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Campbell River NIC students build own yogurt maker

Capstone project showcase students’ skills for changing workplace
People line up for a closer look at the YO-BOT following Thursday’s demonstration at NIC. Photo by Mike Chouinard/Campbell River Mirror

Some North Island College students used robotics to serve up something cold on Thursday afternoon.

A team of industrial automation students, led by Tyler Kelly, put on a display of their capstone project, the YO-BOT, or robotic frozen yogurt maker.

Kelly and the team spent the last few weeks assembling and programming the YO-BOT, working as teams within the team on different elements of the project, such as making the batch of yogurt or working on the distribution of toppings. The other NIC students involved with the project were: Giovanni Bellosillo, Isiah Dyck, Gavin Farrell, Norman Fujino, Craig Hudson, Andrew Kirkpatrick, Curtis Perron and Jayme Ulicny.

The capstone project provides a chance for NIC students to showcase the skills and knowledge they have acquired over two years. The last few classes of industrial automation students have focussed on food for their capstone projects.

“Last year, they did soup, and they already had a decent base,” Kelly said. “We thought ‘why not do another food item?’”

Instructor Brad Harsell said the students change the project each year. In recent years, some of the projects have included a candle-maker, bottled lemonade and garden benches.

“One of the reasons I love this job is every class is different,” he said.

With the capstone projects, the student team creates some kind of automated process in a lab setting that uses robotics, automated controls, instrumentation and computer graphic interfaces, such as a human machine interface (HMI) system.

“It allows the operator to have a visual [representation] of what’s going on,” Kelly said.

Before running the demonstration of the team’s YO-BOT, he gave an introduction to the audience assembled in the classroom for the presentation, explaining how the students designed the system to kill all the bad bacteria in the ingredients, cool the product down and add good bacteria, which then sits at 38 degrees Celsius in order to cultivate and create the yogurt.

“Another cool thing we did was we used a radar to see the level in the tank,” Kelly said.

He did warn visitors not to eat the yogurt, as the capstone project was really more focussed on displaying the basic manufacturing processes rather than producing a consumable food item.

To begin, the YO-BOT’s robotic arm grabs a cup and places it on the conveyor, then runs the cup of yogurt through different stops where fruit flavouring, granola and sprinkles are added, before sending the yogurt cup to the end of the assembly line. Kelly was relieved Thursday’s presentation went smoothly, especially as the team had faced a few minor obstacles during a test run earlier in the day.

“We were having granola and sprinkler issues this morning,” he said.

The aim of the industrial automation program, Harsell explained, is to give the students like Kelly and the rest of the team the edge in meeting the demands of the changing workplace.

“We really try to focus on that idea on experiential learning,” he said.

Harsell expects work environments to become more automated in the coming years, so this training will give North Island College students the basis to face the challenges.

“I’m sure they’re going to be assets for whoever they go to work for in the coming years,” he added.