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MCALLEN, RGV – In remarks to students from the Rio Grande Valley and Reynosa, machine designer and educator Ted Rozier displayed his passion for industrial automation by revealing that seeing robotics at work gave him “goosebumps.”

Rozier is engineering development manager for Festo Didactic, Inc., and is based in New Jersey. He was invited to speak to engineering students as part of South Texas College’s professional seminar series, a series created through the college’s institute of advancement manufacturing.

Festo, a world-renowned German automation technology company, entered into an agreement last year that made STC the first Festo certified training center in the United States.

Ted Rozier
Ted Rozier

In a wide-ranging and exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Rozier spoke about the future of advanced manufacturing in the United States and looked back at his career in engineering.

“I started off in the industry designing machinery. At the time, robotics was a hot topic but it wasn’t tangible. You know where to go to be a doctor, you know where to go to be a lawyer. But in the machine tool industry, which is where I grew up and learned a trade, I would look at robotics and say, I want to get my hands on it,” Rozier said.

For Rozier, the opportunity to make and work with robotics came about after four years of designing CNC (computer numerical control) machines.

“I had a wonderful opportunity because, being that automation took off, and with robotics at an all-time high, the demand for robotics would increase the sale of machine tools if you had a one-stop shop. The company I worked with gave me an opportunity to develop a package where robotics would plug into a machine and now it was part of the machine tool.”

The addition of robotics to machine tolls naturally helped elevate sales. However, Rozier pointed out, somebody has to understand how to do it.

“So, there I was at a young age, designing machines and now I get an opportunity to get into robotics. To understand it makes it tangible. It is very hard to find individuals that understand the trade. Later, I got the opportunity to join Festo and get on the workforce development side of the business. I was right in the middle of the skills gap. I can clearly see it but now I can actually do something about,” Rozier said.

“So, I now design robotic modules so that students can put their hands on it, understand how to develop simple programs but take those programs and have them operate at a very high level. That is the task Festo takes on. It is offering training modules built to industry standard at a very high level but the presentation is very edible.”

Rozier said Festo wants students to “have a taste of mechatronics” in many disciplines, such as pneumatics, programmable logic controllers, and robotics. “We want them to see how it all works together. If they embrace it, they will be able to write their own ticket. Robotics grabs the attention of students. They want more of it.”

Currently, Festo is much bigger in Europe than it is in the United States. But, Rozier said, interest is growing in the U.S. “We have 16,700 employees and 40 years of experience in the mechatronics field. About a year and a half ago we opened a national headquarters in the U.S., in Eatontown, New Jersey. We believe we can play a major role in closing the skills gap in the United States. We can touch the lives of high school students and university students.”

Rozier said that if the U.S. is to regain its dominance in manufacturing, attitudes towards the industry needs to change.

“If you go to Europe, and I have visited several schools, the interaction between instructor and students is amazing. They have an understanding of the personality of steel. They offer a dual track training system in the high schools of Germany. The path is defined and students can choose which track they want to get on,” Rozier said.

“We have a 1.2 million shortage of workers for the STEM fields. If we do not deal with the skills gaps, we will lose more and more business to overseas. We do not speak well enough of manufacturing. Unfortunately, some parents still have a taste in their mouth that manufacturing is a dirty job. Parents need to know more about it. You need to understand the importance of mechatronics. Instead of thinking of manufacturing as a blue collar job we need to think of it as a gold collar job. That is what it is.”

Rozier concluded his interview by praising STC for its commitment to teaching industrial automation to industry standards. “This is my first visit but I am very impressed with the level of interest there is in this community. South Texas College has done an amazing job in purchasing the right equipment and the hiring the personnel to breathe life into it. You need the buy in of the instructors, otherwise it will not grow. There is a lot of buy-in here.”