ebm-papst Fans, Blowers and Technology

Robotics, learning and leadership at ebm-papst Inc.: part 2

Posted on Thu, May 02, 2013

ebm-papst engineers tell it from ‘the pits’: part 2

Part 1

Hogan Eng and Bill Aston talk about the two FIRST Robotics Competition teams that ebm-papst supports in Farmington and Woodbury, CT. 

Q: This year's FIRST Robotics Competition, Ultimate Ascent, game requires robots to fling plastic disks (Frisbees) and climb a metal pyramid. How did your teams approach this challenge as students conceived, designed and built your robots? 

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Team Beta teacher-mentor Mike Murphy in the wrench costume - Richard Murkland Digital Photos

Hogan Eng: To help Team Beta understand the pros and cons of alternative strategies, we begin by simulating several rounds of the game. Students acted out behaviors of robots that would have certain characteristics, such as a long shooting robot, a climb-only robot or a defense-only robot. After discussions on what strategies could work, we brainstormed what kinds of mechanisms could be built for each strategy. We then voted on what approach was best given the six week time frame allowed to build the robot and the resources available. Our team worked in sub-groups responsible for developing the robot’s drive train, shooter, climber, programming elements and pit design. Each sub-group was composed of two mentors and a mix of veteran and new students. This provided the best support for new students while training our veteran students to be future mentors. 

Bill Aston: ebm-papst employee Matt Crossman, an alumnus of Farmington’s 2nd Law Enforcers, determined the team’s strategy for this year’s game. The team focused the robot on being able to effectively score points by throwing the discs. The robot’s design also had to allow it to climb the pyramid.  

Q: What, and how, did ebm-papst contribute to each team's robots in terms of design, engineering and production support?

Hogan Eng: While at the team meetings, I volunteered my experiences with program management and engineering design reviews. I also mentored the team’s shooter sub-group. When each group had robot parts that needed more sophisticated fabrication, I would bring the sketches to John DeMarco who would draw the part in CAD and tweak the design for better strength, manufacturability and aesthetics. The CAD information was then sent to   Bruce Thibodeau for programming the parts.  Tom Shimeld cut parts on the company’s laser machine. ebm-papst employee Mike Warner bent the parts. Employees on our production floor helped insert and paint components. 

In the meantime, another employee from ebm-papst Inc., T.J. Berti has come to our weekend meetings to train our students in TIG welding, making them quite accomplished welders! 

Q: The 2nd Law Enforcers have been around since 1997, and Team Beta's been around since 2009. How have each team's students evolved over these periods? How have they grown support from their schools and in their communities? 

Hogan Eng: Team Beta started out as a group of 12 sophomores at Nonnewaug High School. As the team's success grew in the school and in the surrounding community, we have grown to about 30 students and a dozen mentors. We’re now attracting students from other areas to Nonnewaug High who are joining our robotics team. During the team’s fund raising events, we displayed the robots and the students invite the community to ask questions. The team created the Connecticut Tech Fest, where we invite companies, other robot teams, universities, clubs and branches of our armed forces do display any really interesting mechanisms, inventions and products to the community. To promote careers in science and technology, the team actively engages other students.

Group of 2nd Law Enforcers sitting on the floor - Richard Murkland Digital Photos

Bill Aston: When I started as a mentor ten years ago, Farmington High School only recognized The 2nd Law Enforcers as a club. Now they are a team, with the same benefits as the school’s sports teams. Every year the older members of the team pass down what type of CAD files and geometry that we need to effectively produce parts off of our equipment. ebm-papst internal mentors Matt Crossman, Dale Watson, and TJ Swistro help with trouble shooting and working parts through production. ebm-papst continues to provide materials, our shop equipment time and the resources of our people.

Q: Why do you continue to dedicate your expertise and support to these teams?

Hogan Eng: I really believe in the ideals of FIRST, which encourages students to go into technical fields where they can have the opportunity to improve their lives, our communities, the country and the world. FIRST Robotics believes that our young people have a much better chance of becoming an engineer and making something useful as opposed to becoming a pro athlete. I have loved science even as a child and have become successful as an engineer, so this is my way of giving back to the community, sharing and teaching what I know to students who may have the same kinds of interests.

Bill Aston: My focus has shifted slightly; most mentor expertise comes from Matt Crossman, who is an alumnus of Team 178 and now manages most of the team’s activities for me.

