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Next gen technicians put Fluke Connect to the test

Northwest Iowa Community College students visit

Northwest Iowa Community College students visit

One of the biggest challenges facing industry these days is what to do when the Baby Boom generation retires and a new generation of technicians takes their place. The skills gap is real but it’s also an opportunity. Next gen workers may not have extensive experience in analog systems and mechanics but they are tech savvy, quick learners and collaborative and know how to navigate complex systems.

Meeting the challenge of a changing workforce was in mind when Fluke launched the Fluke Connect smart phone app in 2013 along with an initial set of wireless modules. Since then, Fluke has continued to release new versions of test tools that include wireless capabilities to transmit infrared images, electrical data and even vibration spectra data to the continually enhanced Fluke Connect software platform that now includes not only mobile apps but web-based software. These connected tools allow workers to identify and diagnose problems while automatically uploading data to a smart phone and to secure data centers where the information can be shared securely.

It was anticipated that the Fluke Connect platform would spawn new ways of working within industry. Thus, in 2014 the company launched the Fluke Connect Student Contest, a program that is part learning opportunity, part research and development. Students enrolled in two and four year colleges, universities, trade/tech schools and apprenticeship programs show off technical skills by using Fluke hardware and software, and also innovate by demonstrating unique business applications or solving problems in a new way. Teams must then put together a video to show off their findings and pitch their ideas to a panel of experts within Fluke and industry.

Teams are judged on:

  • Business value
  • Technical skills
  • Innovation & creativity
  • Presentation skills

"This contest ties in with the technician gap and the major trends going forward with technology," said Toffee Coleman, education marketing manager at Fluke. "We wanted to include the next generation and allow them to test tools and to develop their own ideas on how to use the app and software."

This year, the winners of the Fluke Connect Contest were a team from Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon, Iowa. These students researched locally prominent ethanol plants, which process corn into fuel as an additive to gasoline and other uses, and then built simulators for the processes used in the plants in their lab. The team then used connected Fluke test tools and software, to demonstrate how increases in efficiency can be gained by technicians and electricians in the plants when troubleshooting and performing preventive maintenance.

Other 2015 finalists included University of Puerto Rico (building power efficiency), Blue Ridge Community and Technical College (electrical safety practice improvements), Wenatchee Valley College (building tune-up and diagnostics) and Western Area Career & Tech Center (building power consumption and distribution).

Along with a trove of Fluke tools, the winning team received an all-expenses-paid trip to the Seattle area to tour Fluke Park, the global headquarters, and to meet leadership as well as the business and engineering teams creating Fluke Connect tools and software. Members of the team making the May 5, 2016 visit included Blake Odle, Eric Bernier, Joel Groeneweg, Taylor Kruse and Tory Schmidt.

Northwest Iowa Community College's team advisor, Mark Bohnet, an electrical instructor who has been with the school for 26 years, said the educational aspects of the contest were broad and deep with the future electrical technicians or electricians having to challenge themselves to create a video and learn presentation skills.

"The learning opportunities had a spectrum that ranged from understanding how the equipment works and the role of the equipment and new technology in their field. That was enticing," Bohnet said. “But I looked at it as also an opportunity for them to do things that they never ever have done before. Let's face it, electrical techs, electricians, typically don't put together a video. It was out of their comfort zone to stand in front of the camera and behind the camera. It was different to go talk to other classes and try to incorporate those people into this project so they were managing people, they were managing a project.”

The team set an objective, created a plan and even came up with rally cry of sorts to keep going.

"They realized there was going to be an element of work that went with the contest," said Bohnet, “but we also felt that if we really applied ourselves we’d have a shot at winning. So the Seattle trip was dangled in front of them as a carrot. One of the students came up with what became a catch phrase for us, 'See you in Seattle.'"

It turned out that logging electrical data was central to the ethanol plant project, and the students discovered the value of keeping baseline measurements and trending the data to spot problems.

"Instead of the older ways like Excel you just pull the data right up on your phone and find it while you’re at the equipment," said Odle. "Just being able to see trending, if those values are starting to rise or fall, you know that there’s good chance that motor is going to fail soon and you can schedule maintenance."

Another member of the team, Schmidt, has already graduated and has a job as an electrical technician at a co-op where his uncle also works. He has learned some of the trade from his uncle, but also has had a chance to teach his mentor about the Fluke Connect system.

"There was a hand-on teaching moment with my uncle,” Schmidt said. “He’s a great person and easy to work with. If he has someone who can show him he gets it really quickly."

For more information on the Fluke Connect Student Contest, which will take new entries in the Fall of 2016, visit http://bit.ly/FlukeStudentContest