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Mechatronics: The Future of Machining

When passing a semi-truck and trailer on the highway, a reasonable assumption would be that it is hauling building supplies or groceries rather than a high-tech mobile learning lab equipped to offer mechatronic courses to rural communities. Nevertheless, on September 9, a 21,000 pound trailer will arrive at the Western Colorado Community College campus. Soon after, 23,000 pounds of crated electronic equipment will be unveiled and placed inside of it. For Brigitte Sundermann, WCCC’s President of Community College Affairs, it will be a moment to rejoice.

“This has been a dream for quite some time,” said Sundermann.

The idea to build a rotating high-tech classroom came after a number of local business started knocking on Sundermann’s door stating a need for automation training in the area. After learning of the industry demand for mechatronics professionals across western Colorado, she got to work.

In order to reach communities on the Western Slope with a state-of-the-art facility, it would take a team of trailblazers to make it happen. A collaboration began between area industries, Western Colorado Community College and the Sturm Family, who donated nearly half a million dollars to fund the project with ANB Bank.

“Our participation with CMU and WCCC is meant to reinforce creativity in the market place when it comes to higher education. We want to reward ideas that align industry and business needs,” said Donald Sturm, ANB Bank owner and chairman. "Through the mobile learning lab, WCCC will provide a vehicle for introducing mechatronics training to rural communities. This is the kind of innovation required in an economy driven by technology, and we are pleased to be a part of the project.”

Mechatronics is an emerging field and the future of machining. It’s considered a hybrid between electrical, mechanical and computer engineering. The mobile learning lab will teach students how to build it, fix it, run it and gain an understanding of how separate systems work together to make complex devices in the modern world. The climate-controlled classroom will host advanced technology for hands on learning in order to teach skills in automation, hydraulics, pneumatics, electronics, telecommunications, drones and more.

The rotating classroom plans to go as far south as Ouray, through Montrose, Parachute, over to Meeker and up to Maybell, stopping at other rural communities in between. The lab is designed to work with diverse individuals ranging from high school students to adult learners to employees assigned to company trainings.

Around the same time the mobile learning lab is being assembled, students looking to earn a Technical Certificate in Mechatronics (32 total credit hours) or an Associate of Applied Science (62 total credit hours) in the field, can do so on the WCCC campus. It’s the first year the program is open, both on campus and off.

The mobile learning lab is scheduled to be completed in early October, and a roadshow will take place. The lab will go on a two to three day tour, visiting the very communities it will serve.

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Written by Kelsey Coleman