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Focus Magazine | Fall 2009

World Class: Automated Manufacturing Systems

World Class: Automated Manufacturing Systems

Fall 2008

Dec 15, 2008

Update on Ryan Guthrie (July 2010):

Ryan Guthrie, a 2005 graduate of FVTC’s Automated Manufacturing Systems program, is quickly making his way around the world as a robotics expert for Toshiba Robotics in England. Since starting his career for Toshiba in September 2008, Guthrie has traveled throughout Europe and to Japan representing Toshiba at trade shows and helping businesses integrate automated systems to enhance their operations. He is also currently giving lectures in Germany on the impact of hygienic robots for use in the food industry. As the global economy continues to influence lean processes and drive manufacturers to adapt to changes in the marketplace, Guthrie’s profession continues to appear poised for demand.

World Class

Life is good for Ryan Guthrie. In the last three years, the FVTC grad has found his niche, traveling the world and establishing himself as an in-demand robotics expert—and he’s only getting started.

After studying and working for nearly two years in Germany, FVTC grad Ryan Guthrie headed to London in September to start a new job for Toshiba Robotics as one of the company’s leading programmers in Europe. In fact, he was able to secure a work permit and visa in the United Kingdom because few people there can match his programming skills—not bad for a 23-year-old guy from Brillion, Wis., with a two-year associate degree.

Life has been a whirlwind for Guthrie since he graduated from FVTC in December 2005 with his degree in Automated Manufacturing Systems (AMS). Seven months later, he headed for Germany to study abroad on a scholarship from the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) for Young Professionals, a program made available through the college's Global Education and Services division. The 75 American participants start with two months of intensive German language training, followed by four months of classroom instruction at a German college, and then a five-month internship in their career field. “It’s more of a cultural exchange than a school exchange, as well as a chance to meet people in my profession,” Guthrie says.

Guthrie scored an internship at K-Robotix in Bremen, Germany, after placing a cold call to the company. He was invited for an interview and hired on the spot to do basic programming on Toshiba robots.

After five months at K-Robotix, Guthrie’s CBYX scholarship required him to return to the United States for an end-of-year seminar and debriefing in New York City. He returned to Germany to work for K-Robotix as a full-fledged employee on a nine-month contract. Fluent in German by this time, Guthrie worked in the field to help customers optimize the programming of their robotic systems by troubleshooting, editing, and rewriting code.

One Look is All it Took

Guthrie credits his career path to luck and good timing. As a junior in high school, he toured FVTC with one of his classes. “I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, so I signed up for the computer programming tour,” he recalls. “After touring the computer department, we had five extra minutes, so they walked us past the AMS lab. That five-minute visit sold me on the program. It had everything I was looking for: computers, technology, and constant change. Plus, the automation market was the best new industry to get into because there was so much opportunity.”

His parents, both of whom are FVTC instructors, endorsed the idea. His father, Kevin, has taught in the General Motors Automotive Service Education program since 1998. His mother, Rose, has been an instructor in the Information Technology department since 1999. Ryan’s younger brother, Kyle, is studying Mechanical Design at FVTC. “I guess it runs in the family,” Guthrie laughs. “We’re all into engineering, computers, and using our hands to take things apart and put them back together.”

Indeed, the promise of hands-on learning was a huge attraction. “From the first day at FVTC, I was out in the lab physically working with the equipment,” Guthrie says. “I had wires in my hand. I was working with the computers. I was sold on the fact that I could do things from day one.”

That’s actually an understatement. Automation employs a unique combination of computers and electronics. The FVTC program touches on every aspect of industry. Graduates work as AMS technicians who can install, program, design, troubleshoot, and repair automated systems.

Guthrie’s final project was a remarkable one. In his last semester, he teamed up with fellow students Ryan Vandehey and Aaron Daane to design a completely automated blackjack-playing robot. “We built it as a recruitment tool for our program,” Guthrie says. “We wanted it to be portable so we could tour area high schools and tell students, ‘If you were to go to FVTC in the AMS program, look at the kind of things you could build.’”

