Class project puts robot on the case for industrial hazards

May 4, 2010

Hazardous smoke and debris can make it too dangerous for rescue workers to respond to certain types of industrial fires or spills. But Blair Varga and some of his classmates in the McMaster-Mohawk Bachelor of Technology program are working on a solution with the help of Hamilton’s HAZMAT team.

Blair, a process automation student in the four-year technology degree program, is helping to design a first-response robot for industrial accidents for his class project. The robot is being designed to meet such basic requirements as conducting surveillance, and collecting and analyzing gas samples from a hazardous environment.

"The class project allows students to tailor their skills to their liking through research, experimentation, and trouble-shooting," says Blair. “Our project has turned into a demo robot in collaboration with Hamilton HAZMAT. We were encouraged to pursue our project goals, and supported in doing so."

The door was opened for Blair to be part of this project through his hard work in class and by his co-op experiences at Opus Automation Inc., where he worked on automating processes for similar robotics.

"I completed both of my co-op terms at Opus Automation Inc., a company that designs and builds automation systems specializing in robotic automation using high-performance six-axis industrial robots," Blair recalls.

Opus Automation, located in Ancaster, designs and builds automation systems for automotive machining, food and beverage palletizing and de-palletizing systems, bag palletizing, glass manufacturing, and laboratory testing applications.

Professor Ishwar Singh is proud of the students who have been asked to continue their project for the HAZMAT team.

"When Blair said that he would like to work on the HAZMAT Robot as his technical report project, along with two other students from his class, I was delighted and confident that his team would meet the challenge," says Singh. "In the near future such a robot may be needed to assist in the collection and analysis of nano particles as they may contribute to a hazardous environment as a result of some industrial accident."

Blair has found that the class project and his co-op experience have been great opportunities that will more than likely help him in the career path he has chosen.

"My co-op allowed me to learn about the automation industry and how a company quotes, designs, constructs, programs, and documents an automation job," says Varga. "I have been given great roles, responsibilities, and challenges in my job. I have worked closely with my boss and have been able to help with almost every aspect of the business. The experience I have gained during my co-op's will be a great asset on my resume."

Blair Varga, a process automation student in the McMaster-Mohawk Bachelor of Technology Program, working at Opus Automation for his co-op.
MacBot: an early prototype of the robot being developed with Hamilton HAZMAT

As much as the co-op will help Blair in getting the job he wants in the future, he cannot praise his program enough for bringing all the aspects of process automation into one program with both theory and hands-on experience incorporated.

"I looked for a program like this for years," says Blair. "I didn't want to do just electrical or mechanical engineering when I finished high school, and I realized I wanted to get a degree in automation and robotics. This program was exactly what I was looking for. I liked the fact that the program is a joint venture between McMaster University and Mohawk College, and that co-op work experience was part of the degree. I wanted a university degree and the practical hands-on college experience, and I also had realized how important "work experience" is to distinguish a resume from the majority."

In addition to process automation, the four-year BTech program, which is geared to students graduating from high school, offers streams in Automotive and Vehicle Technology and Biotechnology. A degree-completion program is also offered to working technologists and internationally trained professionals looking for a university degree.

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