Modernizing The Workforce

Developing workforce strategies and tools capable of training the next generation of industrial workers

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Emerging technologies are causing the industrial landscape to evolve at an incredible rate, enabling more integrated and automated processes to advance manufacturing production. While the main buzzwords surrounding this digital transformation and subsequent robotic usage continue to be “artificial intelligence” and “machine learning,” the concept of workforce development remains extremely relevant.

To successfully manage digitization, as well as the uptick in demand for advanced manufacturing techniques, a highly skilled, more adaptive workforce is required. Add this to the 2.4 million manufacturing positions that are predicted to go unfilled through 2028, and the need for work-based learning opportunities versed in Industry 4.0 technologies that can transform learning ecosystems is vast.

A network of solution partners is providing the necessary resources and skill-based training to yield a more knowledgeable workforce.

Training solution partners

To deal with disruption and mitigate growing labor deficits, nearly 94 percent of manufacturers are looking to hire skilled workers or upskill current employees. Viewed as a force multiplier, workforce development not only prepares workers, but it also provides the capacity – along with advanced technologies and techniques – to move manufacturing forward.

With this in mind, educational entities, industry players and government agencies are leveraging their resources and expertise to develop workforce strategies and tools capable of training the next generation of industrial workers. Extremely advantageous, this type of collaboration helps facilitate the needed shift toward a more dynamic and modern approach to education.

Providing the necessary resources and skill-based training to yield a more knowledgeable workforce, a growing network of solution partners is assisting in this space. Serving educational institutions wanting to train their students and manufacturers looking to upskill their employees, companies such as training solutions provider Intelitek are partnering with industry players like Yaskawa to align industry standards with comprehensive curriculum and training platforms.

“Collaborating with leading OEMs helps our company deliver industry-grade certification programs and solutions that use relevant technologies,” says Graham Celine, vice president of business development and marketing for Intelitek. “This includes the use of high-performance robots and other cutting-edge peripherals to simulate real-world scenarios.”

Diverse training options

The use of these training solutions equips individuals with the practical knowledge that is in high demand by modern industry employers. From rapid prototyping and CNC machining to arc welding, part assembly and more, a variety of application options exist to provide technical and hands-on training that fulfills diverse market requirements. Solutions for robotic welding can be extremely beneficial and are available in a variety of forms.

Portable robotic platforms. Designed with students in mind, safe and easily moveable training solutions provide an all-in-one package that gives a first-hand robot programming experience. Highly relevant for modern factory applications, these user-friendly educational systems come fully equipped with everything needed to learn the basics of an application.

For welding, this typically comprises a compact arc welding robot, welding power supply, robotic welding torch, application-appropriate software and project-based training curriculum. A safety light curtain, weld curtain and fume extraction are also included. Overall, these space-saving, portable education carts are an ideal tool to support educators and instructors who are preparing the next generation of robot programmers.

For schools or manufacturers wanting to proceed with robot training while equipment acquisition plans are finalized, or for organizations planning to run a temporary STEM camp or robot training, select solution providers, such as GennFlex, offer education cart rentals. Not only does this keep the per-student and per-employee cost in check, it also makes robotics education more accessible and equitable, effectively helping to reduce the skills gap.

Designed with students in mind, safe and easily moveable training solutions provide an all-in-one package that gives a first-hand robot programming experience.

Compact efficiency workcells. Especially helpful and cost-effective for businesses wanting to upskill their internal workforce, highly flexible and compact welding workcells that come safeguarded and have a completed risk assessment compliant with ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012 and other relevant standards may be used. Not only can these solutions be used for training current employees, they are an ideal segue into robotic automation for job shops looking to add capacity or supplement manual welding.

Robot simulation software. Robust software solutions are ideal for those wanting to master programming skills in a learning environment before executing them on an actual robotic workcell. A variety of cost-effective and user-friendly solutions exist to mimic robot OEM controls in realistic production settings, allowing students the freedom to learn at a practical pace.

