Kohler donates robot to PHS

Posted April 2, 2018

The Kohler Foundation is donating $65,000 to Plymouth High School to launch a robotics and automation program.

Mark Feick of Kohler announced the donation at the March 20 Board of Education meeting. The donation is the third in a series of initiatives resulting from a partnership with Kohler, which approached PHS in 2016 looking for ways to help introduce students to manufacturing careers.

Kohler sponsors Lego League, encourages job shadowing, hosts high school interns, and offers STEM tours, Mr. Feick told the board. But the company wants to do more, especially in Plymouth. “Strong schools make for a strong community,” he said.

As a first step, Paul Theisen of Kohler, came into the PHS capstone engineering class to demonstrate problem-solving methodology. He shared actual problems with real engines, and the Kohler Engines lab became an extension of the classroom as students gained experience with applied stats, blueprints, and various manufacturing environments in action.

The class focuses on research and design – where students are trying to design or innovate new products – so the lessons learned from Mr. Theisen were very relevant, said PHS technology education instructor Jake Sherman.

The second collaboration with Kohler involved the Formula High School car raced last spring by the PHS Technology Education & Engineering Club. The car – which took first in its class – used a Kohler engine, which was tested in Kohler’s dyno lab. A Kohler employee and PHS grad became as enthusiastic about the effort as the students and advisors, and a contingent from Kohler came to the track on race day to cheer on the PHS students. Kohler is supplying a twin-cylinder engine for car this year.

Kohler’s $65,000 donation takes the collaboration with PHS to the next level. The small industrial robot, which has been ordered, has a 2D camera and scanning capabilities. It is on wheels and can be folded up to be moved.

The robot represents an automation system – providing opportunities for such diverse positions as robot programmer, controls engineer, parts designer, and more, Mr. Feick said. “This is the way of the future,” he said. “You have to be able to understand how to operate robots.”

In keeping with Kohler’s goal of exposing more students to manufacturing opportunities, the PHS tech ed teachers plan to utilize the robot in as many classes as possible.

Superintendent Carrie Dassow thanked Kohler for its generous donation and noted that Community Engagement is one of the district’s four key Pillars of Excellence. “You’re making things happen for our kids,” she said.

Assistant Superintendent Dan Mella added that the district isn’t just grateful for the monetary donation but also for the way Kohler has been generous with its people, and they with their expertise. “We’re working together to build a strong community for our kids,” he said.

Word of the success of the PHS tech ed program has reach Arksansas, where Kohler also has a plant. A team from a school there will be visiting Plymouth in April to observe the PHS program as they prepare to launch their own program.