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Brad Kuvin Brad Kuvin
Editorial Director

With Automation Comes the Need for Specific Skill Sets

June 9, 2023

While we know all too well the negative impact of the skilled-labor shortage, here to save the day is the continuous and remarkable evolution of automation technology. Yet, development, installation, operation and maintenance of automation equipment require a subset of skilled labor. Hot commodities in the manufacturing workplace include automation engineers, and robot programmers, operators and maintenance technicians.
Certainly automation-equipment OEMs provide plenty of technical support to help metal formers launch new projects successfully in a timely manner. But what happens when automated processes require reprogramming, or the equipment requires maintenance? Without skilled labor as a backup, should automated cells go down for an extended period the workflow stops dead in its tracks.

Addressing this concern is a 2021 LinkedIn article, “Is the Lack of Robot Technicians Holding Back the Rollout of More Robots in the U.S.?” Quoting from an MIT study on the workforce of the future, “the cost of obtaining the trained workforce on top of the cost of a robot itself, just makes the total investment too much for (small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs) to justify. While larger firms can absorb the costs of both the robot application itself and the training of their team members on it, SMEs can struggle to, and, therefore, do not make the investment in either the workforce or the robotics.”  

This simply is a hurdle that must be cleared. Shops adding automated equipment must fortify their ranks, starting with individuals in leadership roles who can identify tasks worth automating in the first place. As noted in my article in this issue of MetalForming, shops must decide if they’re trying to automate a specific task because it’s a challenge, or instead seek to offset the labor burden.  According to Steve Barsanti, vice president of customer operations at Rapid Robotics, “if it’s the latter, then work at defining the right tasks to automate.”

And, when it comes to robot operations, programming, troubleshooting and maintenance, every robot OEM provides extensive course offerings, so don’t scrimp when it comes time to train your workers in all of these areas. Highly trained robotics experts represent the lifelines required to ensure optimum, reliable automation performance. 

In addition, don’t forget process integration, as human ingenuity is required to ensure that robots play well with other automation equipment and systems, including sensors and vision systems. “Several years ago, we focused our training on teaching the discrete skill of operating a robot or a CNC machine,” Fanuc’s Paul Aiello tells me. “Today, with the integration of vision systems and other devices into robotic production cells…we’ve identified critical areas on which students need to focus, including process-control technology and the digital thread…understanding Ethernet, networking protocols, PLCs and ladder logic and HMIs, and how they communicate with a robot in a system. These are the types of opportunities that should be broadcast and communicated to students.”

Most importantly, though, is ensuring that manufacturers work with training providers to ensure that the skills being developed match what’s needed in industry.  

“I believe that much of the skills gap and breakdown results from a lack of communication between education and industry,” NOCTI (formerly the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute) vice president Anne Gielczyk explains. “It’s necessary to bridge that gap to ensure that education turns out technicians that industry needs.”

Industry-Related Terms: CNC
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms


See also: Yaskawa America, Inc., FANUC America, Inc.

Technologies: Pressroom Automation, Training


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