Q: What would you say is one major way the students' robots have evolved since you became involved with the FIRST Robotics Competition?

Hogan Eng: I originally helped start a different robotics team in Woodbury back in 1997. That program focused on a mechanical design challenge with some basic program writing to customize how the robot is controlled. Being an electrical engineer, I commented that there wasn't enough of an electrical component for the kids who may have more advanced interests in electronics. Well, 16 years later, I am amazed at the level of sophistication of the robots and the skills of the students in C++ programming of gyros, accelerometers, visual image recognition, target tracking and more! As the technical world gets more complicated, these students have risen to the challenge. FIRST Robotics has provided an accelerated path to lead them there.

Q: Tell us about one moment or experience associated with CT FIRST that is either your favorite and/or one you know you will never forget.

Hogan Eng: It was 2009, our team’s rookie year. We had built a beautiful robot and headed to our first competition in Hartford. We won the Rookie All Stars award for our presence as a unified team, our robot design, and how well the students presented to the judges. Other teams thought we were a veteran team! We were thrilled. We realized this is not all about building a robot. It’s really about what the team had achieved over the six weeks in technical, organizational, interpersonal, and social and communication skills. We had formed a tightly knit group that was more like a family.

Bill Aston: One of my first years I showed a sophomore female student how to use an ordinary drill. She ended up being a leader in the engineering/build department of the team by the time she was a senior. 

For additional information about CT FIRST programs, visit ctfirst.org. For additional information about FIRST, visit usfirst.org.

Tags: ebm-papst, engineering, FIRST Robotics

Robotics, learning and leadership at ebm-papst Inc. part 1

Posted on Fri, Apr 26, 2013

ebm-papst engineers tell it from ‘the pits’: Part 1

ebm-papst believes that experience-based learning is the best way to get our kids excited about science and technology…and have a blast along the way. Every year, our company and its employees devote time, resources and expertise to turning this belief into reality.
Along with like-minded organizations including United Technologies, General Dynamics-Electric Boat, Northeast Utilities and our state’s leading universities, we support high-school level FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) teams as they conceive, design, build, program and test robots that compete regionally and nationally.
FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.” This year’s FIRST Robotics Competition Connecticut Regional, sponsored by UTC, was held March 29 and 30 at the Connecticut Convention Center.  

To get ready for the competition, ebm-papst manager Hogan Eng devoted nights and weekends to helping Woodbury’s FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Team 2836, Team Beta at Nonnewaug High School.


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Photo of Team Beta with Hogan Eng getting ready for battle - David Everett Photography

Meanwhile, manager Bill Aston mentored Farmington High School’s FRC Team 178, the 2nd Law Enforcers.

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2nd Law Enforcers team members wheeling their 'bot onto the field - Richard Murkland Digital Photos

Hogan and Bill’s involvement with the two FRC Teams is backed by employees Matt Crossman, Dale Watson, TJ Swistro, John DMarco, Bruce Thibodeau, Tom Shimeld and Mike Warner who each contribute their engineering and manufacturing expertise to the two teams’ robots.
Together, ebm-papst’s engineering and manufacturing experts help students on the two teams master science and technology concepts while gaining valuable career and life skills that are carrying them to higher education and STEM-based careers.
 So how did the two teams fare at the CT Regional?

  • FRC Team 2836, Team Beta, received the Excellence in Engineering Award sponsored by Delphi

  • Rebecca DiSarro, a member of Team Beta, was named Connecticut’s finalist for the FIRST Dean’s List.

  • FRC Team 178, the 2nd Law Enforcers, received the CT Regional Competition’s Engineering Inspiration Award.

  • Tim Barron, lead mentor for Team 178, received the Woodie Flowers Finalist Award for Connecticut.

Stay tuned for our next blog, where we catch up with Hogan, Bill and the ebm-papst team as they talk in depth about this year’s competition, the game, Team Beta and the 2nd Law Enforcers.

Tags: ebm-papst, engineering, FIRST Robotics

ebm-papst at the FIRST® Championship: Three days of Gracious Professionalism®

Posted on Tue, Jun 05, 2012
By Bob Sobolewski, President and CEO at ebm-papst Inc.

