Originally created 07/17/02

Automaker donates robots to career center



AIKEN - When the flatbed truck pulled into the Aiken County Career Center at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Stan Johnson bolted out of the front door to meet the driver.

Mr. Johnson had waited all day for the delivery, but the moment had been a year in the making.

BMW Manufacturing Corp. in Spartanburg, S.C., began talks last summer about donating 42 robots to 16 career and technology centers throughout the state.

The manufacturer originally offered two robots and then four. Mr. Johnson said he would know how many only after the truck arrived.

Aiken County Career Center received three large, orange robots, each valued at $80,000.

"If they can donate $240,000 worth of equipment, I can sit here for a day and wait on it. I have no problem with that," said Mr. Johnson, the center's industrial maintenance instructor.

The robots were used in BMW's body shop to build the two-seat Z3 roadster, which ended production in June. Weighing 4,000 pounds, each robot is 7 feet tall and has a 18-foot reach.

"I expected them to be silver," said Ann Efird, the center's bookkeeper. "I guess I've got R2D2 on my mind."

At the career center, Mr. Johnson will use two of the robots in industrial technology to teach robotics manipulation and programming. Electrical instructor Calvin Willis will use the third to teach residential and industrial electricity.

"We need to teach robotics and BMW wants us to teach robotics," Mr. Johnson said. "BMW will hire students from high school career centers (using) the robotics; that is what we were told."

Mr. Johnson said the students could make up to $28 an hour working for the car producer.

Though he has worked with small robots, called robotic trainers, Mr. Johnson and his students will use trial and error to maneuver the machines, plus user materials donated by the manufacturer, said John Graytop, the center's assistant director.

BMW associates suggested donating the robots to the schools. Mr. Graytop said the company did not want the machines on the open market where a competitor could see the technology.

"This equipment, though obsolete for (BMW), is state-of-the-art to us," Mr. Graytop said.

Reach Carly Phillips at (803) 648-1395 or carly.phillips@augustachronicle.com.