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Automation, robotics is a burgeoning field

Here's a little-known fact: Ontario is a hotbed of automated manufacturing -- thanks, in part, to the province's ranking as the second-largest automobile-producing jurisdiction in North America (right after Michigan).

Automation and robotics is a burgeoning field that promises skilled, well-paying jobs to those who prepare themselves for this exciting career path. And Centennial College is situated at the epicentre of the robotics industry.
Pictured in the Centennial Robotics Lab are (from left): student Todd Rodman, lab technician David Lawrence, IEE representatives Mel Chan and Muthu Krishnan, department chair Jose Costa and engineering technology dean Sam Mikhail

Well-deserved reputation

Centennial has built a well-deserved reputation as a major automation and robotics school. For one thing, it was the first fluid-power training centre in Canada, established in the early 1970s.

Fluid power refers to the use of hydraulic oil under pressure to run and control equipment used by various manufacturing processes. Pneumatic power (compressed air) is a common alternative because it's cheaper and speedier -- although it is not as muscular as hydraulics.

As technology advanced, the electro-mechanical systems were eventually replaced by microprocessors and PLCs (programmable logic controllers), transforming these powerful tools into smart, multi-tasking robots.

"Today, we teach our students to use PLCs made by North America's three major suppliers: Allen Bradley, Siemens and Omron," says Donald Wang, co-ordinator of Centennial's Automation and Robotics program.

The U.S.-based Fluid Power Education Foundation recognized Centennial's leading role in training robotics specialists by bestowing its Key School Status upon the college -- the first Canadian institution to receive the honour.

Centennial offers six variations on its program: a two-year technician program and a three-year technologist program with or without a co-op education option. There are also fast-track versions of all three, which means individuals with education credits can earn advanced standing.
  • Students gain hands-on experience in robotics, hydraulics, pneumatics, PLCs and electronics.
  • Centennial supports a strong Automation and Robotics Student Society on campus, which organizes events such as career nights and industry visits.
  • A survey of Centennial's 2003 automation program graduates revealed a reported average starting salary of $37,450.
  • For more information about Automation and Robotics Technology, visit or e-mail:

  • "The fast-track options work especially well for new Canadians who come to us with some evidence of schooling from their home country. We'll recognize some relevant credits," Wang says.

    Rather than provide the traditional three four-month work terms with employers, co-op students are offered a Professional Technology Year (PTY) after the fifth semester, when they spend an entire year working in the industry -- with pay -- before returning to college.

    Co-op placements

    "Employers used to spend the first two months training our students on their equipment, then the students would leave soon after. It was inefficient," Wang says. "By scheduling an uninterrupted year of work, both the companies and the students receive a lot more out of the co-op placements. The employers I speak to are delighted with this arrangement."

    Centennial has three Swedish ABB robots in its teaching labs, with another on the way. ABB is the preferred supplier to General Motors, among many other manufacturers in Ontario.

    Wang says program graduates can get jobs in sales and service, manufacturing or working for "integrators."

    "Integrators or automation houses are contracted to design and build assembly lines on behalf of the manufacturer," Wang explains.

    An indication of Centennial's success is the recent addition of a scholarship sponsored by the Institute of Electrical Engineers (IEE), which provided a $20,000 endowment to fund the annual Tom Greenhough Award to a deserving Centennial Automation and Robotics student.

    "We were impressed with the Automation and Robotics program at Centennial," says Mel Chan, chair of the IEE Toronto Branch. "From what we've seen, it is more in-depth than other programs offered around the province."

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