Fund MTA—Support the National Robotics Challenge

by | Feb 16, 2018 | Announcements, Manufacturing, Regional News

The Manufacturing Technology Academy (MTA) encompasses the fundamentals of STEM education to provide experiential learning opportunities – interaction between education and industry.

Starting in 2000 (when only 5 students competed), MTA student teams have designed and built robots to compete in prestigious national robotics competitions. These robotics projects are integrated into the MTA curriculum, fulfilling several academic class requirements. Each team of students performs tasks that are both technical and academic as they design and build their robot, test it in competition, and present it to industry experts. Today, 56 students are registered to compete-that’s over 1000% growth!

During their junior year, MTA students develop technical, employability and academic background skills. As seniors, students take the lead and apply Engineering Process to create complex robots to be entered into the National Robotics Challenge in Marion, Ohio.

Designing and building these robots takes several months’ worth of work as the students gain consensus on the design, solve structural and logistical problems in order to build, troubleshoot and compete with their robots. Leading such a team requires that students learn to respect and motivate their teammates as well as support one another’s endeavors.

To continue to provide the opportunity for all students to engage in design and conceptualization through capstone projects, using the Engineering Process and competition as the ultimate team test. We want to ensure all students are able to participate by providing uniforms, transportation and lodging for the National Robotics Challenge, commonly known as NRC.

Safety first! We want to ensure the safety of all students by minimizing risk.

Second, our program has grown just over 1000% since 2000! Excellent news, yes! But, the expense has also grown at that pace…and we want to make sure that cost does not dictate student participation.

If a student is unable to attend because it exceeds his/her budget at home, then the very purpose of that opportunity is missed.

Our goal is $10,000. However, we have secured 20% of this through pre Kickstarter pledges, so our campaign ask is $8,000. Here is the breakdown…

• $5100- Charter Bus for three days-Traverse City, MI to Marion, OH 

So that the entire team rides together! We want to see…

56 students in 1 bus and 7 robots in a truck and trailer


8 or 9 road warrior minivans loaded with students…traveling 770 miles round trip…add 1 truck and trailer full of robots and parts

What could possibly go wrong??  

• $3900-Lodging for all 56 students, 5 instructors / chaperones  

• $1000-Uniforms…or t-shirts  

In order to dress up, show up and win…we need to be a team and team t-shirts (mandated at competition) give us that “put together” look that we sometimes miscalculate!

The point is that now, more than ever before, science and technology is vital to every facet of our modern world and we need technical talent to meet the rising demand of industry. In the US, the unemployment rate is at an all-time low and businesses are struggling to find qualified employees. This is widely known as the skills gap, but gets even more critical in rural regions like ours.

Through 2024, the projected demand for employees in order to meet the needs of the Advanced Manufacturing/Engineering/Mathematical/Computer sectors is roughly 400 employees per year due to growth and replacement.

Source: Michigan DTMB, Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives

The American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) identifies four essential stakeholders critical to informing, funding, advocating for, and building successful public-private partnerships to enhance the skills pipeline: government (via policy decisions, agencies, and flexible mandates), private sector businesses and industry associations, educational and training institutions (K–12 and two- and four-year colleges), and nonprofit intermediaries. The MTA Guidance Board is working to build these partnerships to ensure that all students have the opportunity to pursue STEM education, regardless of socioeconomic status. Our work contributes to the regional talent pipeline, applying a strategic approach that addresses the needs of both students and industry.

Over the years, teams of MTA students have brought home numerous awards at the National Robotics Challenge (NRC) and FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) events. The most prestigious award at the National Robotics Challenge is the Honda Innovation Award. Out of the hundreds of robots at the NRC, one robot is nominated for the award from each of the 12 categories of contests. Then, from these 12 nominees, one robot is chosen as the most innovative in design, construction, or programming for the award. More than a dozen MTA-built robots have been nominated for the award over the years, and MTA teams won the award in 2012, 2014, and again in 2016.

The 2016 Rescue Robot won the Honda Innovation Award with its complicated “4-Tread-Drive” system that enabled it to conquer the steep ramp, straddle the 8”-high beam, and crawl through the pea gravel to retrieve ping-pong balls.

