WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The Pennsylvania College of Technology “crafted” a rewarding educational adventure for students this summer with a 16-day field trip to Germany and a renowned institution for vocational training.
Led by Richard K. Hendricks Jr. and Howard W. Troup, automated manufacturing and machining instructors, the seven students experienced a mix of classroom, lab, and hands-on work with German machining methods. The three-credit course, Precision Machining in Germany, included robotics, CNC and PLC programming, training for quality control specialists, and visits to leading companies reflecting Industry 4.0, manufacturing’s growing reliance on intelligent automation and data exchange.
Company tours included Haimer Inc., high-precision metal-cutting products; Kuka Robotics, industrial robots and systems; Voith Hydro, hydroelectric turbine systems; and Porsche, high-performance sports cars.
“Students got to see insider examples of what makes Germany a world leader in advanced manufacturing and automation,” Hendricks said of the trip, coordinated with Eckert Schools International. “We were the first American school to partner with Eckert and secure them as a host.”
Eckert, based in Regenstauf, is known worldwide for providing professional training and expertise regarding the highest “Made in Germany” quality standards. It plays a key role in the National Dual Enrollment Program, which encourages secondary school students to combine university studies with on-the-job training and vocational training.
“One of the goals was for our students to see the effectiveness of the German education system and compare it to our vocational and technical education model,” Hendricks said.
The comparison made a strong impression on at least one student.
“The biggest difference between the programs in the United States and Germany is the depth of employer involvement,” said Dakota C. Harrison, of Lewisberry, who aspires to own a manufacturing business. “For my institution, I would develop an apprenticeship program like the German model so that students learn in a real manufacturing environment alongside their schooling, blurring the lines between education and employment. If this model were more widely used in the United States, I think it would allow companies to be more successful in developing a workforce.
A study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute estimates that there will be 2.1 million unfilled manufacturing jobs in the United States by 2030. In 2019, the National Science Foundation supported Penn College’s efforts to reduce the skills gap with a grant of $591,924. A supplement to this scholarship funded the trip to Germany.
The Penn College contingent included two recent graduates: Harrison and Caleb J. Harvey, of Pittsgrove, New Jersey. Both students earned a bachelor’s degree in manufacturing engineering technology and an associate’s degree in automated manufacturing technology. Harvey earned an additional associate’s degree in machine tool technology.
They were joined by current Manufacturing Engineering Technology students Trevor L. Keaton, of Lansdale; Jacob T. Martin, of Williamsport; Shelby N. Miller, of Schuylkill Haven; Jay Patel, of Canton, Mich.; and Baldomero A. Silva, of Kennesaw, Georgia. Keaton, Martin, Patel and Silva are also seeking associate degrees in automated manufacturing technology and machine tool technology, while Miller aims to add an associate degree in metal fabrication technology.
Inspired by their experience, Martin and Harrison designed a special project for the crew and their German hosts – an aluminum commemorative plaque with the Penn College Wildcat and Eckert logo, gear teeth, separated by an inscription noting the year , the names of the schools and the statement: “Knowledge is power”.
“Jacob talked about how cool it would be to go with something, and what started as a simple idea quickly evolved. We wanted a tangible representation of the skills within our group and Eckert faculty. The plaque would represent the pride of both schools in hands-on manufacturing,” Harrison explained.
The duo focused primarily on the logos while Peter Zollner, director of Eckert’s metal crafts department, collaborated with the other students on the remaining facets of the design.
“It was actually harder than expected,” admitted Harrison.
The file containing the Wildcat mark was not compatible with ShopMill, the CNC milling machine programming system needed to engrave the plate. To use the logo, Harrison and Miller had to redesign it in AutoCAD. The challenging aspect? All computer-aided design and drafting software commands were in German.
“We left it at that, which ultimately made the project a lot more memorable. We literally broke the language barrier to bring our logo to life,” Harrison said. “The design was simple but well made. I even learned a new style of engraving tool, which did a great job with the fine lines we drew.
“Taking the initiative to produce a commemorative plaque in the midst of a comprehensive and unique global experience is another example of what sets Penn College students apart and why our manufacturing graduates are in such demand,” said Bradley M. Webb. , Dean of Engineering Techniques. “It was the perfect capstone to a valuable educational and cultural experience that we hope will be offered again.”
If so, prospective students won’t be disappointed, judging by Harrison’s reaction.
“It was quite an amazing experience. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my time at Penn College,” he said.
For more information about Penn College’s manufacturing majors and other programs offered by the School of Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520 or visit www.pct.edu/et.