Students learn cutting-edge tech with robotic welder

  • Published Monday, September 30, 2019

Welding class with RTC President, Mr. Piggot, and others in front of the welding robot
Back, from left: President Kevin McCarthy, Charles Pigott, Instructor Mike Stokes, graduate Rebecca Howard, Instructor Rick Geist, Dave Edwards, Vice President for Student Services Jessica Gilmore English. Front: Student Kevin Shellenberger.


The latest technology will give Renton Technical College welding and machining students an advantage in the workforce. The welding shop is now home to a cutting-edge Fanuc robotic welder. The machine (an ARC mate 100ic/12 Thro-arm Robotic package with GMAW welder provided by WOLF Robotics, a Lincoln Electric company) was made possible through a major gift from former PACCAR CEO Charles Pigott.

“This is top of the line,” Welding Instructor Rick Geist said. “This is leading edge tech in robotic welding right now. It’s going to take us to the next generation of welding automation, 3D printing and put our students ahead.”

The Fanuc was installed over the summer in the Welding shop. Geist, along with Instructor Mike Stokes and few selected students, underwent intensive training before introducing it this fall.

Using robotic welding automation, the manufacturing process takes less time and can cut employer costs and increase efficiency. Once it’s set up, it can run 24-hours a day. Robotic weld cells provide a safer work environment by reducing arc glare and overspray. Users must be welders, but they learn to program as well.

While automation might mean fewer jobs, employees with advanced skills such as robotics will have an advantage in landing even higher-paying jobs. Geist said there are unfilled positions right now because companies can’t find qualified workers, he said. RTC’s new robot will change that. Kevin Shellenberger is a welding grad who is now in the Machining Technologies Program. He says the company he works for has a robotic welder, but no one knew how to use it. He’s learning so he can take on increased responsibility at work.

He and a few other select students were the first to get their hands on the robot over the summer. Rebecca Howard graduated from the welding program in June and was back on campus over the summer to learn how to program the Fanuc.

“I’m the first woman to weld with a robot at this school,” she said with pride. “We apply a lot of our welding skill to this, and you learn to be an engineer. You’re teaching the robot what you want it to do.”

Rebecca Howard (welding student) showing the welding robot machine
Welding graduate student Rebecca Howard with the welding robot.


Mr. Pigott is a well-known philanthropist who oversaw the growth of his family-owned PACCAR. He previously helped fund equipment for the Mechatronics Program and said his goal in supporting new machinery is to help meet workforce demands.

“We need to keep our workforce at the cutting edge,” he said. “If you are not, you’re going to be left behind.”

RTC President Kevin McCarthy thanked him t for his support of the high-wage, in-demand career training programs RTC offers.

“Our mission is to meet the needs of students, as well as the needs of businesses and industry,” McCarthy said. “This is one more example of how partnerships can help our students succeed.”