It was 2017 when Lakewood Ranch-based Certified Collectibles Group paid $135,000 for RND Automation to develop a special machine for its company to pull American Eagle silver dollars out of a case to be evaluated.
The machine made a laborious process rather simple — the coins were sealed tightly in a square plastic case — and cut the time needed to complete the task significantly.
After the coins were pulled and evaluated by Certified Collectibles' staff members, the ones not meeting proper standards were returned to the machine to have the robot seal them back into the plastic case.
Aaron Laine, RND Automation's key account sales engineer who was the main mechanical engineer on the project, says the machine was, indeed, one of a kind.
However, the uniqueness of such specially designed machines also can limit their lifespan. After five years, the way Certified Collectibles received the coins was changed. And the machine became obsolete.
"It got to the point where we could do it better," says Certified Collectibles Vice President Craig Fiumara.
The robot had been designed to handle the American Eagles and also a Chinese coin called the "Panda."
Fiumara says the low six-figures purchase from RND Automation, also based in Lakewood Ranch and a division of Massachusetts-based automation firm CAS, paid for itself many times over. Yet upon taking the machine offline, Fiumara had another problem.
"It is amazing how many labor hours that machine saved us," Fiumara said. "But we have space constraints, and I didn't want to trash it."
So Fiumara called Laine at RND. He asked if the robotics company wanted his machine back.
Laine had an idea. Instead of using the machine to scavenge parts, how about Certified Collectibles donate the machine to an educational institution? Laine could handle the particulars and hopefully land a matching grant of $50,000.
Fiumara, who has purchased four such machines from RND Automation, was all for it. The pair of companies next began to work out the details.
Fiumara says if the donation of the machine would inspire one student to go into the industry, it was worth it. "I hope those students (who work with the machine), become our future leaders," he said.
Meanwhile, Desh Bagley, State College of Florida's director of its new Coding Academy on its Bradenton campus had called Laine to see if RND was still willing to make a $500 donation to the school. She was holding a free college workshop open to the public and wanted to use the money to pay for the event's food.
Laine told Bagley: "I've got something better for you."
He asked her if she could make use of the machine and its five-axis FANUC robot.
"I told him, 'I'm game,'" Bagley says.
Bagley says the machine will allow SCF to expand its workforce development training.
Laine worked with Heather Zahory, a program assistant for the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute, on thge grant side. PMMI gave a matching grant of $50,000 to accompany the donation.
Zahory says her job is to make connections with schools and industry executives. "Manufacturing is on the rise," says Zahory, whose office is in Herndon, Virginia, adding that it "definitely needs (workers)."
"We have to grow awareness about the packaging industry and jobs," she adds. "We have to create a pipeline."
The grant comes from the PMMI U Skills Fund, part of its nonprofit foundation. Bagley says it is much needed.
Bagley says it would cost $10,000 just to move and set up the machine, about the size of one of those arcade games where a crane tries to grab stuffed animals. It's also plenty heavy, and will require a real crane to place it.
Zahory says all this is happening because of RND Automation.
"They have a strong relationship with our college partners," Zahory says.
RND, through this effort, are also helping younger students. For example, while Laine recently gave Bagley and Laine a tour of the RND Automation facility in Lakewood Ranch, which opened in 2018, an SCF Coding Academy summer camp tour group was checking out of machines and robots as well.
Bagley says similar students, who will be about 11 and 12 years old, will be learning how to program the machine by next summer. SCF's coding students will be working with the machine in the fall. The Coding Academy opened in 2021.
She says RND Automation is setting a great model for other technology companies to follow.
It was the second major donation of a machine by RND Automation, which was founded in 2005 and has since grown to 58 employees. The first donation was given to Suncoast Technical College.
This article originally appeared on sister site YourObserver.com.