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Published: Monday, 1/29/2007

Ohio Northern gets a hand up from robot firm

Jonathan Rankin, a sophomore from Marysville, Ohio, manipulates one of seven new state-of-the-art robots. Jonathan Rankin, a sophomore from Marysville, Ohio, manipulates one of seven new state-of-the-art robots.

ADA, Ohio - When Adam Stienecker arrived at Ohio Northern University two years ago, the newest robots in the technology lab had been built in the early 1980s.

Now, thanks to a partnership with one of the world's leading producers of industrial robots, ONU has seven new state-of-the-art robots.

Mr. Stienecker, an assistant professor of technological studies, hopes the partnership with KUKA Robotics Corp. will lead to more internships and co-ops for ONU technology students at area plants that use KUKA robots as well as job opportunities for his graduates.

"Any technology program will strive to do something with automation robotics instruction," Mr. Stienecker said. "We kind of feel we've really gone above and beyond what most have right now."

ONU's Robotics Center for Excellence, which was unveiled Friday, was a magnet for former engineering majors Jonathan Rankin of Marysville, Ohio, and Ryan Wass of Medina, Ohio.

"I came over from mechanical engineering," said Mr. Wass, a junior. "I'm more hands-on."

Mr. Rankin said he hopes to work in industrial or medical robotics. "I'm more interested in programming, applications, and designing-end affectors," he said.

End affectors are the robot's hands, so to speak: the equipment and tools attached to a robot's arm that enable it to do the task it's programmed to do.

At the dedication of the robotics center, Leroy Rodgers, president of KUKA's U.S. and Canadian operations, said by training more graduates in robotics, Ohio Northern will be part of the effort to keep manufacturing in the United States.

"We can no longer expect to manufacture products using the same machinery we purchased 50 years ago," he said. "We need to be more efficient, more accurate, more environ-mentally aware of what we're doing."

KUKA robots are in area plants as varied as Whirlpool Corp. and Maumee Valley Bottlers, Campbell Foods and KUKA's own plant on Stickney Avenue in Toledo, which makes bodies for the Jeep Wrangler. About 245 robots work alongside about 190 employees at the KUKA Toledo plant, said Jake Ladouceur, plant manager.

Mr. Rodgers challenged technology students to think outside the box. "The most important thing you have in the technological field is to be open - to truly be open," he said.

The partnership between ONU and KUKA came about last summer. Mr. Stienecker was working on a plan to upgrade the automation lab. Bob Roberts, a 1970 ONU graduate who works for KUKA, contacted Ohio Northern to offer some of the firm's robots.

Details of the agreement are not being made public, but Mr. Stienecker said KUKA gave ONU "a very significant discount on this equipment. We've got seven of their robots. We have a curriculum, warranties, training for individuals to become fully KUKA-certified. The whole package is worth somewhere around $400,000."

Ohio Northern is the only private college in the nation certified by the National Association of Industrial Technology. It has been offering courses in robotics since 1990.

David Rouch, chairman of the department of technological studies, said students have been successful at various robotics competitions over the years.

"We've won at least one national championship every year since 1993," he said. "If we were able to say that in football, that would be something."

Contact Jennifer Feehan

at jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.

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