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Edtrication for Engineers

This is not a revolution, but a pebble being tossed into a large body of water causing ripples of what, Wess Gates, owner of Edtrication, hopes is a change in how engineers learn and create.

Last year, Gates started Edtrication, an Irvine-based company, to give engineers and college students hands-on experience in building products and learning how to use the necessary equipment.

The company is the learning arm of his consulting and engineering firm, Edtric. Gates says interactions with clients made him realize the importance of building a community for engineers to do what engineers should do - create.

"There were a lot of qualified engineers, degree wise, but the experience to actually realize what it takes to build something or take it from concept to product [was lacking]," says Gates, who also has extensive engineering experience.

The scientist and engineer has worked for companies like Boeing and received a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, followed by a master's in aerospace and mechanical engineering from the University of Southern California.

His knowledge is coupled with a passion for teaching others, and he has put his life savings into Edtrication.

Tucked away in Sky Park Circle, the Edtrication classroom features a row of workstations each equipped with its own laptop, soldering station, multimeters, and power supplies.

Each laptop is equipped with engineering software such as SpaceClaim, a program that would cost someone roughly $3,500, says Gates. He is currently attempting to work out a deal with the company for students and members to access the program remotely from home.

A course lasts five weeks and classes are once a week for two hours. Prices range from $150 for an introductory course like Basic Electronics to $450 for an advanced course like Applied Signals, Sensing and Control.

For those already familiar with the topics covered by Edtrication, membership services are available to those 18 years and older, and comes with a monthly access to machines. Minors are allowed with an adult supervisor. A safety course must be completed with initial membership and a machine training course. Prices are from $65 to $150 per month.    

Depending on the membership level, students can have access to a computer numerical control (CNC) machine, which lets an individual mold and shape large parts. There is also a PCB mill that allows a person to design a circuit board.

According to Gates, other machines like 3D printers and 2D laser cutters will soon be available.

Many of the tools and machinery may be familiar to some of his clientele, but Gates says courses are always available to those interested.

His goal is to give his students access to machinery and the experience in learning how to use it in order to become better problem-solvers.

Gates' approach to learning is slightly different than the increasingly popular "maker movement," as heralded by Chris Anderson, former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine. The crux of the movement is a do-it-yourself attitude to manufacturing, popularized by 3D printers available to consumers.

His aim is to make Edtrication an incubator for innovators where they can materialize their ideas and learn how to invent, prototype and do product design and development. It's a subtle difference, but an important one because as companies offshore manufacturing jobs, engineers in the U.S. are less likely to understand the many nuances and steps of manufacturing, according to Gates.

"Our main goal is to try and get people interested in the high-tech stuff like robotics and new product development," says Gates.

The courses are tailored for engineering students and what he coins as "early-career engineers."

"The one that just graduated, and now they're sitting at their desk thinking, 'Holy smokes, this isn't what I signed up for. I'm doing PowerPoints and answering e-mails. I wanted to build things,'" he says. "It would [also] be awesome to teach artists how to make circuits... and build micro-controllers and build moving objects that are artistic, but still contain technology objects."

During the SOBECA Art Walk in January at The CAMP, Gates had his own booth. A sizable crowd had formed around him as they asked questions about electronics and his courses.

It served as a stark, but positive, contrast to criticism Gates faced when deciding to start his company in Orange County.

"People have said, 'Oh, Orange County is a tough nut to crack'... they always claim Orange County is behind, but I've been [living] here since 2002 and I love Orange County and feel like there's a great community of engineers and proximity to great colleges," says Gates.

While he continues to foster a community, Gates hopes that his company will help play a part in making engineers realize the importance of being involved with both ends of technology, not just the theoretical or academic aspect.

"If I have the opportunity to share our experiences, [which] is not necessarily right or wrong, we'll be able to help others kind of accelerate or kick-start some more tech shops here in Orange County," says Gates. "It would be awesome."

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