Jim Szautner Q&A: Ready for the robot uprising

Jim Szautner has overseen SAIT’s School of Manufacturing and Automation as Dean for 10 years. We sat down to talk about providing cutting-edge education in an ever-changing field, industry trends, and new technologies enriching the learning experience at SAIT.

Jim Szautner

Jim Szautner has overseen SAIT’s School of Manufacturing and Automation as Dean for 10 years. (Photo by Jp Pitogo)

What is your role as Dean?

JS: I’m responsible for the entire operations of the school – making sure that we are offering great programming for our students and making sure that we have the right people to offer that programming.

How has the School of Manufacturing and Automation changed during your tenure?

JS: From a technological standpoint, there was a time when the automation program was once of our least subscribed to programs, but with the increase in automation technology, we are seeing that program become one of our most sought-after programs.

From an academic programming standing, we’ve increased the amount of flexibility in access to programs. We now have a January intake for some programs and have classes in the evening and weekends – it’s not just about appealing to that full-time daytime learner. It’s also important to look at learners who come in mid-year or after hours.

What is the future of the school in response to increased automation?

JS: We look at it from multiple fronts.

If you look at economic drivers, it was traditionally oil and gas, particularly in Alberta. So of course, our manufacturing sector has aligned to ensuring we could service that sector.

Now, with a diversifying economy, we are looking at opportunities in some of the non-traditional areas for manufacturing. Places like construction, where we are seeing a lot of more pre-fabricated buildings being built. It’s a lot more precise to do it in a manufacturing environment than on site.

Within oil-and-gas, we are moving from an economy of extraction of the resource to refining of the resource. We’re looking to taking automation into those areas, so they can optimize workflows and meet their production targets.

Are there any additions to the school, in terms of new technologies?

JS: Just this year, we purchased four new robots that we will be using in our automation lab. These robots will be replacing robots that we’ve had for 14 years. We will be able to network the new robots, and use the latest and greatest technology on them.

We’ve also brought in new modular production stations. These are small little stations that are linked together to make a full manufacturing facility. These ones that are 4.0 enabled allow us to collect data, but they also connect to older (3.0) stations, so it will be a bit of a hybrid between industry 3.0 automation and industry 4.0 automation. [Editor’s note: 4.0 automation includes machines capable of exchanging information, controlling each other, and interacting independently.]

On the welding front, one of our welder instructors, Adam Medrek, was the Cadmus Teaching Chair for 2014/15. He wanted to research how simulation in welding can enhance the learner’s experience, but found that the simulation technology wasn’t there for students to developing as a welder. He asked students what some barriers to their learning are, and they said it hard to see what their instructors were demonstrating. So he adjusted his research to find camera technology to capture the welding “puddle” and not get distracted by the ultraviolet light it gives off. Now we’ve set up welding cameras with large-screen TVs in our labs, so students can watch it live, or we can record it and play it back.

The School of Manufacturing and Automation has a school showcase on April 11, 2019, which demonstrates this year’s student cap stones projects.

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