By Beth Fisher,

Pre-engineering Instructor, LRTC

At Lewiston Regional Technical Center, it is always a challenge to keep technology education up to date and relevant to today’s rapidly changing job market. With that in mind, the pre-engineering and drafting programs at LRTC plan to merge into a Computer Assisted Engineering program. The purpose of this change is to provide a program that will lead students through both drafting and automated manufacturing, including the use of robots and conveyors to assist in handling material. By teaching these programs together, students can learn how these skills are used together in modern automated work situations.

As in most other industries, computers are revolutionizing the way work is done in all engineering fields. Everything from drawing to assembly and testing is done utilizing computer software. A CNC (computer numeric control) milling machine can be programmed to do machining from a CAD (computer assisted drafting) file. A robot is programmed to perform a set of commands and to respond to inputs from the environment. Electrical, hydraulic, and pneumatic circuits can be controlled by PLCs (programmable logic controllers). These technologies are common in the industries in our communities and trained technicians will be needed to operate, maintain, and even design these automated manufacturing systems.

Businesses as diverse as bakeries and power plants, bottling plants and paper mills, use automation to increase their productivity. The use of robots and other material-handling equipment reduces some of the repetitive task effects, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and boredom, that have plagued humans who have previously performed routine functions. Robots can also be more accurate than humans and can repeat a task “24-7” without needing a coffee break or time to sleep.

People sometimes worry that automation will take away jobs. In most instances, however, automation simply changes the job requirements. Instead of hiring someone to pack boxes, for example, industries now need someone who can program or repair the equipment that packs hundreds of boxes every hour.

The Computer Assisted Engineering program will teach students to design a product and then produce that product. They will also learn about mechanical systems, from gears and pulleys to pneumatic and hydraulic circuits, and how they are controlled. Students will learn basic electrical controls and the use of PLCs in manufacturing.

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