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Training & Education

The right skills

By Lauren Duensing

Above: Students who graduate with skills in robotic automation can enter the workforce with a high-paying job.

Working on actual industrial equipment prepares students for technologically advanced manufacturing jobs

October 2019 - Manufacturing executives consistently report that applicants for open positions don’t have the appropriate basic technical training and are unable to meet necessary standards for computer and math skills. To bridge this gap, Fanuc America Corp., Rochester Hills, Michigan, began working with manufacturers and educators to develop a program that teaches students new manufacturing technologies, such as robotic automation and vision technology, artificial intelligence and data analytics.

“We wanted to create an industry and education partnership,” says Paul Aiello, director, Fanuc Certified Education Training. “We’ve been working with schools for more than 35 years but, up until about 11 years ago, it was a reactive approach—assisting them with implementing automation and robotic training programs. In 2008 and 2009, as we were coming though the recession, many manufacturers were facing the challenge of developing talent. They needed to have individuals who could hit the ground running.”

Aiello says that neither Fanuc nor manufacturers and educational institutions alone, despite their best efforts, could keep up with the increasing need for training. The company’s goal “was to bring these three entities together so we could all look at the challenges and address them.”

Relevance

The key to Fanuc’s CERT training is that schools “work with an industry aligned and relevant training program using the exact same equipment and technology that’s seen in manufacturing,” Aiello notes. “We like to say that we don’t build industrial equipment for education. We build industrial equipment that’s used in education for training. It’s not a watered-down or an academic tool—it’s an industry tool used in an education environment.”

Using industry-standard equipment in the classroom ensures that students learn on the same robots and automation they’ll be working with in the real world. Aiello says this equipment is the “exact same” as what the company’s customers purchase, but “we have implemented technology within the robot and the controller so that it is both safe for students to work with and packaged in a way that is much more conducive to learning in a classroom environment—similar to the way we prepare our robots for training in our own organization.”

This means, he says, that the robots are equipped with dual-check safety software to help control the speed and position of the robot, they have special end-of-arm tooling and project-based learning kits, and they can plug into a standard wall outlet and roll through a standard doorway.

Beyond providing equipment, Fanuc also strives to make the CERT education program robust for schools “by providing a gift in kind to every single school that works with us,” Aiello says. “We train and certify their instructor free of charge. We provide them with the curriculum and complementary e-learning platforms. And then we provide them with a simulation software to outfit a PC lab, where students can learn how to program the robot virtually and then transfer those programs directly to their robot. The only thing the school has to commit to is buying the robot work cell, which is an academic-priced system that’s about 50 percent less than an industrial cost.”

Mix and match

“Manufacturing has completely changed,” Aiello points out. “The jobs that are dark, dangerous, monotonous or ergonomically hazardous—those are the applications for robots. To change a manufacturing process to an automated process, however, creates four or five new jobs in the manufacturing ecosystem. Somebody has to operate the robot, program it, integrate it, install it and design the end-of-arm tooling.”

And, once students gain the skills needed to work with the robots, their knowledge is transferrable, making them highly sought after in the marketplace. Aiello says he recently received an email from a student who learned how to program Fanuc material handling robots, which are widely used. “This individual graduated from high school with a Fanuc certification and went to work for one of our customers programming Fanuc painting robots. Once you understand the foundational skills of our technology and how to program it, you can walk into a facility that’s doing painting or welding or dispensing and be fully prepared to learn the manufacturer’s application of that technology.

“We hear success stories of students who are graduating from high school with certificates in robotic automation and vision systems and entering directly into the workforce,” Aiello continues. “We also have countless community colleges around the country that have near 100 percent job placement, with students receiving multiple job offers. It sets them off toward very rewarding and high-demand, high-paying career opportunities.” FFJ

Sources

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