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Solar panel company donates robots to Sault College

Heliene gift will help train new mechatronics students

The robotics and mechanical department at Sault College will be receiving a massive upgrade to their hands-on programming.

Heliene Inc., the Allens Sideroad company responsible for producing thousands of solar panels every week, announced on Oct. 18 they would be donating $150,000 worth of repurposed robotics equipment to the school.

The donated equipment includes three smaller and two larger-sized robots that were formerly involved in the manufacturing process at Heliene. These devices were responsible for producing around 1,100 solar panels every day.

Students in robotics, automated manufacturing, and the Bachelor of Engineering and Mechatronics program will learn how to use these machines, which is great news for the school as well as Sault Ste. Marie, according to Sault College president David Orazietti.

“It’s a win-win for both our students and for our community,” he said. “It equips our students with the skills they need to thrive in the ever-evolving job market. With this robotics equipment, our students will have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and enhance their learning skills”

Speaking to a number of students and Heliene employees this morning, Sault College’s Robotics and Mechanical coordinator Donovan Kennedy said the donation will help prepare graduates for the realities of the industry.

“With these robots, it will let us teach students on a new model of robot and give us the opportunity to make sure that they’re prepared for the industry,” he said. “These are robots that are used all over the place, so it’s an excellent opportunity.”

Leading the company’s operations in Sault Ste. Marie since 2010, Heliene CEO Martin Pochtaruk says a new manufacturing line will replace the old one next year. The new line will be installed in the later months of spring in 2024 and promises to produce 2,500 solar panels every day.

Although the trio of small robots and pair of large robots that are being donated are six and 11 years old respectively, Pochtaruk assured the college that they’re still in great condition.

“That age doesn’t mean anything for a robot,” he said. “They’re in the prime of their life, so they can be used here for educational purposes.”

The transition to a new manufacturing line at Heliene means an expansion to the size of their facility, as well as to their staff, according to Pochtaruk.

Their current facility will grow by several thousand square feet to make room for the new developments, and their employee numbers are estimated to triple.

“The existing manufacturing line only took up half the building, but the line we’re bringing would take up the entire building we have today,” he explained. “The expansion will accommodate engineering space and the warehouse.”

“Since 2010, we’ve had an average of 65 employees. The hiring in the spring will bring in roughly 130 new employees,” he added.

One of just two solar panel-producing plants in Canada, Heliene has also operated in Minnesota since 2017 where 5,000 panels are manufactured each day. The company recently made a similar donation of robots to Mesabi Range College in Virgina, MN as their American facility is also transitioning to a newer manufacturing line.

— SooToday