FIRST® Championship

CTFirst resized 600What keeps ebm papst’s team – our engineering, production and marketing people – fresh and energized? Observing the creativity and fun that 30,000 motivated young people can generate over three days during a riveting robotics event that’s called “The Olympics of the Mind.”

Continuing our support of FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) and FIRST teams in Connecticut, from April 26-28 we travelled to the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, where students, fans, families, educators and company leaders from all over the world gathered for the annual FIRST ® Championship.

More than 600 teams from 32 countries demonstrated Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition® (that means competing AND working with your opponent) in the three levels of FIRST: FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL); FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC) and FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC) while 40 teams of 6 to 9-year-olds showcased their smarts during the Junior FIRST® LEGO® League World Festival Expo.

In addition to serving on FIRST®’s regional planning committee and chairing Connecticut FIRST®’s executive advisory board, I’ve been honored to serve as an FRC judge at both regional and national competitions for almost 15 years. Every year, the teams get better and the judging gets tougher!

ebm-papst’s booth at the championship helped students and mentors learn not only about the small ebm-papst tubeaxial fans that cool their teams’ robots, but also how our larger radial and axial fans are employed across dozens of industries and hundreds of applications.

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Bill Aston, Team 178 mentor and ebm-papst Inc. Operations Manager with the Enforcers at the CT Regional's.

Tags: ebm-papst, Bob Sobolewski, CT, FIRST Robotics

ebm-papst: Robot teams and Connecticut’s future workforce

Posted on Tue, Mar 27, 2012

By Bob Sobolewski, President and CEO at ebm-papst USA

Two weeks ago, after CBIA’s Business Day at the Capitol, Don Beckwith posted here about the challenges that Connecticut manufacturers have in attracting new employees. While cost of living and wages have a big impact on our efforts to remain competitive, there’s another piece of the puzzle that’s equally important: helping new generations become adept, capable and confident employees of the future.

Our state’s business community has a responsibility to enhance our children’s education in ways that build their critical thinking and technical skills. We can help them aspire to be team members and leaders, regardless of the professions they choose, by showing them what we do every day and helping them visualize themselves within our companies.

In 1989, ebm-papst Inc. began its journey to support a fledgling organization called FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). Founded by inventor Dean Kaman, FIRST is now an international program that inspires nearly 300,000 young people from kindergarten to 12th grade to get involved with science, engineering, math and technology and helps them develop self-confidence, teamwork and leadership skills. ebm-papst began to supply our air-moving products to FIRST competitions, as well as engineering expertise and manufacturing support to teams. That support continues to this day.

Being involved in FIRST is a labor of love…and belief. Just ask Electrical Engineering Manager Hogan Eng, who devotes nights and weekends to helping Woodbury’s FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Team #2836, Team Beta. Or Operations Manager Bill Aston, who has mentored Farminton’s FRC Team #178, the 2nd Law Enforcers, for nine years. Or everyone in the company who has gone the extra mile to help manufacture parts for these teams’ robots and support their transportation, logistics and community outreach efforts.

Are our efforts working?

Brandeis University recently surveyed young people in FIRST Robotics Competitions around the country and compared them to a group of non-FIRST students with similar backgrounds and academic experiences, including math and science. The survey revealed that FIRST students are:

  • More than three times as likely to major specifically in engineering.
  • Roughly 10 times as likely to have had an apprenticeship, internship, or co-op job in their freshman year.
  • Significantly more likely to expect to achieve a post-graduate degree.
  • More than twice as likely to expect to pursue a career in science and technology.
  • Nearly four times as likely to expect to pursue a career specifically in engineering.
  • More than twice as likely to volunteer in their communities.

Connecticut FIRST’s big event – the FIRST Robotics Competition Northeast Utilities Connecticut Regionals – will take place Friday, March 30 and Saturday, March 31 at the Connecticut Convention Center. This year’s regionals will bring more than 2400 high school students on 64 elite robot teams from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Texas who both compete and cooperate in this year’s game, Rebound Rumble. The event is free and open to the public.

If you’ve already been to Connecticut’s FIRST Regional robotics competition, you know how exciting and inspiring they are. If you haven’t, I invite you to bring your children, your neighbors’ children and their teachers. We’re going to have a blast!

Tags: ebm-papst, Bob Sobolewski, CT, CT Business Day, FIRST Robotics, CBIA