What Are the Categories of Jobs in Robotics?

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Cincinnati Milacron's Joseph Gaynor, who manages marketing services for the industrial robot division, sees robotics jobs as falling into three categories.

"First," he says, "are technicians, who primarily do robot maintenance? They can be graduates of two-year technical schools, and don't need an engineering degree. Often they have additional training through factory school (vendor-offered classes about the product)." Videotapes and self-teaching manuals, provided by companies like Cincinnati Milacron, help those in the field with refresher courses.

Gaynor says more elaborate skills are not needed for technicians, because if they can't analyze problems, they can phone for factory assistance-free, while a robot is still in warranty. Technicians need to recognize functionally what a robot is to do, he says, and see that it's performing up to specifications.

Gaynor sees a second level of robotics-related jobs as process- and production-oriented.

"You don't need computer experience to work with the robot," he says, "but you do need to know the plant process so you can make value judgments as to when that process is being performed properly. You do have to have some mechanical aptitude.

"In addition, you have to be able to evaluate the desired sequence of events and when they should occur. You must be able to make trade-offs, knowing what changes in the process can be made without affecting the end product."

Gaynor uses as an example a person who is teaching a robot how to weld a part for a farm implement. "That person should be a welding engineer who knows farm implement welding," Gaynor says. "He or she must be familiar with welding industry codes or product codes that apply to the manufacturer, so industry standards for farm equipment can be met. That person also must understand the welding process itself: arc voltages, wire feed, attitude of the torch, velocities of the weld, and parameters of the welding process." At Perm State, which has 15 robots on its main campus, a student who wants to work in robotics has several options. Says Wysk, "A mechanical engineer might determine the number and types of axes on the robot, and the size of each of the joint links the robot has. "An electrical engineering student would probably deal with the motion control system of the robot, creating the electronics to make it work. Some of the software that makes the robot operational might be developed by a computer scientist or a computer engineer. And an industrial engineer would be creating the integrated environment between people and machines in the factory."

A Robotics Project Engineer

Today, project engineers in robotics and assembly like David N. Cotsman, with General Motors' Advanced Engineering Staff, are part of the team that launched Saturn, GM's advanced small car concept, which was produced using innovative manufacturing technology.

David's background in mechanical and electrical engineering as a co-op student at the General Motors Institute was responsible for his interest in robotics. "As part of my GMI thesis," he says, "I wanted to evaluate applications for robots in the manufacturing process. My summer at GM's Tech Center was valuable experience."

Currently, as a GM Senior Project Engineer in Robotics and Assembly, David heads a group working on a unique assembly process for Saturn cars. "We want to have robots remove the doors from cars that have been painted, but untrimmed, and then have robots replace doors after all the interior trim work is done," he explains. This can make life a lot easier for Saturn's assembly line workers."

In addition, David serves on the Safety Workgroup of the Corporate Robotics Council, which represents all GM divisions and activities that are involved with robotics. The Council is developing a safety system that can protect people and equipment by sensing anything in the robot's environment that doesn't belong there-a misplaced tool, or a person who gets too close to the robot's operating area.

More Robotics Jobs

Cincinnati Milacron's Gaynor sees another category of robot-related jobs as monitoring. "Someone has to watch the robot and make sure it's working the way it's supposed to," he says. "If it's not right, that person can call the maintenance expert."

Chicago's Center for Robotic Technology, a proprietary institution, suggests that certificate-level technicians can install industrial robots or automated manufacturing systems, and can be involved with troubleshooting. "They may also get involved in sales presentations," says a school spokesman.

"Degreed people, on the other hand, are geared more towards the design and implementation of automated manufacturing systems. They will probably be hired as supervisors, consultants, or engineering assistants."

Robots' Effect on Jobs

Production control and efficiency are two main reasons robots are gaining in popularity, according to Gaynor. "A robot just keeps dum–de-dumming along," he says. "No coffee breaks,...no sick days. There still will be a rational amount of downtime, but overall, a robot can out produce a person on a daily basis."

Michigan's Delphi Study says that the direct replacement of labor accounts for over half the nature of gains made through the use of robotic equipment, with the highest values found in such traditionally labor-intensive areas as material handling and welding. Not all experts agree. "It is quite possible that the growth in the use of robots will place new demands for tool or die makers, for end-of arm tooling," one participant wrote.

Nevertheless, Delphi Study experts did forecast the actual percentages of workers, by occupation that would be displaced in the United States by robots. Displacement, the study noted, does not necessarily mean unemployment, but means that workers' existing jobs would be taken over by robots. Displaced workers may be transferred, quit, or enter early retirement, as well as being unemployed.

Robots will displace 4.3 percent of the workforce throughout industry, the study predicts, but the increasing use of industrial robots will create nearly 50,000 robotics-related jobs.

The study finds that nearly 90 percent of displaced employees will remain with their companies. Most displaced workers will receive lateral transfers to new jobs that require similar levels of skill. Approximately 10 percent will be promoted, and 10 percent will be demoted. It is estimated that six percent of workers displaced by robotics will quit or be laid off.
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