GAMS preview: Robotics and the Skills Gap

In preparation for the 2016 GAMS Conference on Sept. 14 in Chicago, CFE Media asked our panelists to discuss some of the key issues facing manufacturing. This is one in a daily series of articles.


Left to right: Jose Rivera, CEO, Control System Integrators Association; Rick Vanden Boom, automated systems group manager, Applied Manufacturing Technologies; Michael Lindley, vice president, business development, and marketing, Concept Systems Inc. CourThe 2016 Global Automation and Manufacturing Summit (GAMS), presented by CFE Media, will bring together experts from all areas of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to look at not just the current state of IIoT but also at the potential benefits of deployment for the manufacturing industry.

The third GAMS conference takes place Wednesday, Sept. 14, beginning at noon. It is held in conjunction with the Industrial Automation North America (IANA) pavilion at the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show at McCormick Place in Chicago. The event is co-presented by Hannover Fairs USA.

In preparation for the 2016 GAMS Conference, CFE Media asked our panelists to discuss some of the key issues facing manufacturing. This is one in a daily series of articles leading up to this year’s conference:

CFE Media: We’ve discussed the issues of aging workforce and the Skills Gap for years. Are robots the answer to those issues?

Vanden Boom: Robotics will be part of the solution, and you will see our workforce change as well. More and more, people will be working alongside robots in collaboration rather than just being replaced by them. 

Lindley: I think we will see a combination of both a changing labor force and ever increasing adoption of robots.  For example, as people age out of machine maintenance positions those responsibilities will likely transition to an IIoT strategy where equipment auto-schedules its own upkeep. Machines will require less staff to maintain, with condition monitoring and interconnected systems drastically reducing unplanned downtime. I see this happening across industries—as people age out of repetitive or dirty jobs those tasks will be replaced by robots. Younger employees are less interested in those kinds of positions. With that said, I see tremendous opportunities for people who are competent with advanced technologies and understand how to maximize robotics and IIoT. 

Rivera: Entire countries like Japan are betting the farm that robots will be able to help them cope with their aging population. Japan has a rapidly aging population, and they don’t view immigration as a viable option.

I personally view robots in the manufacturing space as the answer to the desire for the highest levels of customization and immediate availability, which encourages local production.

Need for change? Yes, an increasing presence of robots in the workplace is transforming the workforce in a big way. As robots are getting out of their “cages” and have begun to “mingle” with the workforce there will be a growing need for change management.

We don’t want to repeat the mistakes made in the 19th Century when English textile workers protested against newly developed labor-economizing technologies that threatened to replace them with less-skilled, low-wage laborers, leaving them without work.

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