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Bowling for smoothies at EDSS

Elmira Bowl has competition.

There’s a new five-pin bowling lane in Elmira, but you’ll have to make your way to the automation class at Elmira District Secondary School to bowl a game. Nathan Harris, Matt Quenneville, Brandon Chambers and Alex Dunn designed and built a five-pin pinsetter for their Grade 12 automation class.

The automation class wrapped up work on their three projects this week, completing and testing the pinsetter, a crane and a smoothie machine.

The Grade 12 class builds on the theory that students have learned in earlier years. After a month of theory and safety – “the ‘don’t kill yourself stuff,’” said Dwight Martin – they pitch ideas for their projects and go to work.

Teacher Ron Fletcher said he tries to let the students do as much as possible. That also means letting them go ahead with ideas that he might be skeptical about.
“Part of the learning process is even failure,” he said. “Sometimes it’s letting them run with an idea that I think ‘I don’t know if it’s going to work.’”

Their projects have to be automated, they have to incorporate programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and they have to meet certain safety requirements. They are somewhat restricted by parts, but otherwise Fletcher only vetoes a project if they’re planning to build something that could pose a safety hazard, such as a machine that chops wood.

Some of the students plan to do apprenticeships after they finish high school, and the automation class provides a good foundation. Even those who don’t plan to go into trades agree that they’ve learned valuable skills. The projects are too big for one person to tackle, so the students have to work together as a team to design and build components and solve problems.

“In my mind, they’re learning a lot more than technology,” Fletcher said.

About 90 per cent of the parts in any of the projects have been donated by companies like Rockwell Automation and ATS Automation Tooling Systems. The school board simply doesn’t have enough money for the class to purchase the electrical components, which can run into thousands of dollars.

It isn’t just automation companies that offer a helping hand. The group that built the smoothie machine went to Keybrand Foods in Kitchener to see the packing plant and get ideas for their project. Making everything out of food-grade parts was the most difficult aspect, Kyle Uttley explained; Norwell Dairy Systems came through with food-grade materials.

And rather than sabotaging the ‘competition,’ Elmira Bowl gave the pinsetter group a helping hand, allowing them to study a pinsetter to see how it worked and donating the pins and a bowling ball.

The project is a popular one with students who pass by the classroom and try their hand at bowling a strike. Eventually, though, it will meet the same fate as most of the projects built by the class: it will be dismantled and the parts recycled into future projects.

“For now, we’re just giving Elmira Bowl a run for their money,” Dunn joked.

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