Popular software solutions enable offline robot programming and 3-D simulation of industrial workcells in a safe, virtual setting. Taking this concept a step further are hands-on software/hardware platforms, like MotoSim Touch. Not only do options like this provide a PC-based programming environment, they also permit the opportunity to toggle between a virtual pendant or a hardware pendant, allowing new users to get a feel for both programming styles.

Moreover, the robot programming paths created during simulation can be saved to a flash drive and transferred to an actual robot for the next step in the training sequence. This is also indicative of a real-world engineering experience, as robotic workcells are always simulated before being built. Regardless of the software option chosen, robot simulation tools enable users to become proficient in a variety of functions, including robot path, speed, tool control point (TCP), user frames, macro command, relative job, multiple robot control and more.

Augmented reality training. The best programmers for robotic welding are often those familiar with manual welding. To provide the necessary skills in this realm, advanced augmented reality training systems are used by a variety of organizations. This form of education allows students to repeatedly practice with real 3-D objects in conjunction with virtual computer-generated images, offering the most realistic welding learning experience possible without physical risk and with zero gas emissions.

Comprehensive robotics courses. From web-based learning management systems (LMS) and in-person robotics training courses to industrial certification programs and more, unique options exist for comprehensive robot training. For students looking to robotically weld, the utilization of a portable robotic platform, equipped with industrial equipment and complemented by skills-based training curriculum, is ideal. In these cases, K-12 instructors, STEM instructors and adult education teachers should consider train-the-trainer programs to gain accurate training to better facilitate the learning process.

From educational carts to efficiency workcells, colleges and universities wanting to bolster robotics offerings may be well-served by implementing a variety of robotic technologies and curriculum options. Along with this, professors can seek out industry-endorsed instructor training, like the MERIT program that is specifically designed for educational institutions that have a vision of becoming a satellite training facility.

Aside from the MERIT program, robot operators have other avenues that can be pursued to obtain industry-recognized credentials. For welding applications, this includes training from organizations, such as the National Institute for Metalworking Skills or the American Welding Society. Hands-on training at an International Accreditors for Continuing Education and Training facility, such as Yaskawa Academy, may be helpful, as well.

Online learning environments. Also helping to build a diverse pipeline for robotics careers are online learning or e-learning environments. LMS offered by robot OEMs and educational solution partners are suggested, and they are effective in transforming classrooms into engaging and proactive learning environments. Most importantly, LMS options free teachers to focus on instruction by automating time-consuming classroom administration and enabling real-time assessment of student progress.

Mobile carts for education, like this one from Intelitek, include the components to set up an industrial robotic classroom workstation and can be moved and stored easily when not in use.

This type of interactive curriculum is extremely relevant and is the go-to for most educational systems introducing robotics. Comprehensive, cloud-based platforms, such as CoderZ by Intelitek, make learning fun by offering gamified learning tools designed with best practices by world-class STEM educators. From social-emotional learning and science and engineering practices to critical life skills, platforms like this provide a knowledge-rich learning environment using an appealing interface.

Instructor-based curriculum is also offered from a variety of suppliers and integrators, allowing education and manufacturing professionals to polish their computer science, coding and robotics skills to build a solid foundation for the future of advanced manufacturing.

Future-thinking ecosystems

Educational partnerships between industrial players, governmental agencies and solution suppliers are helping to create a more future-thinking learning ecosystem, where a blend of education platforms and tools are used. Moreover, key integrators, like Intelitek and GennFlex, fill an important niche for enabling greater workforce agility. Looking ahead, more partnerships of this kind will serve to foster advanced manufacturing skills that move industry forward.

Educational systems or manufacturers interested in learning more about robotics education should reach out to an automation supplier or an educational integrator. An initial conversation can go a long way in determining which robotic platforms or educational tools will be needed to create the desired learning ecosystem.

Yaskawa America Inc.

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