Reinforcing Old Connections and Revving up New Ideas for the New Year!

On our last day of work at the college before the winter break, I was lucky to take a “road trip” to visit three new partners. The day started early with a 70 mile drive to Mitsubishi Power Systems’ production and repair facility in Orlando. There we joined a tour sponsored by MACF (Manufacturers Association of Central Florida) for students in the engineering academy at Edgewood High School in Orlando. Desh Bagley, FLATE outreach manager, Dr. Richard Gilbert, co-PI for FLATE, and myself, met Ms. Faith Willingham, a new teacher at Edgewood High School and her pre-engineering students. Sherry Reeves, executive director of MACF also joined the tour.  

Faith brings years of manufacturing engineering experience to her classrooms, and knows how important it is
to get students out to see what engineering and manufacturing work environments look like. The large facility is divided into two sections: repair and new productions. The repair facility is a large and busy operation that conducts repairs and regular maintenance of various blades that are part of the turbines which are primarily used in the electrical utility industry. On the production side, MPS is manufacturing new turbines. The tour groups were led by young engineers who had interned at Mitsubishi.  The company has a large and diverse internship program that serves most of its technical career pathways. Mitsubishi Vice President, Bob Provitola, also serves on FLATE’s National Visiting Committee.

A 60-minute drive northwest followed the tour and found us at Lake Sumter State College (LSSC) in Leesburg. The three campus, 7,500 student regional college wanted to learn more about the engineering
technology degree, and how FLATE could help with the process of documenting a need and/or implementing the degree. Dr. Eugene Jones, associate dean of workforce programs, had gathered a dozen college, school district and community stakeholders for the luncheon meeting. I gave a brief overview of FLATE, the NSF ATE program and the A.S. Engineering Technology degree, and then we got into lively discussions about the local industry base, college, community resources and partnerships as well as possible grants. A new “Advanced Manufacturing Center” at Lake Technical Center could help provide momentum and possible articulations into an A.S. Engineering Technology at LSSC as could pre-engineering programs in the school district. We look forward to working with LSSC and their partners to start a new engineering technology degree in the coming year.

Heading due west, we reached Withlacoochee Technical Institute (WTI, to visit with Mr. Larry Hensley, instructor and Ms. Karen Barton, teacher’s aide and student, for the Industrial Machinery Maintenance and Repair (IMMR) program that Mr. Hensley started three years ago. WTI provides Post Secondary Adult Vocational training for residents of Citrus County. The new program focuses on skills and certifications required to repair, set up and maintain industrial equipment that could be found in a number of manufacturing related industries. Many of the skillsets taught in the program also support the electrical utility industry.

The two classrooms and two large open bay labs filled with a large variety of industrial equipment and training stations are home to 20 students currently enrolled full-time in the 1,350 hour program. I first met
Mr. Hensely last summer when visiting the IHMC–FLATE Ocala summer robotics camps. He was visiting the camps at IHMC taught by Dr. Cruz to prepare for teaching a similar camp in Citrus County. Supported by the local workforce board, he was excited about the camp, but also about using the LEGO® robots to introduce his IMMR students to programming logic before teaching programmable logic controllers and CNC machining. He believed that that icon-driven programming language would help his students, some of whom had limited exposure to computers and/or programming logic. We will be checking back with Mr. Hensley on how his innovative use of LEGO®  Mindstorms® worked.  Additionally, Mr. Hensley and WTI will be opening an Automation and Production Technology (APT) program that is aligned to the MSSC (Manufacturing Skill Standards Council) Certified Production Technician credential beginning sometime in 2014.

The day was filled with many new faces, new places, and new ideas. The excitement and enthusiasm for manufacturing education was electric at all three locations, and it made me proud that these new partners, stakeholders, and soon to be friends had reached out to FLATE for help, advice and partnership. Welcoming them to the growing FLATE family is a wonderful way to start the New Year.

Also wonderful is our relatively short, but highly informative inaugural issue of the 2014 FLATE Focus. We start this new chapter celebrating the successful launch and kick-off of the BEST robotics program in the greater Tampa Bay area in 2013. We also toot our horns a bit in showcasing ongoing, multi-faceted efforts to promote manufacturing excellence on a national arena. The organization has made tremendous strides in that direction and is led by Terry Iverson, one of our current National Visiting Committee members. Spring 2014 is sizzling with science fairs across the region. Be sure to attend and/or support a local team, and read about an award winning student Capstone Project. The sTEm-at-Work puzzles are back in the board to tickle your problem solving skills. These and much more in this edition of the FLATE Focus!

