GAYS MILLS - The North Crawford robotics team recently competed at the FIRST Tech Challenge regional qualifier in Milwaukee and came away with valuable experience.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded in 1989 to inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology.
FIRST participation encourages students to pursue education and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)-related fields, inspire them to become leaders and innovators, and enhance their 21st century work-life skills. Teams of up to 15 members in grades 7-12 are challenged to design, build, program, and operate robots to compete in a head-to-head challenge.
A big part of the success of the team can be attributed to a new mentor who first saw the group at a regional competition in LaCrosse, while he himself was there with a team from UW-Platteville.
Jansen Van Lin, a manufacturing engineer at Building Automation Products, Inc. in Gays Mils, has been involved with robotics most of his life. Van Lin grew up in LaCrescent Minnesota,
“My grandfather was a big influence on me,” Van Lin says. “He worked at Trane in La Crosse and was a big mechanical person and I was always working on little projects with him. I got involved in STEM projects after school and I’ve always been fascinated with electronics.”
Van Lin became involved in robotics while in high school through a friend who was in the local club.
After graduating from LaCrescent, Van Lin attended college at UW-Platteville and joined the robotics team there. Team 171, founded in 1995, is the oldest robotics team in the State of Wisconsin. From 2014 to the time he graduated Van Lin held various positions with Team 171 including Webmaster, Webmaster & Public Relations, Team President and Alumni Mentor.
After an internship at BAPI in 2017, Van Lin remembers attending a robotics event in LaCrosse and seeing the team from North Crawford in attendance. “Their shirts had the BAPI logo on them and I talked to (Robotics Team advisor) Linda Dworschack and I’ve been involved ever since.” Van Lin graduated with a major in Manufacturing Technology Management and a minor in Industrial Control Systems in May 2018 and was immediately hired at BAPI.
Van Lin faced a stiff challenge with the North Crawford team in that the previous years’ team was made up almost entirely of seniors.
“We did pretty well for a rookie team,” he said. “We shaped the program a little differently than they had in the past, it was more to the size of North Crawford. We met September through December and it was more suited to the students’ schedules. We used a kit this year which a lot of the rookie teams start with.”
The robot kit is reusable from year to year and can be coded using a variety of levels of Java-based programming. Teams design and build robots, raise funds, design and market their team brand, and do community outreach to earn specific awards. Participants are eligible to apply for $80 million dollars in college scholarships.
“I think they will be able to come up with some much better ideas. The kit is the bare minimum to compete and now that we have seen what can be done with the bare minimum we can go above that.”
As a manufacturing engineer at BAPI, Van Lin is involved in a myriad of things. A typical day means working on the wave soldering machine, a robotic soldering machine, the optimization of the encapsulation room or assisting different work cells around the building. As the company evolves, robotics will play an ever-increasing role, evident by the new robotic soldering machine that was recently installed. It is a challenge - he admits because of thousands of different configurations of BAPI parts and products. He is also developing a vision system that will help workers become more efficient by confirming they are using the correct pieces and logos to build certain products.
Besides North Crawford, Van Lin also is a mentor for the Westby and Platteville teams and does a considerable amount of traveling as a volunteer for FIRST to competitions including Minneapolis, Duluth, Chicago and Detroit where he volunteers and has filled a variety of technical roles including Robot Inspector, Score Keeper and Field Reset Attendant.
The North Crawford team had eight students involved, with three or four of them showing interest in some type of STEM career. Van Lin says the next step is to continue what the team is currently doing, getting more experience.“They now have seen a competition with other teams – 35 from around the state – and they have seen what’s possible.”