Automation careers: Inspire, engage, teach
Filling the skills gap in manufacturing requires inspiring potential candidates about automation, then engaging and teaching youth and others interested about the rewards-monetary and others-in manufacturing automation. More needs to be done to inspire young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers, especially in manufacturing, including robotics.
More than 300,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs are unfilled for lack of qualified candidates, said Ted Rozier, engineering development manager, Festo Didactic. (Separately, the National Association of Manufacturers, citing information from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, predicted that over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs likely will be needed, and two million are expected to go unfilled due to the skills gap.
Bob Doyle, Association for Advancing Automation (A3) media contact, introduced the Automate 2017 conference session, "Developing your workforce for an automated future." Doyle said robots increase the number of jobs in manufacturing by increasing efficiency, competitiveness and market growth.
Robotic butterfly, kangaroo
Rozier is in charge of designing equipment, technical education and competence development for technology education within North America. He noted that that cost is coming down for automation technology, and it is reliable.
"It gives me goosebumps when I peer into the future of automation technology," said Rozier, and how it’s adding productivity. In addition to training, Festo Didactic helps inspire STEM youth toward manufacturing by using innovative educational materials. Festo Bionic Learning Network displays fun automation technology applications, using automated jellyfish, seagulls, butterflies, ants, kangaroo, and an exohand controller that moves a robotic hand.
"Parents think manufacturing’s dark and gloomy, and there’s no future in it, but that’s just not so," Rozier said, noting that 84% of executives agreed about a U.S. manufacturing talent shortage, citing an inability to recruit and hire personnel with the right skill sets to match hiring needs.
Association of Manufacturing Technology (AMT) research points to opportunities in computer, mechanical and electrical engineering. In North America, the greatest need is for service technicians. Being a service tech is a great job if the technicians are trained the right way, Rozier said. Mechatronics (which combines computer science, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering) must be the foundation for the training, Rozier said. Mechatronics is one of the emerging areas slated to transform the world, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Hot areas where training can help, Rozier said, include system integration, mobile robots, highly flexible transport, intelligent products, wireless communications, mobile devices, simulation tools and programming.
Train for new technologies
Many of the skill mentioned above will assist in developing a strong platform to bring about Industrie 4.0, the next industrial revolution.
New manufacturing will integrate analytics, finding out what a robot needs and when, rather than have unscheduled downtime. Radio frequency identification (RFID) will help systems and machines understand what product is where in the process where, storing information in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) manufacturing execution (ME) system, Rozier said.
Manufacturing competencies needed today include abstract learning, systemic thought, problem solving, interdisciplinary teams, context relevancy, network technology, collaborative robotics and RFID. Rozier recommends higher level training for new and existing staff to keep a workforce competitive and up to date and to help the next generation of automation professionals. Audience questions suggested a need for robotics programs at high schools—with the right equipment—to identify and encourage interested students to pursue advanced vocational training in manufacturing technology.
Robotic coworkers save jobs
Integrating robots as team members in plant-floor applications can add efficiency, increase quality, compete against low-cost countries, fill the skills gap, fill vacancies for mundane work and reduce human hazards and repetitive motion injuries, explained Matthew Bush, co-founder of Hirebotics, LLC, which provides robots to manufacturers as a service. Communicating the right message within companies that are considering or welcoming robotic coworkers is important to alleviate apprehension and ensure the robot is a productive team member, Bush said.
While mass media headlines stir fears about robots replacing jobs, Bush said, the truth is that it’s difficult or impossible to hire people for dull, dangerous, or dirty jobs; these positions are ripe for robots.
Other conditions that may signal the need for robotic coworkers include customer quality complaints, a labor shortage, high turnover, health and safety records of repetitive injuries and businesses where costs have driven orders off shore.
How to integrate robots
Bush said to involve employees early and often in the process of bringing in robots. Messaging should include insights from shift supervisors, health and safety personnel, line leaders and quality leaders, all of whom can provide valuable insights into the benefits. Early wins can be achieved by picking an area where people hate to work. Discuss plans and build excitement among employees about the opportunities that robotics and automation will create, BEFORE the robot arrives. Make it clear that the goal is not to fire people, but to create opportunities for people and the business. In one application, the robotic coworker chosen as robotic fixer and tender received the incentive of two labor grades higher than others on the line.
Humanizing the technology helps, such as giving employees a chance to name the robot, or requiring a badge or hat if other employees also wear them. One collaborative robot with a 5 kg payload was named Waldo and given a red and white striped shirt like the children’s book character Waldo (from the book, Where’s Waldo?) because it was moved to multiple locations until the best area was found. Throughout the process, think again about how robots are introduced and used, Bush advised. It’s counterproductive if headcount reduction is used as the primary rational for robots or if the first anyone hears about the robot is when it arrives on the loading dock, Bush said. Replacement by attrition is best.
Seeing the need firsthand in many locations, Bush is a strong advocate for the mechatronics program at his local high school. Clearly, manufacturing technology experts, robotics and automation need to work together early and often.
Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, email@example.com. A3 is a CFE Media content partner.
This online version of the article links to a career survey and advice coverage in this issue. It also link to educational opportunities and advice Also see https://www.bls.gov/iag/tgs/iag31-33.htm, www.nam.org, and www.robotics.org.
2016 Control Engineering salary and career survey online article.
2016 Control Engineering career and salary survey digital edition article.
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