Interview with Automation and Packaging Engineer

Introducing Michael DeBroux

Our engineers play critical, integrated roles in creating solutions to challenges facing our clients. We'd like to introduce you to Michael DeBroux, who is a newcomer to the Rocket Industrial engineering team, but is making waves in the industrial automation field. His ideas are making manufacturing facilities safer and more efficient.

Michael is a sports car and motorcycle enthusiast who grew up in the Wausau area. He enjoys mountain biking, playing softball, spending time with his nieces and nephews, and of course, tinkering, building, and fixing things. He received his degree from UW-Stout in Mechanical Engineering and has six action packed years of experience in the industry under his belt.

When did you decide that you wanted to be a mechanical engineer and why do you enjoy what you do?

Growing up, I was always really good at math. It just came easy to me. For example, in the first grade, I was in math classes with the 4th graders at my school. By the time I reached high school, I was still excelling, but I never actually enjoyed the subject. I never considered the thought of being an engineer because I correlated engineering and math too closely. The thought of doing math at a desk for eternity held no excitement or enjoyment in my mind. I started college in the Electromechanical Technician program, which was great because I've always been a natural at fixing things and taking them apart, sometimes out of pure curiosity. One day I was walking by the mechanical design lab and saw a student working on their final design project on SolidWorks. I was amazed at what I saw; it was the first time I’ve ever seen 3D CAD. I thought to myself, “Whatever that is, I wanna do that!” I turned around, walked to my counselor’s office, and immediately switched degrees.

I've been in love with designing ever since. I greatly enjoyed my education and the projects I’ve worked on. My perception and enjoyment of math completely 180-ed once I could apply my natural talent to real life problems and projects.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your position?

My biggest ongoing challenge is really self-inflicted. I am always looking to better myself, my education and my skills. After working with Electrical and Controls Engineers, I envy their skill and knowledge. So the challenge is trying to learn the principles and to acquire the talents of an EE or controls engineer. They truly are a magnificent breed… I’ve learned that trying to overcome the feud between my mechanically-biased brain and the strategic movement of electrons is much harder than anticipated!

What are the current trends you are seeing in industrial automation?

We are seeing a huge movement in what I would call ‘entry level’ robotics. It’s an industrial response to a trend that is currently transcending all industries in America… labor shortage. Factories are turning over staggering percentages of their workforce every year. The job market is insanely competitive. These companies need bodies and they can’t find enough of them. In response, they need to automate and they need to do so quickly to remain competitive in their respective markets.

There are a lot of innovative power-house companies such as Fanuc and ABB that are coming out with robots that can be taught a routine, via physical movement and location teaching, to execute simple tasks, which may be all a facility needs for their line. In essence, the robotics industry is now offering a low-skill entry point option for both integrators and end-users. It will be interesting to view the trajectory over the next few years.

As the pace of change accelerates and advances in technology continue, what do you think the future of automation and robotics engineering looks like?

The most prominent driving factor regarding the future and growth of robotics is, and will continue to be, safety. Safety is the primary focus of growing companies in the world today. Automation and robotics companies will continue to come up with creative ways to increase ease of entry, reduce costs, and circumvent the inherent dangers of machinery and robots. Right now we are seeing robots that can be in the same unguarded work space as humans. This is being accomplished by decreasing velocity of movement and providing the distance element on deceleration in the event of a physical interaction. It will be exciting to see the effect of new vision controls and other programming practices will have on the movement, as well as what different safety protocols will arise because of them.


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