components, such as:

  • Smart Robot Workcells with different types of FANUC robots;
  • Smart Conveyor: teaches users important applications like assembly, material handling, quality/inspection, and machine loading, while featuring RFID pallet tracking and Ethernet communications;
  • Autonomous Robot: teaches users how to program autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) to travel between stations to deliver necessary items on a precise schedule; and
  • CNC machine or CNC simulator: incorporates machining skills into your Industry 4.0 training.

Let Amatrol Show You What’s Possible

Teaching a wide variety of advanced Industry 4.0 skills might seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t need to be. Customers using Amatrol’s Mechatronics system are well-positioned to transform their current system into a working Smart Factory by adding and/or upgrading components.

And the best part? You don’t need to figure it all out on your own. The expert consultants at Amatrol will be happy to walk you through what you currently have and what exactly you need to do to transform your training to teach the Industry 4.0 skills employers need.

Contact Amatrol today to start the process of transforming your Mechatronics training system into a Smart Factory capable of teaching the skills your students will need to excel in the jobs of the future. Together, we can transform the global workforce one life at a time.

About Duane Bolin

Duane Bolin is a former curriculum developer and education specialist. He is currently a Marketing Content Developer for Amatrol, Inc. Learn more about Amatrol and its technical training solutions, including eLearning, here and connect with Duane on Amatrol’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube pages.

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Duane Bolin
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