How ABB robots are helping to educate the next generation of young Italian engineers

  • Practical courses in robotics programming have been introduced to the curriculum at many schools and higher education institutes in Italy
  • The courses, developed in partnership with ABB, provide students with the skills they need to enter the modern industrial workplace and gain high quality employment
  • Two ABB robots, a YuMi® and IRB 120, have been installed at ITT G.Marconi of Rovereto secondary school to give hands-on training for students at schools in the surrounding area

Schools and higher education institutes in Italy have introduced new courses to their curriculum to help train young engineers in the key principles and operation of robotics and cobots. Developed in collaboration with ABB, the courses have been developed in response to a call from the Italian government for more STEM teaching, and to help prepare students from 16 to 18 years old for the world of modern industry.

The north-east of Italy has strong industrial connections, with many small and international companies operating nearby. As such, the area is an excellent catchment area for new employees entering industry, with many students going on to work in the region, helping the local economy. The schools are allowed by the MIUR (Minister of Education in Italy) to develop and tailor specific courses to suit the needs both of students and of local industry. More than 100 secondary schools in Italy are supported by ABB to conduct courses in robotics, with the aim of equipping young people with the skills they will need to operate effectively within an increasingly digitalized, automated industrial workplace.

One example is the ITT G. Marconi of Rovereto secondary school, where ABB has supplied one dual-arm YuMi and one IRB 120 to help teach students the fundamentals of robotic automation. The robots, which can also be accessed by other local schools, allow students to get hands on with the hardware, and learn how to program them using ABB’s RobotStudio software and RAPID programming. By using the robots and the software, students can learn programming languages, communication protocols, and the possibilities of integrating robots within wider cells.

The compact design of both robots, coupled with YuMi’s ability to work safely alongside people without the need for additional safety measures such as fencing, make them ideal for use in teaching environments. The robot is also supplied with ABB’s RobotStudio offline programming software, enabling students to get hands on training which can be beneficial for them once they step into industries where the software is widely used for creating, testing and finalizing ABB robot installations.

According to Eugenio Berti, a teacher at ITT Marconi, the YuMi in particular, provides compelling opportunities for developing practical skills with the latest generation of industrial robots and cobots: “We toured a local leading manufacturer of eyewear that was using a large number of YuMis and saw that it had huge potential as an educational tool. Students are fascinated by YuMi and feel compelled to challenge themselves to find out what it can do. Part of the challenge is in synchronizing the device’s two arms, but the programming skills developed in these courses are directly applicable to industrial environments, making our students well prepared to enter the world of work.”

For a final exam project at ITT Marconi last year, students had to integrate a complex project, ultimately using the robot to construct a small torch from assorted components. Students had to combine several aspects of robotics engineering, from web design and communication through to communication and programming the robot’s movement. All students passed the exam and are now undertaking university courses in the field of electronic engineering.

Eugenio adds that sometimes the students surprise him with their innate knowledge: “In the last few years we’ve seen an increase in the number of students taking the course, and the new generation coming through are digital native users. When you give them a tool like the FlexPendant HMI, they already have a rough idea of how to use it. ABB has been enormously supportive throughout the development of these courses, and along with their technical support have made significant contributions to the educational content of the course, even coming to the school to offer courses and train teachers. They also created an online platform with lots of helpful materials like video lessons and exercises, as well as the textbooks. I can think of no other brand which would have committed to the project in this way.”

Textbooks and qualifications

To help further support schools, ABB has also created two textbooks which can be used to instruct and teach students, one aimed at beginners and the other at advanced users. Based on the courses typically offered to industrial companies through ABB’s robot training program, the textbooks provide information and exercises that can be used by students to develop their skills in robot programming and operation.

“The idea of ​​writing the textbooks was born from the collaboration with Loris Latassa, a teacher at Majorana Institute in Seriate,” explains Maurizio Lepori, School Education Coordinator for ABB Robotics, who wrote the books in collaboration with the schools. “Clarifying robotics concepts with practical exercises, thanks to the use of RobotStudio, was the winning key to thrill students without frightening them with too difficult and theoretical topics.”

To enable students to demonstrate their competence, ABB also helps to manage exam days and issues certificates of competence upon completion of courses, after which students can decide whether to continue with their studies at higher technical institutes (ITS) or universities or pursue internships and employment.

Marta Castagna, School Director at the Zaccagna Galilei Institute in Carrara, has seen the benefits of giving students a certified robotics qualification: “This experience is fundamental for the connection between the world of school and the world of work, and we have also developed evening classes for adults to re-skill for the modern economy. Our agreement with ABB means that students receive a certificate of competence on robot programming, which they can take to any employer to prove they have the skills to make an effective contribution in the workplace. Many of our students have found high quality employment as a result.”

Preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s world

With robotic automation set to play a major role in the factories of the future, ABB is working in various projects to help students in schools, colleges, and universities worldwide to understand the benefits that robot can offer in everything from engineering and manufacturing through to architecture and product design. By equipping young people with the skills and experience needed to program and operate robots, ABB aims to create the employment opportunities of the future whilst minimizing environmental impact through greater levels of efficiency and productivity. For more information, visit www.abb.com/robotics.

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