The 2014 Honda Innovation Award went to MTA’s “Making the memory Melodies” team for its entry in the Automation Robotic Work Cell. The team used MTA’s SolidWorks 3D design software and 3D printer to make “twackers” that would strike partially filled stemmed glasses in order to make musical notes and play a simple song and record it on a memory stick. Once the song was played and recorded, the robotic arm would remove the memory stick from the USB drive and place it in a chute.

MTA also took first and second places in the 2014 Rescue Robot contest. MTA’s first place robot is shown using its 6-wheel-drive system to climb the 45̊ incline and “rescue” a ping pong ball from the top of the ramp. The long white tube could be rotated forward, and included conveyors that would pull in and store up to 3 balls. An iPhone can be seen positioned on top of the vehicle. It helps the driver locate and “rescue” another ball inside a dark “cave” beneath the ramp.

The 2012 Lightweight Sumo Robot deployed a pneumatically activated suction cup as a defensive strategy. When the robot was in danger of being pushed off of the mat, it pressed the suction cup down against the floor, a and a pump removed all the air from the suction cup, making it stick to the mat so no opponent could move the MTA robot. It’s innovative design beat out 400 other robots in Ohio for the 2012 Honda Innovation Award.

The MTA 2010 Heavyweight Sumo Robot was fully autonomous. It used four infrared sensors to find the opponent robot. Then the MTA robot advanced upon the opponent and used its angled sides to get under it and push it off a 16’ x 16’ mat.

The Manufacturing Technology Academy is an award-winning program for high school juniors and seniors that integrates courses in science, mathematics, economics and English around the themes of technology, robotics, manufacturing and engineering. It is a program of Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District (TBAISD) and in partnership with Northwestern Michigan College and Grand Traverse Area Manufacturing Council.

Unless students are taking our college classes, they earn four credits their junior year (mathematics, science, English and technology) and 4 ½ credits their senior year by adding ½ credit of economics to their mathematics, science, English and technology core. At MTA’s inception, grant funding from the National Science Foundation helped instructors and manufacturing industry professionals develop the curriculum that integrates technology with academics while meeting or exceeding academic benchmarks.

MTA’s manufacturing laboratory uses equipment that includes table-top training robots, a small Computer Numeric Control mill, three 3-D Printers, MasterCAM, SolidWorks and other CAD software, precision measurement equipment, and trainers for electronic logic and pneumatics. The lab also serves as the workshop for national robotics and automation competition projects, in which students learn problem-solving, teamwork and project management methodologies.

The Guidance Board of the Manufacturing Technology Academy (MTA) was founded as the Manufacturing Trade Academy Guidance Board in 1997. We operate as a 501C3 organization and have been providing STEM opportunities to the students of Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Kalkaska counties ever since. MTA applies a hands-on, interactive educational environment for students, inviting curiosity, allowing exploration and encouraging participation. Our program is designed to provide a foundation of Manufacturing processes and STEM principles and the Guidance Board was created to ensure these opportunities exist for all students with the aptitude and desire.

Rigor – For MTA, the term “rigorous academics” refers to attaining a deep, meaningful understanding and apply it to reality beyond simple test taking. MTA collaborates with Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) to offer Calculus I, II,III and Differential Equations for college or university credit for students who qualify for the classes. MTA’s Advanced Physics course consists of an introduction to optics and laser technology. Advanced Physics students learn about photonics, an evolving enabling technology with applications in engineering, defense & security, medicine, information technology, environmental monitoring and other industries in “Fundamentals of Light and Lasers” and “Elements of Photonics” classes. MTA’s high school calculus, pre-calculus, Algebra II, honors chemistry, honors physics, advanced physics, English and honors economics classes are taught by dedicated academic instructors who are highly-qualified in their course content areas. The instructors continually work with area engineers, college professors, managers and technicians to find meaningful applications of their academic subjects for the classroom. For all its classes, the MTA curriculum meets or exceeds state standards, and most of MTA’s classes are honors or college level.