As president of the AMS Club and a member of the college’s Student Ambassador recruitment program, Guthrie took every opportunity to get the word out about the school. “Ryan was highly motivated and eager to learn,” notes AMS instructor Jon Stenerson. “He’d help us out with tours and was really good about explaining the program and what he was learning. From his exposure to people and industry representatives visiting for tours, I think he had 17 job offers before he graduated.”

Guthrie’s two-and-a-half years at FVTC were everything he had hoped for. “When I was looking for a career field in high school, I wanted something where I could be doing things differently every day.” he says. “I didn’t want to be stuck doing the same thing day in and day out for the rest of my life. I wanted to meet exciting people, go to exciting places, and do exciting things. The AMS program was exactly what I was looking for, and I had a lot of fun the whole time I was there.”

Living Large in London

Guthrie didn’t choose to work in London; the city chose him. “When I was interviewing for my internship in Germany, a man named Nigel Smith just happened to be at K-Robotix that day. Nigel’s company in London, TM Robotics, is the European distributor for Toshiba robots, which means that every single Toshiba robot in all of Europe is sold through him.”

Smith sat in on Guthrie’s interview with K-Robotix and was impressed enough to keep in touch with the FVTC grad and monitor his progress during his time in Germany. As Guthrie’s time in Germany reached fruition, Smith contacted him and sought his interest in working in London. Guthrie jumped at the opportunity.

One person who isn’t surprised at Guthrie’s global successes is Peter Kittle, Brillion High School’s athletic director, math instructor, and head football and basketball coach. “Ryan is a very personable young man and someone who would be very adaptable to adjusting to different cultures and lifestyles,” Kittle says. “The thing I always thought was unique about Ryan is his creativity. He always seemed to look at problems from a little different angle than most kids.”

In moving from Germany to England, Guthrie will transition from working for an integrator to working for a distributor. His primary work responsibilities will be after-sales technical support. “It will take me about a year to really get into the swing of things,” he says. “By the second year, I will probably be traveling all over Europe three weeks out of every month helping clients with advanced programming and installations of robotic systems.”

Next Steps

Guthrie’s ultimate goal is to return to Wisconsin and open up his own automation integrator business, which would help customers integrate robots and automation into their manufacturing processes. Part of that plan includes earning a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Management from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, which has a credit-sharing agreement with FVTC. In fact, after graduating from FVTC, Guthrie took some business courses while waiting to learn if his scholarship to go to Germany would be approved.

He also harbors another goal. “Maybe I’ll end up teaching at FVTC,” he says. “The opportunities it has opened up for me are unbelievable. Down the road, I would love to be able to give back by teaching there and telling future students about the opportunities waiting for them.”

When he visited FVTC this summer, Guthrie was again impressed by the school’s state-of-the-art AMS lab. “When I started in 2003, I walked into the lab, saw all the robots and equipment, and was hooked from day one,” he says. “By the time I graduated, the lab didn’t look like the same lab because so much new equipment was added. Now, a few years after graduation, I saw even more new equipment all over the place. As far as I’m concerned, FVTC is second to none in keeping up with technology.”

Guthrie has come so far so fast that even he can’t believe it sometimes. “I always joked when I was in high school that I was going to travel the world before I settled down,” he says. “And lo and behold, here I am, traveling the world!”

AMS @ FVTC

FVTC offers a two-year, 70-credit Automated Manufacturing Systems Technician degree. Students spend four semesters learning the fundamentals of electronics, computers, control systems, programming, robots, fluid power, sensors, PLCs, and vision systems. By program’s end, they’ll thoroughly understand how to integrate these sorts of devices together and how to control related systems through hardware and software.

The college also offers a 14-credit Industrial Maintenance certificate program that introduces students to automation concepts.