Automation is key to the US competing on a global manufacturing stage, but we have work to do to train our workforce to be fluent in advanced manufacturing skills such as robot programming.
To enable more broad deployment of the automation that will power the future of manufacturing, it is imperative that we make automation easier to deploy. However, user-friendly automation technology isn’t enough on its own because we need a way to rapidly train more workers in the skills necessary to implement automation.
The future of US manufacturing requires that we democratize automation with a combination of technology and worker training/upskilling. One example of where success is being had is in Paintsville, Kentucky.
In the middle of coal country, Kathy Walker has built a model for the future at the Eastern Kentucky Advanced Manufacturing Institute (eKAMI). eKAMI is teaching unemployed coal miners the advanced manufacturing skills that US manufacturing sorely needs.
“We are reskilling the region’s people for jobs in advanced manufacturing. This community needs it, and US manufacturing needs it.” says Walker. Proof that the skills eKAMI is teaching are in high demand is that eKAMI has trained over 100 students with a 100% job placement rate.
Most students accept job offers before they graduate their 16-week course. While their advanced manufacturing course teaches valuable skills, READY was excited by the opportunity to help eKAMI expand their curriculum to include robotics skills that enable eKAMI students to multiply their impact on the manufacturing floor.
“Robots are far too hard to program. So despite falling robot prices, the programming barrier has kept automation out of reach for many manufacturers. That’s why we built Forge/OS – to enable any manufacturer to deploy and own their automation.” says Kel Guerin PhD, Co-Founder and CTO of READY Robotics.
“We’re seeing incredible results from our customers who are powering their automation with Forge/OS, but we realize that the more we can train up workers skilled in automation, the more we can magnify the impact of Forge/OS. ”
Creating a reasonable path for workers to learn the skills necessary to design, program, deploy, manage and troubleshoot automation is critical to the health of US manufacturing. Our skilled labor shortage dictates that we must better leverage the existing workforce: reskilling existing workers, and training the next generation with the skills that manufacturing is starving for.
We need workers who can program a CNC machine, and then design, program and deploy the tools necessary to automate that workcell. READY’s 3 week add-on to eKAMI’s 16-week CNC course teaches these skills. The course goes far beyond just programming the robot. It includes cell design, robot and hardware evaluation, parts presentation, machine tool operation, programming peripherals and more.
A testament to the power of a cross-brand robot programming platform like Forge/OS, the eKAMI students were programming Yaskawa, FANUC and UR robots in one day.
By learning a single platform that enabled them to quickly program multiple brands of robots, the students were able to spend the bulk of their 3-week automation curriculum learning about the details of automation, and getting robots and machine tools to work seamlessly together.
This allowed all the students to program a lights out manufacturing task in just 2.5 weeks – when none had ever touched a robot before.
“We can’t hire our way out of our skilled labor shortage.” says Aaron Prather, R&D Evangelist at FedEx Express. “But, we can upskill our workers, and create a superhuman workforce with skills that make them orders of magnitude more productive than they otherwise would have been. I believe this has the potential to both increase manufacturing output, and create tens of thousands of high quality jobs!”
It’s not just thought leaders like Aaron Prather who are recognizing the importance of workers skilled in automation, but political leaders as well. On August 27th Senator Mitch McConnell visited eKAMI to tour the facility, and see their efforts to produce PPE for frontline medical professionals.
“We were excited to share with Senator McConnell what we are doing to help train a new generation of manufacturing professionals skilled in robotics.” says Ben Gibbs, Co-Founder and CEO of READY Robotics. “Having a workforce trained in robotics brings a host of benefits, including higher productivity, greater cost competitiveness, and more resiliency.”