Respect – MTA’s student culture values intellect, effort, ingenuity and integrity, and MTA students respect and support each other’s endeavors, whether they are struggling to understand a difficult academic concept or overcoming a technical barrier on a project. Many of the technical projects the students take on are simply too big, or too broad in scope for a single individual, no matter how smart or motivated, to do alone, so teamwork, communication and mutual respect are essential. Students who are strong academically learn to appreciate the more technical, hands on skills of their teammates and vice-versa. Collaborating on such a challenging undertaking allows MTA students to build their self-confidence and self-esteem the old-fashioned way…by taking on difficult challenges and completing them successfully.

Relevance – MTA’s rigorous academics are integrated with a hands-on technical understanding of electronic logic and circuits, motor control, quality assurance, pneumatics, manufacturing processes, automation and robotics, and design processes. Our CAD capabilities include SolidWorks 3-D design software and MasterCAM, which work in conjunction with our Computer Numerical Control Mill and Rapid Prototype (3D printing) Machines. In MTA’s physics and chemistry classes, students investigate concepts like stress, strain and modulus of elasticity using the tensile tester from our Engineering Technology Lab.

Reality – Internships, mentors, industry-based projects, engineering and robotics competitions introduce students to workplace expectations, real-world deadlines, and issues in teamwork and leadership. These experiences also add motivation, meaning and depth of learning to MTA’s challenging academic topics. Concepts from chemistry, physics and mathematics are enlisted as students encounter, then solve problems about the structure, electrical system, pneumatics system, etc. of their technical projects. When they get stuck, the MTA staff, its mentors and its business partners are available to help students break the barriers. MTA students build their self-confidence and self-esteem the old-fashioned way… by taking on difficult challenges and completing them successfully.


MTA’s engineering and manufacturing lab feature, – training robots – pneumatics – electronics – electronic logic – Computer Assisted Design stations – precision measurement equipment – Computer Numerical Control mill – Rapid Prototype Machines – CAD modeling. All of which allow the student to take an idea from the design stage to physical fruition. The robots and other “Tech Toys” in the lab and classroom help make learning fun again!

MTA’s academic curriculum combines rigorous academic coursework with engineering and manufacturing laboratory applications of academic content, integration of work place and interpersonal skills and a positive, student culture that values intellect.

Manufacturing Technology (both years)  • Automation and Robotics            • Electrical Systems • Fluid Power • CAD, Design Processes, 3D Printing    • Manufacturing Processes • Quality Assurance • Project Management

Junior Year Academics: 3 academic credits (1 math, 1 science, 1 English) + 1 technology credit

• Mathematics (Algebra II, Honors Trigonometry/Precalculus*, Honors Calculus or College Calculus I and II through NMC) • English Language Arts 11 (focus on technical writing/public speaking) • Honors Chemistry* (or Honors Physics*)

Senior Year Academics: 3½ academic credits (1 math, 1 science, 1 English, ½ economics) + 1 technology credit

• Mathematics (High School: Honors Trigonometry/Precalculus*, Honors Calculus, College: Calculus I & II or College Calculus III and Differential Equations via Northwestern Michigan College • Honors Physics* (or Fundamentals of Light and Lasers and Elements of Photonics for Advanced Physics) • English Language Arts 12 (technical writing/public speaking) • Honors Economics*

* denotes honors class

Risks and challenges

We have attended the robotics competition every year since 2000. We will attend in 2018. The first question is whether we will be driving multiple, separate vehicles or have all students together in one. Safety is our primary concern…
As the number of students increases, so does the number of vehicles and drivers needed to transport them! If we can utilize a safer mode of transportation, why not do so and avoid a recognized risk. MTA strictly adheres to safety protocol that is impressed upon the students regarding the machinery and tools used in our lab. This should be congruent in all areas of our program. Next, is the question of whether or not students will have to start paying out of pocket to attend competition. This is something we do not want to see. MTA currently has support through corporate/community sponsors and continues to seek additional avenues for fund development opportunities in an effort to avoid student contribution for competition transportation, lodging and uniforms.
As our program is unique because of the degree to which local manufacturers are involved, we are confident that this will strengthen our cause in keeping safety and student participation in line with program growth. We appreciate each and every effort our local manufacturers have made to make MTA a success!

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