Robots, conveyor belt systems and a virtual reality suite may not sound like things you’d find in a college, but Canterbury College students now have access to all of these.
Following funding from the government’s Strategic Development Fund, the College now boasts a new learning zone designed to futureproof learners and train businesses how to use emerging technologies.
The Green Engineering Centre and Mechatronic Lab welcomed its first students on Tuesday 21 March, with learners quickly taking the reins by controlling giant Kuka robotic arms and programming the small conveyor belt system.
Launched in association with sustainable manufacturing consultants HSSMI, the exciting new facility is not only being used by students across a number of internal departments. Businesses are being invited to ‘try before they buy’, with opportunities to see how such systems can boost their production ahead of automating their company.
Jonathan Smith, EKC Group’s Director of Stakeholder Engagement and project lead, said: “This facility is an excellent opportunity for students to train with these emerging technologies which will become more prevalent in workplaces across all sectors.
“The vision for this lab was to show the exciting equipment that exists, engaging not just with our own students but also with schools, careers guidance services, and universities to inspire as many young people as possible to pursue jobs in engineering.
“This lab is really well placed in the heart of the College, so it acts like a showroom for students and staff from other pathways such as art or sports to get excited about the equipment here and become interested in futureproof technologies.
“We are also going to work with businesses, allowing them to test equipment and see whether an investment in robotics and automation is right for them. So it’s an exciting chance for us to create employer engagement and boost the local economy.”
Kent County Councillor Mel Dawkins, who attended the lab’s launch, said: “I’m so impressed and pleased for our young people who have got this incredible learning opportunity here. The equipment here is the future and it’s going to provide so many possibilities to them in later life.
"This facility offers realistic career options, possibly into jobs that don't even exist yet. This is what all about - giving learners the skills that will get them employed. The equipment and training opened up by this lab will certainly achieve that."
Among the students demonstrating the equipment was Adam Wood, who is studying his Level 5 qualification in Computing at Broadstairs College. Operating the two-metre robotic arm, he said: “I thought it looked really cool and I was then asked whether I wanted to operate it so of course I said yes.
“It only took me about half an hour to get to grips with the different modes and controls, it’s an incredibly intuitive machine to learn and use. The equipment on offer here is a fantastic addition to the teaching I’ve experienced at both Broadstairs and Canterbury College.”