FABTECH 2019, held Nov. 11-14 at McCormick Place in Chicago, featured multiple educational opportunities for attendees. A key feature of the FABTECH educational program, and one open free to all attendees, were the Leadership Exchange Panels.
On November 12 in the Lakeside Center Theater, a Leadership Exchange Panel explored through discussion how automation is changing manufacturing. Also covered was both the role of automation technology and people in the future of manufacturing. Joining the moderator Jay Douglass, COO of ARM (Advanced Robotics for Automation) was Mingu Kang, CEO of Aris Technology, Tyler Vizek, Project Engineer for MxD, and Steve Czajkowski, head applications engineer, Siemens Industry Inc.
Automation is one of those touchstone topics. There are concerns about automation replacing jobs even while it offers the possibility of lowering costs as it improves quality. Douglass was instrumental in creating a lively discussion, addressing numerous questions from a motivated audience.
Vizek said that robotics has hit an inflection point in adoption, well on its way to wider acceptance, even with smaller shops. Part of that growth is fueled by the accelerating growth of collaborative robots (cobots). Will people be replaced? “The dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs will certainly be replaced,” said Douglass. This will lead to workers re-assigned to more challenging tasks, tasks that robotics and automation are not suited for. He also noted that the industry is continuing to employ advanced sensors with automation, expanding their use to an even wider set of tasks.
The panel agreed that this greater adoption of automation will raise the needed skill level of the remaining workers. There is an upside. “Adoption will make it more interesting for younger workers,” said Vizek. This may make manufacturing in general more attractive to younger generations, who seem to be shunning it.