What is in this article?:
- No Easy Answers for Industry Education
- Is certification the answer?
Educators and industry leaders agree that working together is the best way to advance fluid power.
Is certification the answer?
As for certification, the opinions vary. Some say certification is not valuable while others argue that it’s necessary to set some standards for the industry.
McLaren holds that certification is not the way to go. “There are tens of thousands of people holding fluid power ‘certification’ who are unable to promote safety, devise and implement a proactive maintenance system, and worse, cannot troubleshoot hydraulic systems,” he says.
Trinkel, who had several certifications throughout the years, does not see their value any longer, either. “In my opinion, certification is a Mickey Mouse way of giving titles to anyone who can read and answer enough of 40 questions to make a passing grade. It is just a money-maker for the several societies that certify their members as far as I’m concerned,” Trinkel says. “The certifications had absolutely no bearing on what I knew or was capable of doing, they were just pieces of paper for me to look at. Not even one customer asked about my certifications in the years I had them or since.”
Yet others see certification as a way to increase standards in the industry. “Certification is necessary, especially in an environment where many fluid power employees enter industry through non-traditional pathways and where many engineering curriculums do not contain the core fluid power instruction sought by the industry,” Lanke says. “NFPA recently came out in support of the certification programs overseen by the International Fluid Power Society as playing an important role in building a better fluid power workforce.”
Monroe says until more standards are developed at the university level, certification is necessary. “Certification does work because it sets a bar. Fluid power engineers should be certified by testing that is developed by fluid power component or system designers,” Monroe says. “Engineers study for four years to get a degree. If they want to specialize in fluid power, then they should have to pass a rigorous test.”
John R. Groot, who is retired from fluid power distributor Knotts Co., and is also active in the IFPS and the Fluid Power Educational Foundation, and who pioneered IFPS’ pneumatic specialist certification, concurs. “Just like a college degree, a certification program properly designed and executed, provides a level playing field. Certification I believe, does work, but what that means may be complex.”
Universities key to future
Kim Stelson, director of the CCEFP, attended the University of Bath in England to learn more about the field because that university is a world leader in fluid power. At the time, there were no research centers in the U.S. That is different today, as Purdue, Minnesota (where Stelson is co-lab director), Milwaukee School of Engineering, and others are now working with CCEFP to extend research capabilities domestically.
There has been much discussion of whether the industry needs a specialized fluid power degree. Some say it’s necessary; others say it would hinder students’ learning.
Groot thinks fluid power cannot be a standalone subject any more. “At the technician and mechanic level, most large customers are probably happy with the level of education and training, but the lack of an engineering degree in fluid power is a problem.”
McLaren also sees a degree as being absolutely necessary, but stresses that the curriculum be written around safe design practices and devised by the industry, not the universities.
Rather than have a full bachelor’s degree dedicated to fluid power, Stelson would like to create a situation where every undergraduate understands what fluid power is, the basics of it, and why it is used.
“I think an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering is very important for people to have a broad background in fundamentals,” Stelson says. “The problem is, fluid power is almost absent in the curriculum.
“However, not everyone will work with fluid power. Each year, about 20,000 bachelor’s degrees are given in mechanical, aerospace, and agricultural engineering; probably only a few hundred actually go into fluid power.”
At the University of Minnesota, all seniors must take a lab, with one of the choices being fluid power. The fluid power lab accepts 20 students per semester; so that’s only about 20% of the graduating class.
“We need graduate courses that teach certain specialties and this is where the research is and the where the specialty is,” Stelson says. “Purdue had a fluid power option and it’s slowly being developed in other universities.”
Degree or no degree, educators and researchers do see a practical need for more training at the university level. At NFPA’s Educator-Industry Summit in 2007, it was decided that getting more fluid power instruction into the curriculum of mechanical engineering programs was a more pressing need than working towards a bachelor-level degree in fluid power. “The objective should be to make sure that every mechanical engineer graduates with fluid power as one of the essential tools in his/her toolbox,” Lanke says.
Dr. Monika Ivantysynova, MAHA Professor Fluid Power Systems at Purdue University’s School of Mechanical Engineering & Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, is working to develop a specialized fluid power program at Purdue.
“Experience does not have as high a value as in the past,” Ivantysynova says. “In this country, you take good engineers with bachelor’s degrees and companies educate them in fluid power. That used to be okay because systems were designed much more simply, but now it’s not just about products and components; it’s a system level design now. Back then, you put components together to make them work. This has totally changed since we have computers. Now we need to design and develop products and components for systems that run on a computer and models that run on a computer.”
In 2005, she introduced a new course in mechanical engineering — Design and Modeling of Fluid Power Systems. She believes it’s crucial to have elective or standard fluid power in curriculum. “To teach this on a bachelor’s degree course is very hard. I think we need, at a number of universities, special courses in fluid power as Purdue does,” Ivantysynova says. “With this introduction to fluid power, we will hopefully attract more students for this field, then hopefully, they will do a Master’s degree or specialization in the field.”
Silva agrees. “I don’t see that a degree in fluid power is necessary as part of a mechanical engineering course. The tendency seems to be to offer a course as master/doctorate levels in the area of product design, with emphasis on fluid power,” Silva says. “In this case, the engineer’s knowledge will be evaluated much more by the skill he/she demonstrates when faced with challenges in fluid power rather than by a specific degree.”
Ivantysynova concludes, “Our goal is to have degree programs or possibly to specialize on an integrated level or certification. If we could do this, it would be very great for this country. It is really time the U.S. takes over again and tries to catch up so we can be competitive.”
For more information and to read an online exclusive article about the need to attract young students to fluid power, visit forums.hydraulicspneumatics.com. Also, see page 10 in this month’s Industry News department to learn more about the CCEFP’s university test beds. And, don’t miss other online education exclusives from Bosch Rexroth, Festo, AEM, and NFPA in our forums as well.
Your source for fluid power training
To find fluid power training near you, contact your local distributor or visit the following websites for a comprehensive list of associations, businesses, technical schools, and universities holding fluid power training:
Center for Compact & Efficient Fluid Power:
National Fluid Power Association:
NFPA’s Workforce Development Resource Center:
The International Fluid Power Society:
The Fluid Power Distributors Association:
The Fluid Power Educational Foundation:
Milwaukee School of Engineering:
University of Minnesota:
Fluid Power Training Institute:http://www.fpti.org/