Happy New Year and welcome back!  

BEST Offers Level Playing Field for Minorities & Girls to Explore Robotics & STEM

Last year we brought you a story about FLATE’s partnership with BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science
and Technology) robotics, and kick-off of the program at Hillsborough Community College and the School District of Hillsborough County (SDHC). It’s been almost a year since the program started with several SDHC schools adopting the program, and participating in local and regional BEST competitions. A defining element of BEST robotics has not only been the curriculum, but its accessibility to minorities and students from all economic and ethnic backgrounds.

Jim Brockman, teacher and BEST robotics mentor at Strawberry Crest High School says BEST offers a level playing field as it gives all teams the same materials. The competition is based on student ingenuity. As an educator Brockman believes “robotics is as essential as any subject that is taught in school” and is important for all kids, regardless of their ethnicity/economic background to be involved in it.  

Mike Wilson, Industrial Technology Education teacher at McLane Middle School agrees with Brockman. He says “girls in particular and minorities are underrepresented in the engineering fields.” Additionally, Wilson notes “if you want engineers in the future, programs need to be well funded” too. In that respect, the way BEST is set up at SDHC is that there is no cost, besides time, to be involved in the program. The three year BEST grant has made a huge difference in funding the program, and has enabled more students to be involved with robotics and STEM subjects. Since the launch of the program a year ago, several middle and high schools have adopted the program, and participated in local/regional BEST competitions.

Of note is McLane Middle School’s “All Girls” team of eight students (five from McLane and three from other regional high schools). Jeanelle Balbwin, junior at Middleton High School who serves as the team captain says the BEST robotics program is a way for middle and high school students to be engaged in industrial robotics, and get preview of the kinds of educational and career opportunities that are available to them in the future. What attracts Balbwin and her team mate, Kayla Shepherd from McLane Middle School, to BEST is the team component coupled with business acumen and leadership skills.

“One of the biggest events that got us involved and interested in BEST robotics competition was our visit to the HCC-Brandon campus manufacturing lab in October and getting the opportunity to use the CAD” said Wilson. During the visit students designed and built gears for the robot. “The access to that lab really opened up the door for our students to consider engineering as a possible educational venue.”

Strawberry Crest High School (SCHS) known for its academic strength and Plant City High School (PCHS)
which has a largely Hispanic population are some other schools that have hopped into the BEST bandwagon. SCHS currently has 13 students enrolled in the program; while PCHS has 12 in the BEST program. Both schools have made significant headway in winning accolades at local and regional competitions. “It’s a new experience for everyone, but we have learned a lot in the first year” said Brockman. He believes the program is highly beneficial as it integrates a greater degree of manufacturing component, and applauds BEST in offering students “a more authentic learning experience that cannot be replicated in a classroom.”

Given the enthusiasm from students and teachers alike, teams at all schools have won many accolades. In April 2013, McLane Middle School participated in the BEST competition held at HCC in Brandon. They won first place in the robot division, and second place for BEST and sportsmanship at the robotics competition held at Leonard High School. Outside of its involvement with BEST, the Vibots from McLane competed in the 2013 Robofest world championship, and were winners of the VEX Robotics World Championship STEM Educate award in 2011. It also stood third at the world championships two years in a row, and multi-competes with high schools each year. Given several wins, the “all girls” team from McLane Middle School is on its way to building a stronger STEM community in the future.

In 2013, SCHS BEST team competed in the regional/Tampa BEST competition where they stood first in
marketing and in designing engineering notebook. This allowed them to advance to the regional level where they placed third under the video presentation category, and had a variety of top 10 finishes in other categories. They also competed in South’s BEST, and will be competing in Robofest in 2014. “Our most exciting victory was winning the BEST award at our local competition, and having the opportunity to move on to the southern region competition for BEST at Auburn University” said Jessica Alzamora and Brian Do, current team members and seniors at SCHS.

