This ain’t your father’s factory | From the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Nothing could be further from the truth. Just ask Manatee Technical college students in Gil Burlew’s Advanced Manufacturing and Production course. The only 3D they relate to is the 3D printing used to produce prototypes. They describe modern manufacturing as 4-F: fast, flexible, fulfilling and fun.

The Advanced Manufacturing center at MTC incorporates all the components of a manufacturing enterprise. Students learn about design, Solid Works. electronics, CNC machining, pneumatics, robotics, integrated networks, problem solving and teamwork. Equipped using funds presented by former Governor Rick Scott, the lab is a manufacturing enterprise in microcosm. MTC is the first in the U.S. to use the Robotically Operated Open Training System (ROOTS), supplied and supported by Jeff Kondel.

Rather than displaying various functions in a closed environment, ROOTS challenges the students to construct and configure their own training module while using the customizable curriculum. Flexibility of the system’s design allows students to safely reconfigure the platform to address multiple production functions.

Recent high school grads collaborate with adults on a variety of projects. The air is electric with creativity and critical thinking.

Vincent F. Manzo was enrolled in a computer networking class when he heard that advanced manufacturing was “doing cool things with robots.” Days after entering the class, he was creating a closed group network to integrate all the computerized components of the lab. Vincent wants to create the next smart factory with fully integrated robots. When asked the number one value of the course, he said “The ability to program, problem-solve and troubleshoot an entire system.”

Zach Sleeper is an adult with history in the construction trades. Since childhood Zach has been “taking things apart to see how they work.” A family man who came back to school after ten years working, Zach was impressed when he walked into the lab. “When I walked through the door I could see we do great things here. Mr. Burlew gave me the freedom to pursue my interest and learn hands on. Now I am gaining general knowledge of what’s out there and how I can apply myself to make the world better,” he said.

Diego Lopez is a Braden River grad who earned his Solid Works certification with a perfect score. He credits the class for “opening my eyes to how diverse manufacturing can be.” Now he wants to see how he can best use his skills in CNC, laser and 3D design to pursue an apprenticeship as a CNC operator.

Edilson DeSouza came from Brazil by way of Kentucky, where he was working in the hospital field. Edilson saw robotics as the key component for the future, in healthcare, as well as, all other industries. Online research led him to MTC’s website. The Advanced Manufacturing and Production course was so appealing that he relocated to Bradenton. “My father taught me that without inspiration we don’t do anything, and that ideas become real through teamwork,” he said.

He credits Gil Burlew’s teaching style with empowering his inspiration. “He told me I could do whatever I wanted to do. I wanted to fly and he gave me wings”.

Gil says that local manufacturers are already approaching his students with career opportunities.

The Advanced Manufacturing and Production course fulfills Manatee Technical College’s Career in a Year promise. It is the vanguard. There are more exciting career and technical education projects to come.

• To learn more about ROOTS, visit

• To learn more about MTC, visit

• To learn more about SAMA, visit

Peter D. Straw is executive director emeritus of the Sarasota Manatee Area Manufacturers Association and can be reached

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