Thomas Kornish, a junior at Hampton High School, uses one of the new pieces of equipment at A.W. Beattie Career Center in McCandless.
By Jill Cueni-Cohen
Randy Bish is teaching high school students to use equipment he previously had only heard about, such as a robotic arm and 3-D printer.
It's a dream job for Mr. Bish, a teacher at A.W. Beattie Career Center, and the new equipment has attracted more students to the McCandless school, which serves nine school districts in the northern suburbs.
Beattie's enrollment has increased by about 30 students to 665, according to Beattie director Eric Heasley.
"Our goal is for enrollment to increase, and the new equipment will increase students' interests in the advanced manufacturing curriculum," Mr. Heasley said.
The cutting-edge equipment was obtained through state grants and, in addition to the robotic arm and 3-D printer, includes a computer numerical controlled machine and two MakerBots, which feed spools of plastic into a machine that melts it to 400 degrees and turns the liquid into a replication of just about anything.
Beattie's new focus on advanced manufacturing technology will contribute to the work force of the future, said Laura Evans of Hampton, a senior district manager for Fanuc Robotics, manufacturer of the robotic arm at Beattie.
"The robotics industry is growing at an exponential rate. We're thrilled that Beattie is able to train high school students in real-world automation and technology," she said.
Learning to program the robotic arm will look good on a resume, said Mr. Bish, who leads the Agile Robotics/Intelligent Systems course at Beattie.
"Employers will see that these kids have had experience with this type of machinery," said Mr. Bish, who was a communications specialist with the National Guard and worked in the oil and gas industry before joining Beattie's staff in 1998.
In addition, students may earn up to 17 college credits in an agreement with California University of Pennsylvania, he said.
One goal for the students, Mr. Bish said, is to manufacture parts for the robot that Beattie will build and enter into the annual FIRST Robotics competition -- a Beattie tradition.
So far, students have been able to carve their names out of plastic foam with the computer numerical controlled, or CNC, machine and construct their own plastic keyboard parts with the MakerBots.
With a price tag of about $2,100, the MakerBot is an inexpensive version of the 3D printer, which costs about $16,000 and has a $2,800 annual maintenance agreement.
Hampton High School junior Thomas Kornish, 17, was one of the first students to use the Fanuc robotic arm.
"This is such a great opportunity for us to learn on equipment that's used in factories all over the world. The things you can do with a robot like this ... the capacity is virtually limitless," he said.
"I want to make all kinds of stuff," said North Allegheny senior Steven Downey, 17, of McCandless, as he used the MakerBot to manufacture a plastic camera mount. He has attended Beattie's robotics summer camp since seventh grade and helped Mr. Bish run this year's camp.
Now in his third year at Beattie, Steven plans to attend California University next year with the goal of becoming a robotics or electronics engineer. He notes that the Beattie class includes education in electronics.
"I feel like I'm going to be well-prepared for my future career," he said. "I'm on a successful path, and Beattie plays a large part in that."