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How close are you to being replaced by a robot?

Posted by admin on Saturday February 17th, 2018
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Business owners are quick to point out that market forces are constantly changing. Industry pundits advise companies to evolve to keep up with these changes. Doesn’t the same apply to the employees of these companies?

I ask that because I’m not sure that most people understand that further skills development is not only good for the company, but also good for the individual. It keeps them more relevant in the job that they currently have and more marketable when that job suddenly ends, by the individual’s or the employer’s choice.

That line of thinking began after a discussion with Scott Laslo, an assistant professor of design, construction, and skilled trades at Columbus State Community College in Columbus, Ohio. He and his team use a welding training device from Lincoln Electric that scores students’ welding skills automatically against parameters set up in a welding procedure specification stored in the computer memory. In talking about the use of this advanced technology, Laslo said that welders with knowledge of robotic programming are in great demand.

“The challenge that our local companies are having is that the person involved in assembly where the robot is predominantly making the weldments is there for quality control. But what these companies are finding is that the person does not understand welding,” Laslo said. “They don’t know if a bad weld is related to a robotic issue or a welding consumable, for instance.”

ATI Industrial Automation – Robotic End-Effectors and Automation Tooling
He added that these companies are comfortable teaching someone how to program a robot, but they really don’t have the expertise to teach someone to weld. They are basically waiting for a welder to step forward and show interest in programming and running that robot.

Taking advantage of new learning opportunities while staying on top of daily responsibilities is not the easiest of pursuits. This is only exacerbated when hot jobs hit, new equipment is being installed, or the plant layout is being reorganized, for instance. During these types of events, a day that actually ends after eight hours is as rare as full box of doughnuts in the break room.

Change obviously can be hard, especially the older one gets. It’s frustrating to see younger people pick up on new technology so quickly because they are more comfortable with modern graphic user interfaces after having spent half of their childhood in front of a digital screen. But change only gets harder the more one resists. Technology development is not going to stop just because people don’t want to interact with a robotic welding cell. In fact, if people don’t evolve to become a robot programmer or a fixer, they are more likely to be replaced by some sort of automation in the future.

That’s a pretty dire warning, but it’s true. Automation is supplanting the need for a lot of low-skilled labor. That’s why everyone has to step up their skills development. Call it a reboot. Call it Version 2.0.

Rick Calverley, director of education at Lincoln College of Technology’s Grand Prairie, Texas, campus, said he tries to drive home that point to his students. His welding students use an augmented reality training device from Miller Electric Mfg. Co., and he feels that it makes sense for them to be using the latest tools to master different welding processes.

“We need to be driving our students to the technology and not away from it. You just need to think about 10 years from now, and you know that technology is going to roll over again into something different,” Calverley said. “These students are going to be a part of that as well.”

It’s almost like training yourself to be open-minded and cognizant that how you work today may not exactly be how you’ll be working tomorrow. A good attitude helps, of course, and that’s where younger people might have an edge on their older counterparts.

“They’re not intimidated by something like the augmented reality device,” Calverley said. “Taking them out to a welding booth with some pipe and a stick in the stinger, that’s intimidating for them. But these guys, they don’t care if they jump on the automated system and they’re terrible at it. It’s fun for them. It’s like a video game. You learn from it, and you do better the next time.”

That’s great advice. If you look at life as a long-term learning experience, you can’t be thrown off the journey by the occasional failure. They are inevitable. The effort made and desire to learn are what’s important. That’s reality, no augmentation required.

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