Cowley College, Kansas


Cowley College, Kansas

The idea is to give bright young people a hands-on introduction to up-to-date industrial techniques. Festo provides learning equipment.

The Mechatronics program is administered by the department of career and technical education at Cowley College.

That know-how includes such subjects as electronics, mechanics, hydrology, pneumatics, safety and quality assurance. It reaches into robotics, three-dimensional computer design and visioning new ways to make things.

Individuals who want key jobs at local manufacturers need to gain an understanding of these subjects. The biggest gap in industry here today is the gap between the engineers who think up new ways to do things and the workers who actually put together the equipment and processes to do those things.

The gap also includes maintaining the equipment.

"We call them liaison engineers," Steffen said. "The goal of the technical program and Mechatronics is to develop the skills locally to fill job vacancies in local industry."

Attitudes toward manufacturing in Kansas need to change, Sandy Johnson, CEO of the Mid-America Manufacturing Technology Center, told guests at the open house.

"Manufacturing is no longer taking place in dark, dirty buildings," Johnson said. "It's become clean, high-tech and challenging."

Million dollar machines make small companies places where young people can learn a great deal, she added.

Johnson said innovation was moving out of large companies to consultants and small manufacturers. Almost half the manufacturers in Kansas are located in rural communities, she said.

The Mechatronics program here started with 17 students last fall. The program now has 22 students. They go to classes in the mornings and evenings. Most are employed at manufacturers in Cowley County, although only some are line workers. Three are high school students.