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Innovator gets students on-board (05/05)

By ADELLE LARMOUR Call them boards of education.

Call them boards of education.

Norm Morin, a millwright professor at Cambrian College and 1994 winner of a Manning Award for Innovation, has created a multi-purpose piece of
equipment to train his students to apply critical thinking for troubleshooting interrelated problems on hydraulic, pneumatic and electronic systems.

He says these new and innovative integrated automated technology boards will add a new dimension to hydraulic and pneumatic training at the College.

Anthony Borecki, one of the professors and co-ordinators of the millwright program, says it was Morin's brainchild.

"It was his idea to put these together to give our students better training," he says. "You can't buy them anywhere."

The outside of the four-by-eight-foot boards, which line one side of a wall in the trades shop, displays hydraulic, pneumatic and electronic components. Inside the six stainless-steel cabinets are the inner workings of each board based upon a programmable logic controller (PLC), a type of computer used in industry.

Morin designed the boards so the PLC's are not only tied into the input/output side of the boards, but they're tied into a whole fault generation circuit and a grading (automated assessment) software package. This package is what makes these boards unique. It enables students to get feedback on their troubleshooting skills instantly, which greatly reduces ineffective time spent in the lab.

Morin has been teaching at the College for six years. Having taught on traditional hydraulic boards, he recognizes the changes to the teaching and learning processes with the new integrated boards.

"It will be non-stop learning," says Morin. "On the conventional boards, there's a lot of ineffective time where the students are waiting for the instructor to come and tell them whether or not they are assessing correctly. That doesn't happen in our classes anymore."

By removing the ineffective time in the classroom, the teacher is spending time teaching, not accumulating and assessing data.

"My time is spent dealing with the results of the accumulated data," Morin says.

In previous years, they were using only two mechanically-operated boards to teach hydraulics to classes of 16 to 20 students.

"So there'd be eight people standing there watching two people perform exercises," Morin explains. "It'd be like having a computer course with 20
students watching two people work on the computers."

The three courses - pneumatics, hydraulics and electronics - are taught separately in the trades.

According to Morin, hours will not be added to the curriculum. Instead, they will transfer hours from the stand-alone courses toward work time spent on the boards.

With the additional six boards and the integrated systems, all the students will be participating in the learning, as there can be two people per board.

They will also be developing their analytical and diagnostic skills on an integrated system by trouble-shooting approximately three to six problems per class. Each board can generate as many as 74 faults. The boards are interconnected, which means they can also become one big machine. Therefore, up to 444 random interactive faults can be generated at one time.

A large part of the millwright's job is to be able to troubleshoot and find solutions to hydraulic and pneumatic systems quickly. Convincing industry to create more downtime in order for millwrights to get some practical experience is a tough sell, however.

Michel Barbeau, dean of the schools of skills training, believes the students will be getting competencies under Morin they would only gain by five, 10 or even 15 years of experience in the industry.

"Here, they will be able to come and train at the college and be able to see the numerous types of problems that can be generated by these boards," Barbeau says. "As you train, you become more competent in troubleshooting and that in return, will be invaluable when they return to their industry. Now, our students will be getting that before they graduate."

Inco mines training co-ordinator of trades and apprentices, Rick Dufresne, has a definite interest for his people to get training on the boards.

The boards were not exceedingly expensive to produce. The college received money from the Apprenticeship Enhancement Fund, as well as donations from industrial companies. Consequently, the boards cost approximately $38,500, according to Morin.

Similar industrial training boards, without the automated fault generation and assessment, cost more than $100,000, according to Borecki.

There are several skilled trades programs at Cambrian - carpentry, machining, electrical, welding/fitting and heavy equipment - but the millwright program is the largest with the highest demand.

Barbeau describes it as "a very exciting time."

"It's a very proactive type of school," he says. "Our professors are excellent in our school to react to the industry request and Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities standards. They come up with the most fascinating concepts, and they are, by nature, inventors: people that can fix and bring solutions to the table."

Morin, who holds three patents on industrial equipment in 27 countries, said he is not interested in a hardware patent.

"I've been down that route," he said. "It's very expensive and costly to maintain the patents and I'm not interested in manufacturing hardware."

Although Barbeau says the boards will be available for students, apprentices and industry to come and train on, he does not anticipate a move by the college to patent the boards.

"We're into training and education, not production."

Morin plans to have the boards ready by next semester, if not sooner. When they are fully operational, he says Cambrian has the potential to become a major player in industrial training.