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Business Roundtable - Motlow advances with higher education
Charlie King
Motlow ARTC robotic instructor Charlie King is pictured in a Fanuc robot lab. Charlie has recently been certified in two different training programs -- one for Motoman and one for Fanuc.

This is the annual article regarding Motlow Community College at McMinnville updating the progress with Mechatronics, robotics, advanced automation, and collaboration with Tennessee State University.

While slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Motlow has continued with much progress on all fronts. This writer met with Fred Rascoe, dean of Career Readiness & Technology, and Larry Flatt, executive director of the Automation & Robotics Training Center.  

Student headcounts are down between 10% and 20% due to the pandemic, but still attractively high. Here is the fall 2020 recap for student counts for Mechatronics & robotics across all Motlow campuses and related high schools:

Mechatronics Level One (dual enrollment) 

50  (WCHS, Oakland HS)

Mechatronics Level Two (AAS Degree)


Mechatronics ay Fayetteville Campus (new)


AAS degree program in Robotics


Total for fall semester


The Robotics AAS degree students involve five at Smyrna, seven at Fayettville, and 11 at McMinnville. Motlow was successful in earning a GIVE Grant for almost $1 million.  That grant was used to upgrade the Mechatronics system trainer at Warren County High School (WCHS) which was done over the summer months and to place robotics at the Fayetteville campus – six robots etc. In addition there are now two instructors at Fayetteville to cover Mechatronics and Robotics for the students there.

Motlow-McMinnville added one new Mechatronics instructor in January 2020 – Mike Oliver who teaches Level One courses at Motlow and WCHS (nights).  Richard Blackburn is the Mechatronics instructor at WCHS during the day. Mike has a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Technology from Tennessee Tech.

Fred also reported there are two students in the Tennessee State University 2+2 four-year bachelor’s degree program “fourth year” who will graduate next spring. There are 11 new third-year students in the program. This 2+2 is expected to continue to expand as area students love the option of earning a bachelor’s degree right here in Warren County.  

Motlow has run out of room for Mechatronics at the McMinnville campus. Plans are underway to develop a grant to pursue funding for a new Mechatronics and advanced training facility immediately adjacent to the ARTC building.  Grading of the ground has already occurred.  

Warren County originally donated 4.3 acres to Motlow for the Robotics center, so ample room exists for a second new facility. It was also noted Motlow has upgraded their 3D CAD software to SolidWorks version 16.  

Motlow is the process of doing a Mechatronics alumni study of where the grads are working and compensation involved. This annual study is done for the accreditation.  While the current study is not complete, it is worthy to note that Mechatronic grads are working for Bridgestone-Warren, Yorozu Automotive, Bouldin & Lawson, Nissan, Kasai, Batesville Casket, AEDC, and Great Lakes Cheese.  

Fred, Larry, and BRAC have agreed to host the 5th annual Industry focus group session on Friday, Dec. 11, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the ARTC. COVID-19 protocols will be observed – temperature/ check-in station, masks, social distancing, etc.  Invitations with a planned agenda will be sent out soon.  

This is a great event and will involve leaders from Motlow, TCAT, Warren County Schools, and Tennessee State University. The educators will aspire to learn updated industry needs and trends. Please put the date on your calendars.

With the high number of AAS students majoring with Mechatronics and robotics between Smyrna, Fayetteville, and McMinnville, it was decided that Motlow & BRAC will hold the first Job Fair on Friday, March 12 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the ARTC. 

As needed at that time, COVID-19 protocols will be observed. Aside from introductory comments, there will be industry interview tables for the AAS students to visit. Motlow expects a strong AAS student turnout. Please plan to participate.  

Turning to the ARTC, the facility has never been closed by the pandemic, but the period from March through June resulted in no industry training classes being held.  Starting in July, the ARTC has averaged 1-2 classes a month since.  

Motlow expects a significant uptick in industry classes by the middle of the first quarter of 2021. Classes are expected to be back to “normal” after a COVID-19 vaccine becomes widely available.  

On a positive note, Motlow Robotics instructor Charlie King has just completed the Fanuc FAST program certification and is thus a certified instructor for Fanuc programming (HandlingTool) and vision (iRVision) class training.  Charlie will pursue additional certification with advanced teach pendant programming during the second quarter of 2021.  

Charlie will complete his Motoman MERIT certification by the end of October. Before the end of 2020, Motlow will be listed on the Fanuc and Motoman websites as official training sites. This will boost teaching commitments for/ to Motlow. Charlie is planning on additional Motoman certification during 2021 in maintenance training, electrical troubleshooting, and MotoSim Touch.  

All of these certifications increase the ability of Motlow personnel to conduct the on-site Robotics training. The longer term plan is to expand all the certifications to cover multiple Motlow instructors.  

Another major development for the ARTC was the success with obtaining a $200,000 ARC Workforce Development grant that has been used to purchase $300,000 ($100,000 from Motlow) in advanced automation devices – mostly PLCs and other related electronics of the following brands – Allen Bradley, Omron, Siemens, and Mitsubishi.  Motlow now has 4 to 8 sets of electronic apparatus for all these brands.  

In addition, Motlow has purchased two sets of Parker Hannifin hydraulic and pneumatic (two each) trainers. Industry training classes on this automation has already begun.  Area industry is invited to consider this specialty training. A full ARTC lab has been allocated to automation training.  

Another development is the donation from Yorozu Automotive of a late model Motoman CNC welding cell, making three robotic welders at the ARTC. Motlow is researching options of the use of virtual training software to teach remotely as industry desires. ABB now offers a virtual program called “Robot Studio.” Larry can foresee virtual training in the future, looking through a headset, that is tied to a pendant programmer tied to a robot.  This is not so far off.

Motlow continues to expand in multiple directions to better serve the needs of students and area industry. BRAC congratulates this progress under the leadership of Fred and Larry. As they say in football, “You have come a long way, baby!”