NFPA Visits Fast Track High School in Wisconsin

Programs like the Fast Track to Fluid Power (formerly FAMTEN) are made possible in part by the generous support of industry volunteers as well as NFPA Education and Technology Foundation and Pascal Society donors. Support these efforts by making a donation.

Fluid power classes are a terrific source of “lightbulb” moments that happen when a student solves a difficult problem. Even as adults, the spark that happens when we do something as simple as figuring out where a piece goes in a jigsaw puzzle usually gives us the energy to solve the rest of the puzzle. For the students at Hamilton High School in Sussex, Wisconsin, the puzzle was far more complex and the moments more gratifying as they worked on their FESTO MecLabs in January.

Kathy Rose, a chemistry teacher at Hamilton High, invited me to virtually visit her class to watch the student teams work on their MecLabs. The teams were at different points of construction and programming their kits, and Kathy was gracious enough to carry her laptop from table to table, giving me the opportunity to see the full spectrum of the class and their work. The MecLabs being used were hydraulically powered conveyor stations that are programmed by the students to perform the task of separating plastic cylinders from metal ones.

While the task is simple enough on paper, it required making incredibly small adjustments to function properly. Sometimes it was a physical adjustment, other times it was adjusting the programming by milliseconds. If these changes were not made, the machine would not work properly. One of those “lightbulb” moments came when a student, who had been stuck on an issue for a few days, realized that one small programming mistake was causing their conveyor belt to reverse midway through carrying the cylinders. By correcting that single aspect of their diagram, the conveyor belt worked, and the team was able to move forward.

Successful troubleshooting of one issue could just as easily lead to new obstacles or a nearly finished construct, depending on where they were in the process, and it gave the teams a greater understanding of the intrinsically holistic nature of a hydraulic-powered piece of manufacturing equipment.

For more information about Fast Track to Fluid Power and other NFPA Foundation programs that support fluid power education across the country, visit

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