Mentor, Casey Taylor
Mechatronics is an exciting new field in high tech manufacturing used to create machinery and equipment that has built in artificial intelligence. A Mechatronic Technician works with engineers to design and maintain this advanced manufacturing equipment. The Mechatronics program taught at Tulsa Tech by Casey Taylor is designed to give students the training they need to get an entry-level job in this growing field and is open to high school students, as well as adults.
In his article, Casey talks about what a Mechatronics Technician does each day and the career prospects available to young people who have completed the Tulsa Tech program. The course work includes instruction in things like hydraulics, pneumatics, electronics, optics and computer science. Graduates of this program will know how to install, maintain and repair the mechanical controls, fluid power systems, electrical and electronic equipment used in a number of different manufacturing applications. Besides advanced manufacturing, some of the things we all use everyday have mechatronic systems. These include computer hard drives, washing machines, coffee makers, and medical devices. Another example of mechatronic systems everyone will know are the electronics in automobiles that manage everything from stability control and antilock brakes to climate control and memory-adjust seats.
For young people who think they want to enter this technical field and work in advanced manufacturing, it is important to take basic algebra and science courses before their junior year of high school, when they can begin Mechatronics classes. Free tuition is one of the big advantages for young people who get these kinds of certifications from a technical school while they are in high school.
Besides a free technical education that will allow you to enter this high-tech career field, a lot of the additional training that will help you advance your career is often paid for by your employer. With the cost of a four-year college degree becoming more expensive and the financial burden student debt has placed on many college graduates, young people who enter these kinds of technical fields, like Mechatronics, and continue to train as they gain work experience will advance their careers and can earn as much as many college graduates, without incurring any debt. The career path for Mechatronic Technicians involves training to reach higher technician designations. People who become a level five technician, the highest designation, on average earn only ten percent less than an engineer with a four-year college degree and several years experience. Plus, the trend to automate manufacturing machinery that lets U.S. manufacturers produce parts with better quality and at a lower cost, is expected to keep the demand strong for people with the technical skills taught in Casey’s classes.
I grew up in Enid, Oklahoma and went to Autry Technology Center to study Mechatronics when I was a junior in high school. Like Tulsa Tech, Autry is part of Oklahoma’s unique system of 29 technology center school districts with 59 campuses statewide, a state training system that has received national recognition. I chose to study Mechatronics because I always wanting to know how things worked. When I graduated from high school, I continued my education in the Adult Mechatronics Program. After receiving my Autry certificate in 2007, I went to work as a Mechatronics Technician at Melling Sintered Metals. The company made a number of different parts from powdered metal. I got regular training to improve my skills at Melling, including sending me to a one-week school near Detroit on advanced robotics. When you work in this field you will find that to keep up with changing technology you will be required to learn new things to maintain and improve your skills. After working at Melling for three years, I had a chance to take a job as a Mechatronics Instructor at Autry and taught in my old classroom. I stayed there for three years and in 2013 took a job as an Instructor at Tulsa Tech.
The program I teach at Tulsa Tech is a two-year program where you attend half days. It is open to high school juniors, as well as adults. We have designed the program to give our students the background they need to be able to pass the tests given by our local manufacturers for entry-level positions. There are no widely-recognized national certifications for jobs in Mechatronics like there are for Machinists and many other trades. The needs of each company are too unique. But manufacturing companies tell us they want people who are already trained in basic mechanical and computer skills so they already know how to integrate the four overlapping areas of mechanical systems, electronic systems, control systems, and computers used in Mechatronic designs. After they are hired, they are then taught the specific ways these systems are applied to each company’s manufacturing processes.
All of my students have a curiosity in knowing how things work and an interest in technology, just like I did. I have found it interesting that most all of them built things with Legos when they were growing up. As a Mechatronics Technician, you also need to be analytical and like to solve problems. While you do not need to be strong at higher level math, you do need to know basic algebra. Successful technicians also pay attention to detail, like to work as part of a team and are safety conscious.
Besides the general trend towards automating more manufacturing processes that will grow the demand for our graduates, I see U.S. manufacturing making a comeback. And I believe that will make being a Mechatronics Technician a good career choice for many years. It is now well-recognized throughout the world that the U.S. and Japan have the highest quality manufacturing processes in the world, even better than most German companies. As a result, companies like Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, as well as the Japanese auto companies have moved production facilities to the U.S. As the middle class develops in countries like China and their workers want higher pay, automated manufacturing in the U.S. will continue to become more cost competitive. Plus, the quality advantage we have in our manufacturing processes will bring even more manufacturing back to America and should once again provide good career opportunities for people working in U.S. manufacturing.
Here is a good example of the strong demand for our graduates. One of our students who completed our program immediately after graduating from high school got a job working at a company that manufactured oil field equipment. The sharp drop in oil prices forced the company to cut back on their production and he was laid off. But within a week he found another job at a manufacturer in a different line of business that paid more money.
What Mechatronic Technicians Do Each Day
As a Mechatronics Technician your basic job description will be to install, maintain, modify and repair mechatronic systems, equipment and component parts. But there are a number of other things you may do depending on your company’s manufacturing processes:
- Setup automated systems utilizing programmable logic controllers (PLCs)
- Assemble parts and sub-assemblies made from mechanical, electrical and computer components.
- Install, modify and repair hydraulic and pneumatic equipment and systems.
- Examine detailed drawings or specifications to find out job material and equipment requirements and then build prototypes.
- Fit and assemble metal parts, tools or sub-assemblies, including the welding or brazing of parts.
- Cut, thread, bend and install hydraulic and pneumatic pipes and lines
- Operate hand and machine tools, welding equipment or computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines.
Tulsa Tech’s Program for Mechatronics
The program at Tulsa Tech is a two-year program where you go half days and is open to high school juniors as well as adults.
- Safety in Manufacturing
- Basic Electrical Theory
- Fluid Power Theory and Power Transmission Principles
- Motor Theory and Operation
- Electromechanical Devices and Applications
- Digital Electronics for Manufacturing Maintenance
- Programmable Controller Interfacing
- Mechanical Power Transmission Theory and Principles
- Instrumentation and Control I
- Basic Robotics in Manufacturing
- Metrology/Mechatronics Systems
- Workforce Staging
Here are some photos of our classrooms and shops:
We offer this program as an extended curriculum for participating high schools. A student attending Tulsa Tech earns three units of credit each year. Once you have successfully completed your classes, these units are certified by Tulsa Tech and transferred to your high school. You can also earn college credit towards an Associates in Applied Science degree from Tulsa Community College, Oklahoma State University-Okmulgee or Rogers State University while attending this and many other Tulsa Tech programs.
While tuition is free to high school students, the estimated cost for adults for tuition and lab is $4,200. But there are a number of scholarships and financial aid packages available from local and federal programs that can offset this cost and few people have to take out student loans to complete the course. Check with Tulsa Tech’s financial aid office and they can give more information. Here is the link: http://tulsatech.edu/admissions/financial-aid/
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t specifically track employment data for mechatronics technicians. But it does have data for two related fields, mechanical and electrical engineering technicians. In May 2013, the BLS reported that the median salary earned by mechanical engineering technicians was $52,390. Electronics engineering technicians earned $58,540. The median wage is the wage where half of those employed earn more than the median and half earn less. The figures do not break out the designation of the technician. For example, the highest level, Tech 5, should earn in the range of $80,000 or about 30% above the median, while a class 3 technician with three years of experience should be able to earn at the median or between $28 and $30 per hour.