The PCHS BEST team also surged ahead in the past year. At the BEST Robotics competition they stood second place overall, and won Best Website design, Most Robust, Best Robot design, and Best Interview. “Many don’t see the ‘when am I going to use this’ unless they have hands-on experience” said Artemio Perez, PCHS BEST coach. Perez hopes participation in BEST will help students learn the applications of science (physics in particular) in many fields of studies.

For more information on BEST, or upcoming robotics workshops contact Ken Fiallos at, or visit For information on FLATE’s robotics program and upcoming summer camps for middle and high school students contact Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE at, or visit and

Partnerships and Mentoring Lead to Cutting-Edge, Award Winning Ideas

FLATE’s multi-pronged approach to stimulate interest in manufacturing and STEM, lies in its exemplary partnerships. The Center prides itself as a leading resource for excellence in manufacturing education and training, and leverages expertise to incumbent workers, educators and students alike. These efforts have not only created a synergy between industry and education, but have culminated in generating positive learning outcomes that impact undergraduate and graduate students alike.

Most recently Dr. Alessandro Anzalone, director of the A.S. degree in engineering technology at
Hillsborough Community College in Brandon and winner of the 2013 FLATE Post-Secondary Educator Award, served as a mentor for a Capstone student design project at the University of South Florida (USF). Capstone courses provide students with an educational experience that integrates multiple areas of knowledge and dimensions. These courses, by definition, lead to a summative product, or culminate into a course, or a field-appropriate experience created by the student and the instructor. (Source: USF General Education Council).

Working under these guidelines, Anzalone provided overall insight into the details of an award-winning Capstone project, designed by Rafael Perez and Jorge Sayed, seniors pursuing an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at USF. Anzalone helped come up with new ideas, troubleshoot any challenges, and opened up the manufacturing lab at HCC for the students to work and fine tune their project.

Perez and Sayed toyed with many ideas, but their winning idea was inspired by a woman they stumbled upon, albeit online, while conducting research and looking for a breakthrough idea. The woman was growing tomatoes in a greenhouse which burned up because the temperature in the greenhouse was too high. Against that backdrop, Perez and Sayed built a smart greenhouse using PLCs, with an in-built weather controller station to monitor the temperature and humidity levels.

A key element of their design lay in “controlling the temperature inside the greenhouse.” To comply, they
used two sensors: one that controlled the temperature; the other that’d control the humidity with respect to the inside temperature of the greenhouse. For the PLC, they chose a Siemens PLC which was connected to a web server making it easier to interface with web and/or mobile devices.

“The greatest thing I got out of this project is the overall satisfaction gained from winning the competition” said Perez. Upon completion of their term and final project assessments, Perez and Sayed plan to donate their model/prototype to the HCC engineering technology program so it can be used as a PLC training station for current and/or future students enrolled in the program.

You can learn more about Perez and Sayed’s smart greenhouse project below, or at For information on FLATE and its STEM based initiatives contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at, or visit and

sTEm–at-Work Puzzle #38: Machine System Performance

The answer to sTEm Puzzle #37 suggested that although the data plotted below was acquired from a Run Chart for each system, more information would be provided if the plots were actually Run Charts. However, because of the Certified Process Technician’s knowledge and training, a decision about expected system performance could still be made. Thus, it is clear to the CPT working for the marine engine manufacturer that it is not true that both of these machine systems are operating correctly (see puzzle #36).  However, it is also clear to this Tech that only one of the systems, either System #425 or System # 638, was not performing as expected.

The Tech correctly identified the system that was not operating properly and submitted a request for an unscheduled maintenance shutdown to trouble shoot and repair that system.

The technician decided that system # 638 was not operating as expected. YES or NO. Type your thoughts and response below this blog post, or at The correct answer will be posted in the following edition of the FLATE Focus so solve and stay tuned!       

A New Persona for Manufacturing

As I sit on the plane flying back from the inaugural Close It Summit 2013, I find myself inspired by the
number of people trying to make a difference for the common good in this country. There is such a dramatic need for the next generation of manufacturing employees and managers. It will take an army to create the excitement and a buzz, for not only young people to pursue engineering and manufacturing related career paths, but also the parents, mentors, influencers and guidance counselors to encourage and allow them to do such. I see several ways to accomplish this goal.

