Palm Beach State College Begins New Industry 4.0 Program: Smart Factory Training

Eva Suarez, Professor and Department Chair for Engineering Technology at Palm Beach State College (PBSC), and her team reached out to local industry partners and asked them for specifics on what knowledge,  skills and abilities future graduates should have.  As Suarez puts it, "Our degrees aren't really worth anything until they're relevant to companies, especially locally."  What they discovered is that almost all companies were looking for students trained in Industry 4.0 skills, those related to new and emerging technologies in the workplace. 

Rick Reeder, PBSC's Program Grant Coordinator, added that "the jobs are there for well-trained technicians in thh field of Industry 4.0 or mechatronics and it's up to us to qualify students for these positions."  The requirements profile that was created from these discussions with industry was used to plan a new Industry 4.0 program, including curriculum and lab equipment as well as faculty and staff.  In order to meet the needs of 47,000 students across five different campuses, the program would need to be run at two campuses, each with Industry 4.0 Smart Labs.

The grant, requested from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, was approved and the team was able to move forward quickly.  Within a few months, Smart Factory Training labs were created at both the Palm Beach Gardens and Lake Worth campuses, using Lucas-Nuelle Industry 4.0 equipment.  Suarez emphasized the importance of quality, modular lab equipment:

"The systems give students hands-on experience.  They can see the components and work with them. That came closest to our goal of students being able to start on the job immediately after completing our program without hours of additional training from the employer."

The grant funding included professors for the first phase for each campus: Dr. Robert O'Dea, PhD Electrical Engineering and Mr. Christian Acosta, a Nuclear Engineer, both with extensive industry experience. They began with beta testing while the coronovirus pandemic limited student attendance. Suarez shared that during this time "one of our very talented students developed detailed work instructions for the other students."

Through the new program, PBSC will ensure that student credit certificates and associate degrees represent Industry 4.0 skills.  Suarez states that "the college continues to improve the hands-on labs so that students will benefit from the latest technology and be ready to apply what they learned at the hiring company."  Industry partners who worked with the team on the project included SV Microwave (West Palm Beach), Keith Inc. (Pompano Beach), Trevjicos (Belle Glades) and Pratt & Whitney among many others.  Many hire PBSC students as interns and keep them as full time employees when they finish they education.

In other news, Palm Beach State College started a new concentration, Advanced Manufacturing, geared to automated and robotized industry in Florida.  Advanced Manufacturing delivers courses in mechatronics, automation, lean manufacturing and six sigma robotics, preparing the student to be a problem-solving contributor to the manufacturing industry in the area.  The college is also expanding the Engineering Technology program across the county, with classes at Belle Glades and Boca Raton, besides the already established programs at Lake Worth and Palm Beach Gardens.

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