Nebraska is on track to become a leader in robotic technologies and advanced manufacturing automation within the agriculture industry, thanks to a grant awarded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration through its Build Back Better Regional Challenge program.
The Heartland Robotics Cluster, a partnership that includes NECC, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Engineering, the Nebraska Innovation Studio, and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership; Metro Community College, and Invest Nebraska – The Combine Incubator, was recently announced as one of 21 winners of a portion of the $1 billion challenge.
The Cluster has been awarded $25 million in total, $4.6 of which will go to Northeast Community College in Norfolk for the development of a fabrication lab in downtown Norfolk and to create a two-year robotics/automation curriculum and technology outreach program. It is the largest federal grant Northeast has ever received.
The fabrication lab will be geared to the workforce needs of local and area manufacturers, many of which generate products and serve clients that support the agriculture industry. The fab lab will also create an environment where ideas are shared and become reality through applied technologies, economic and community development, business and industry training, and personal development.
Once the space in downtown Norfolk is renovated, it will feature high-tech equipment and collaborative workspace to allow manufacturers to explore ideas, streamline production processes and create prototypes. The lab will be open to the public, offer a variety of membership and use options, and include space for student robotics use.
Northeast Dean of Applied Technology Shanelle Grudzinski said the College is “beyond excited” to partner with Invest Nebraska and others who share a vision of looking at rural vitality and community growth through a different lens.
“As an innovative approach to engaging cross disciplinary boundaries and programs, along with the community, the Northeast Community College Fabrication Lab is being built in the heart of downtown Norfolk to assist in stimulating the entrepreneurial ecosystem and expanding educational opportunities for a wide variety of groups ranging from K-12 students to two-year and four-year college students, to incumbent workers, to the community at large,” Grudzinski said. “It is an opportunity to combine resources, knowledge, and local talent while offering affordable and accessible manufacturing and creative equipment for individuals to ideate, prototype, problem-solve, and produce with as we work collaboratively to address workforce challenges and economic development opportunities.”
The development of a robotics/automation curriculum at Northeast will not be a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, it will be designed to meet workforce development needs as well as the needs of individuals who are interested in exploring and pursuing careers in the field. The workforce development focus area will consist of certification courses in a variety of career areas. The student robotic curriculum will offer courses that are research-backed and include real-world contextual applications to help individuals understand why they’re learning the concepts; instruction on how to program behaviors; challenges to apply their knowledge; and use of knowledge assessments.
This story includes information from Northeast Community College and the Nebraska Chamber.