For Andrew Siwicki of ABB Inc., robotics wasn’t always the goal. Growing up in rural Illinois, he was more interested in the wind farms that dotted the landscape. When he was applying to college, his focus was on the future of alternative energy.
“I was expecting renewable technologies to be bigger than they are now,” he explains.
“Working with a robotics system is incredibly rewarding,” he says. “It’s challenging—systems change frequently and you have to adapt. But it’s amazing to see what robots can do.”
The biggest challenge, he says, is adapting a system to a customer’s need.
“Every robotics system is so unique, and trying to make the system do what the customer wants as fast as they want it and as efficiently as they want it is the most challenging part of my job,” he says.
But Bobby Pillot, director of customer service at ABB, says Andrew is rising to the challenge.
“Andrew continues to develop his skills and knowledge while providing the most professional, dedicated work ethic possible to deliver the highest quality product and system to ABB customers,” he says.
Andrew’s job also has a glamorous side—not something most people would expect. At this year’s Grammy Awards, he played a special part in Lady Gaga’s tribute to the late David Bowie. Working with AndyRobot, robotics integrator to the stars, Andrew programmed the robotic piano that Lady Gaga played during her performance. Originally, the performance included eight robots that performed a light show. A few days before the ceremony, Lady Gaga decided she wanted something else, and designed the robotic piano.
“The idea was kind of out there, but we trusted her and she was right—it was awesome,” Andrew says.
He’s collaborated with AndyRobot before, on a 2015 episode of America’s Got Talent. He programmed an IRB2400 to move in sync with dancers from the dance company Freelusion. Working with a choreographer, Andrew programmed the robot’s dance moves and safety features and “literally made a robot dance.”
For young people considering a career in engineering, Andrew advises that it’s an incredibly rewarding field.
“Engineering’s always going to be here,” he says. “There are always new things to build, debug, fix, and design.”
And sometimes, he adds, “engineering can be glamorous.”
This article was first published in the July 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.