Robots and Automation – Listener Post

Kevin wrote in about his experiences with automation at work. We asked him if it would be OK to post his email on the site and he kindly agreed. We only edited his email to remove references to where he works.

by Kevin Coleman

Hello DTNS Team!

I have been listening to your show every single day for a long time now and I am a huge fan. You all do fantastic work!

My name is Kevin Coleman. I work at a drivetrain manufacturing facility that produces 2 different main models of 4 cylinder engines as well as, a 6 cylinder engine. We also produce several versions of 8 speed automatic transmissions.

I listened to the podcast yesterday and thought I might be able to give my thoughts on robots and automation. I am an Advanced Manufacturing Technician at our facility. My job is mainly to inspect, repair, maintain, and troubleshoot our automated equipment.

From my perspective, automation has been a huge advantage to our operations and is, in fact, creating more and more jobs. Our facility has grown to employ more people since I have worked here (5+ years) and because of the efficiency at which we can manufacture our product, we are able to expand to include more products which creates more jobs as we open up more department. This includes not only production workers, but also technicians, engineers, Management, HR staff, etc.

Another thing that I can’t believe has not been mentioned on the show (at least I don’t think) is collaborative robot in automation! I have personally seen a HUGE push over the past 3 years for more collaborative robots. These robots don’t work to replace a production position, but instead assist the production team members with assembly or machining tasks. An example of this: Some of our production assembly team members were finding it difficult to pick up the head gaskets that are installed during assembly. The gaskets would stick together and be difficult to pick just one (kind of like picking one piece of paper off of a large stack) To assist, we installed a collaborative robot which does only two things. It picks up the head gasket using suction cups, checks to ensure only one gasket was picked to ensure quality, and then hands the head gasket to the team member to be installed.

This did not eliminate a team member’s position, the team member is still there installing the head gasket, but the Team member no longer has to struggle with picking them, and can focus more on proper installation and quality. There are countless uses for these collaborative robots.

In my experience, tasks that are completely automated are either extremely repetitive, are unsafe (or less safe) for humans, strenuous, or require precision beyond what a human can achieve. Any time we have automated a process, we don’t eliminate positions, we are putting team members somewhere else where they can be of more help doing things that robots can’t do.

I began my career as an Advanced Manufacturing Technician straight out of high school. I joined a program that is set up and sponsored by my employer. While I went to school for Advanced Manufacturing Technology, I also worked a minimum of 24 hours a week in our facility getting on-the-job training. I could take the things I learned in class and immediately see the uses for that information on the plant floor. Our company selects a certain number of people each year to participate in this program at our facility, but they have invested heavily in the schools to which we went. The company has invested millions into training equipment and facilities on school campus for ALL to use. Although our company only takes a limited number each year, the programs created for us are available for others to take as well (and many do, I had many classmates from other manufacturing facilities). Many of my classmates weren’t straight out of high school like myself, many joined the program to be retrained, to get a skilled, high paying job.

Our company does not only do this at our facility, but all over North America. Many companies are getting involved and I am living proof that these companies (at least in my experience) are pushing hard for training programs that not only benefit them, but manufacturing and industry as a whole.

The group that all of these manufacturers is creating is called FAME USA (Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education).

Robots are fun. Robots are future.