The FIRST Robotics competition is a global program that brings together students, parents, teachers, mentors and experts in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Widely recognized as a great source of young engineering talent, many high-profile companies sponsor the event and use it to attract new employees. Burckhardt Compression has been supporting the 5409 Chargers team from Oakville, Canada since 2017 and this year they qualified for the world championships in Houston, TX.
Each year, organizers of the competition release the rules in January and all the teams have just four months to design, build and test a robot capable of completing the latest challenge. This year it involved picking up road cones and inflatable cubes, placing them in a specific order, and crossing a balance bridge to gain points. Winners of regional qualifying rounds earned a place in the world championships, which saw 619 teams compete in Houston.
Multi-skilled, collaborative teams
From the start of each competition, the students are responsible for running the entire entry from design concept to a fully tested robot that can complete the objectives. Like a real operating business, each team is comprised of sub teams CAD designers, manufacturing fabricators, welders, electrical specialists, software programmers and business development marketing.
Craig Bowern, director of technical solutions North America, for Burckhardt Compression, has been involved with the FIRST Robotics program for the past six years, working with a local team in Canada that competes in the high school group. “The head teacher and I completed our apprenticeships together in the automotive industry before taking different career paths, and now we have come full circle and I am able to support his school team.”
Judging by the number of teams at Houston this year, the competition is becoming increasingly popular. The 5409 Chargers had over 100 students apply for 45 places in the team, so they had to hold try-outs to find the best candidates - just like the football team.
The value of supporting young engineers
Teams can come from schools and colleges or local communities, making it accessible to all children from the age of five. Each team needs support from a host of volunteers, from parents to local businesses and engineering mentors. There are many different roles within each team, enabling students with non-engineering skills to get involved in tasks such as marketing and fund-raising.
The whole program is held in high regard by engineering companies for the way in which it inspires the next generation of employees. In the case of 5409 Chargers team, when the owner of a local plastic injection molding company discovered what they were doing, he initially donated CAD $5,000, and when the team qualified for the finals, he gave the team a further CAD $10,000. His personal experience trying to find young employees for his business was very frustrating, and he felt the competition was a great way to inspire new engineers.
Craig explains: “Fund-raising is really important for all teams, especially in getting everyone to Houston for the championships. I have been supporting the team by passing on my expertise in welding and providing engineering knowledge to help the students succeed. It is one of the most rewarding things I have done in my professional career.
“This is a fantastic program that encourages everyone to get involved in engineering.” Craig concludes: “By nurturing the passion these students have and teaching them new skills that relate directly to the real world, we are molding the next generation of employees. In fact, Burckhardt Compression has already taken on two graduates who participated in the 5409 Chargers team, and they have made great progress within the company.”