Global reshoring efforts aim to boost manufacturing and production
The EU-funded SMErobotics program and the Fraunhofer Institute have been developing and aiding the commercialization of robotic technologies to augment the skills and productivity of small and medium-sized manufacturers. Both the SMErobotics group and the Fraunhofer Institute have booths at the upcoming Automatica 2014 trade fair and conference in Munich, June 3-6.
- A big competition is the $10 million EuRoC European Robotics Challenges competition — an EU-funded grant program for innovations targeting three challenges to the EU manufacturing industry: reconfigurable interactive manufacturing cells; shop floor logistics, and manipulation and plant servicing and inspection.
- In the U.S., the government-funded Advanced Manufacturing Initiative has begun building a series of regional hubs to accelerate the development of cutting-edge manufacturing technologies and products. Four such hubs have already been launched this year — patterned after the Fraunhofer centers in Germany.
- In addition to the U.S. government, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is investing in military-service-affiliated manufacturing demonstration facilities that:
- Serve as repositories of focused manufacturing knowledge and infrastructure
- Independently demonstrate designs, manufacturing processes, process models, and manufactured products.
- Curate and assess manufacturing models, qualification schema, and material/processing properties data. These multi-user facilities are intended as a lasting, shared resource to provide the manufacturing community with greater access to the open manufacturing program and its research.
In addition to manufacturing initiatives, there are also educational initiatives in place to fill the skills gap. One of the challenges of advanced manufacturing technologies is that it generates employment needs for specially-trained technicians with an understand of engineering, mechatronics and robotics as well as production methods. They are in short supply at present. Community and tech colleges, as well as advanced tech universities, are attempting to meet those demands by offering certification and two- and four-year degrees in robotics and automation.
Recently the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in the U.S. and George Brown College in Canada have created fully online programs leading to their certificates or degrees in robotics (in WPI’s case, one can now get a Master’s in robotics engineering online); other colleges offer robotics technician certificates. A challenge to all of these programs is there is no standardization from one college to the next (whether online or not) and little coordination with local employers. Most cover the essentials but there are significant differences in curriculum.