One is a comprehensive marketing program FOR manufacturing. A concise perception game changer as you
may. I founded ChampionNow! for that exact purpose. Change How Advanced Manufacturing's Perceived In Our Nation -- NOW! We need to put a positive spin on what people think to be a dark, dingy and depressing career sector. Instead there lies a world full of high technology, computerization and automation—one that desperately requires decision makers, problem solvers, and the most innovative minds. Manufacturing prominence needs a whole new persona. The general public needs to view it as the valuable asset, i.e., rather than the liability that people perceive it to be.

Two would be an expansion of not only internship programs but also externship programs. Employers need to become engaged at several levels. Everyone needs to do their part. Too many influencers are not informed as to what manufacturing careers offer. The supply and demand factor is allowing for higher wages and more opportunities. We need to educate and inform the guidance counselors, teachers, and parents.

Three would be a rebirth of programs that would be called apprenticeships and/or creative school models. I have seen programs around the country that have unique methodologies to accomplish a goal.

One is GPS in Wisconsin and another is YearUp down south. These programs create school models directly in the workplace. Students go to school in the morning, and go to a manufacturing company in the afternoon where they meet as a collective group for engineering and hands on instruction. Whether these are private or public programs they ALL need to be supported and to succeed! In addition there are MANY high schools that are embracing STEM and Project Lead the Way curriculum.

There needs to be more. The single minded "go to a four year university" and AP class track to success
needs to be just one of many chants in the hallways of high schools. We need AP Engineering and AP Manufacturing tracks for young people to pursue. Manufacturing today is not what it was long ago. Computerization and automation is becoming more the norm, rather than a theory. These are highly challenging positions that need innovative thinkers and problem solvers. Those that excel in math and science and are good with their hands will lead.

Four is the need for the opening of our manufacturing doors to show the country's next generation what the reality is. With the re-shoring initiative bring production back to the USA, we need more of the best and brightest to be ready to design and make products. We just completed our second National Manufacturing Day. We need to expand this to unprecedented levels of participation by manufacturing companies across the USA.

If we can somehow ALL get on the same bandwagon what an impact we could have! I offer a suggestion that ChampionNow! be that chant. This is the message for the country to bring manufacturing skilled workers back to the table. Each and every time I think that I need to step away from the ChampionNow! table, some organization -- manufacturing leader or workforce board tells me this is THE marketing message and solution for the USA. If I have my way the general public would know and see this message in every possible venue from USA Today,WSJNew York Times, People magazine, to Sports Illustrated and more.

What a positive message to tell those whom are not aware of the reality of what manufacturing careers have to offer. Let's all Champion the cause. Let's all become a ChampionNow!

This article was written by Terry Iverson, president & CEO of Iverson & Company. It was published in the Huffington Post 

2014 Science, STEM, Engineering Fairs in Greater Tampa Bay

Right after the winter break, students across the state are busy conducting their final experiments, collecting final data, drawing conclusions and preparing their written and poster reports for the 2014 Science, STEM, or Engineering fairs. Across the country, as well as in Florida, the traditional “science fair” has diversified by adding engineering, and/or integrated STEM to be more inclusive. This long time tradition is a great vehicle for students to nurture their curiosity, express themselves, exercise critical thinking and practice their verbal and written communication skills. Thousands of students participate and the fairs are great family events.

If you are interested in participating in your local or regional event, contact your local school district for
details. There are several ways to participate. The most obvious is to volunteer to be a judge. Each fair has its own judging templates and scoring rubrics, and provide excellent instructions for all judges. You will be surprised to see how many in your community participate at this level. Additionally, companies and organizations can sponsor the event, or even have a named competition. The Bay Area Manufacturers Association (BAMA) sponsors a “manufacturing” related prize in both Pinellas and Hillsborough County fairs. BAMA recruits judges for the special prizes, gives each winner a certificate and small cash award, and hosts the winners and their families at their annual scholarship dinner meeting every June.

County or regional fairs around Florida are generally scheduled between mid-January and mid-February, and may involve elementary, middle and/or high school student competitions. Below is a table with information for those in the greater Tampa Bay area. If you need help finding the science/STEM/Engineering fair near you, don't hesitate to contact FLATE by emailing Dr. Marilyn Barger at 813.259.6578, or  We’d be happy to help connect you.

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