This past summer the Penn Robotics Team was contacted by Greg Jones, the Vice President of Smartforce Development for the Association for Manufacturing Technology, to be an exhibitor at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago. IMTS is the largest industrial trade show in North America and saw over 2,500 exhibiting companies and 125,000 registrations this year. The show ran from Monday, September 10 to Saturday, September 15, 2018. While the show is mainly centered around additive and subtractive manufacturing in industry, a portion of the show, The Smartforce Student Summit, was dedicated to students interested in the field of manufacturing.
Our booth was located in the Smartforce Student Summit section of IMTS alongside Illinois FIRST Robotics, major companies such as Fanuc, Festo, Haas, Siemens, Mastercam, and universities such as Purdue and the City Colleges of Chicago. Penn Robotics stood out as the only high school booth in the show. Team members had the opportunity to talk to everyone ranging from high school and college students to company representatives from industries to share the message of FIRST robotics, building assistive technology, and creative outreach that promotes hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. Over 24,000 students, educators, administrators, parent chaperones and FIRST team coaches registered for the Student Summit.
Each day a group of Team 135 representatives were bussed in from Mishawaka, Indiana to Chicago, Illinois. The almost two-hour car ride proved to be worth every minute when students saw the one million square footage of exhibits and the interest the public had in what we do every day in the robotics lab. Our robots proved to be especially popular as numerous times throughout the show we had the pleasure of dealing with lines of students waiting to operate the 2018 competition robot, our outreach robot, and our t-shirt launcher. Next to our robots stood examples of what everyday life in our robotics lab looked like such as two of our 3D printers, our software testbed, and some of our assistive technology projects.
On Wednesday, September 12, the Governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, stopped by our booth to briefly discuss the FIRST robotics program. We were humbled by the Governor’s leadership in STEM education. While the Governor visiting our booth was certainly memorable, there was no one main highlight of our presence at IMTS. The CNC machinists on our team were taken away by the high-end hardware on display, while many students remembered letting the students drive the robots the most and others simply enjoyed making connections and talking to some of the other FIRST teams that were present at the show. In fact, a few of the FRC teams that attended the St. Joseph District Event last season stopped by our booth and we even had a chance to talk about helping an international FRC team in India. The plethora of equipment reflected the diversity of the crowd, and our experiences, at IMTS as we met everyone from fellow FIRST teams to a journalist interested in assistive technology. Overall, IMTS has been a pleasure to attend and an excellent way to kick off the school year.