Robotics academy immerses students in industry

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Jasper High School senior David Uebelhor learns about the finishing process from Dean Bromm, Indiana Furniture's director of process engineering and finish, during his internship at the company in Jasper on Thursday. David's internship is part of the Automation and Robotics Academy, a program that offers training in industrial automation and robotics. David says learning about robotics technology is his favorite part of the internship so far.


JASPER — It’s still early in the school year, but Jasper High School senior David Uebelhor has already learned about technology he didn’t know existed.

David is one of the 13 inaugural students in the new Automation and Robotics Academy at Vincennes University Jasper Campus. The academy is part dual credit, part internship and gives high school juniors and seniors in the county a chance to experience and train for the careers local industries have to offer.

The academy grew out of partnerships formed through a grant from the Regional Opportunity Initiatives’ Ready Schools Initiative to bridge the gap between industry and education. Students enrolled in the academy spend two afternoons a week in class at VUJC and two afternoons job shadowing with one of the local manufacturing plants.

For David, the program provided a chance to further explore robotics, the industry he’s interested in studying in college.

“It just sounded interesting,” David said. “I’m trying to explore and see what interests me.”

Jasper High School senior David Uebelhor learns about the equipment that sets the finish on furniture from Dean Bromm, director of process engineering and finish, during his internship at Indiana Furniture in Jasper on Thursday.

This semester, he is job shadowing with Indiana Furniture, and he got a chance to see an industrial robot in action at the company’s Jasper plywood facility. There, the company has a system of robots that cut out the wooden parts that become the desks and other pieces of furniture. It’s a fully automated system that can select the proper pieces of wood, maximize the number of parts produced from a single slab of wood and cut them out to perfect dimensions.

Overnight, the robot prepares itself for the next workday.

“I think that’s cool,” David said.

Before coming to Indiana Furniture, David didn’t know the robotics systems were so autonomous.

Robotics may be David’s favorite part of the academy so far, but he still has much more to experience. This week at Indiana Furniture, he got to see how the company uses ultraviolet light to cure the pieces and watch as pieces went through the finishing process. Director of Process Engineering and Finish Dean Bromm even gave David the chance to calibrate the section of the finishing line that runs the UV curing machines.

Jasper High School senior David Uebelhor stands in the enclosure around the spray machine with Dean Bromm, director of process engineering and finish, during his internship at Indiana Furniture in Jasper on Thursday.

From there, David and Bromm moved on to a sandpaper test, sending a board through the plant’s industrial sander several times to figure out which sandpaper — the brand the plant currently uses or a new one — would produce a higher quality finish.

“They’re trying to show me how everything works,” David explained.

Over the course of the semester, David will learn about the company’s industrial maintenance processes, lean manufacturing and product engineering. He’ll also spend some time in the corporate office learning about company leadership and human resources.

Human Resources Director Ashley Fair said the company often invites local students for internships and job-shadowing experiences. They’ve found that exposing students to the opportunities available in Dubois County is the most effective way to combat the area’s brain drain — the situation that sees high school graduates leaving rural areas and not returning.

“We just consider these kids to be our future,” Fair said. “We’ve got to have that talent coming back to keep it going.”

Back in class at VUJC, David is learning the skills needed to perform the jobs he’s seeing in job shadowing. This week, the class was learning about circuits and how to diagnose electrical issues. First, David had to build a circuit on a protoboard — a tool engineers use to build and test prototypes — then measure voltage, current and other charges with a multimeter.

Before learning about electrical systems, the students studied precision measuring — a process that measures materials down to 1,000th of an inch, smaller than the human eye can see. Next, they’ll learn about 3-D printing and laser technology.

“They really pick it up quickly,” Professor David Tester said of his students.

By the end of the year, David Uebelhor will have studied a wide range of topics all pertinent to local industry and will have gained about a semester worth of college credit (two years of the Automation and Robotics Academy equates to about one year of college credit). Those credits will transfer with him when he starts college in the fall. Right now, he said, he’s planning to attend VUJC to pursue an associate’s degree in an area of study applicable to Dubois County’s industry. He’s pretty sure he’ll stay in the area after graduation.

If he sticks with his current plan, he’ll be the perfect example of the goal of the Automation and Robotics Academy — training local high school students with the skills they need for a successful career in local industry, and enticing them to stay in the area through on-the-job experiences.

More on