Robotics sales driving need for engineers

Fueled by strong demand from manufacturing companies in all sectors, the need for robots and the engineers needed to build and maintain them has grown at a record pace, experts said.

A record 14,135 robots, valued at $788 million have been ordered from robotics companies in the first half of 2014, an increase of 16 percent in revenue over the same period in 2013, according to the Robotic Industries Association.

The second quarter was the main driver of the market’s record first half, with 8,197 robots valued at $450 million sold. This performance shattered the previous record for a single quarter, exceeding the fourth quarter of 2012 by 17 percent in revenue, according to RIA.

In addition to falling unemployment, manufacturing jobs are now returning to the U.S. because of automation, according to Jeff Burnstein, president of RIA.

“While we often hear that robots are job killers, just the opposite is true,” Burnstein said.“Robots save and create jobs.”

With the increase demand in robots has come the need for robotic engineers, local experts said.

The advanced manufacturing industry is having trouble finding college graduates with even basic robotics skills, said Raul Ordonez, a University of Dayton associate professor and director of the school’s Motoman Robotics Laboratory.

“The students who have these skills are highly sought after,” he said.

Local universities are seeking students for the robotics field.

Two years ago, UD’s School of Engineering launched a robotics concentration for computer and electrical engineering students, who will graduate with the ability to work on robotics applications in an industrial setting, Ordonez said.

“Manufacturing is crucial to the Ohio economy,” Ordonez said. “The state economy is mainly based on high tech. They need lots of engineering talent.”

Ordonez’s lab focuses on making better robots and programming robots. It has an undergraduate, a graduate, and a Ph.D. course, where each level can work on coding or creating a robot.

A Pew Research Center survey of scientists and other analyst showed that 48 percent said robotic advances will have displaced a significant number of blue and white collar jobs by 2025, while the other 52 percent predicted innovation will create new industries.

A big fear expressed in Pew’s survey was that schools are not preparing students with the technological skills needed for new types of jobs that may emerge in a rapidly innovating economy.

Wright State University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science offers a focus area in control and robotics engineering. Dennis Hanse, director of the Lake Campus program at Wright State University, helps students who aren’t able to go to a more traditional college get into engineering jobs.

Sinclair Community College offers an associate degree in automation and control technology with robotics, as well as two short-term certificate programs.

It’s not enough to get students interested in robots once they get into college. Sinclair Community College participates in an outreach program, Project Lead the Way, to help kids K-12 get interested in engineering. The Sinclair branch includes work in robotics, computers, and other engineering disciplines.

“Automation will be more common by the time (these kids) get into the workforce,” Sinclair Community College service director Steve Wendel said. “The general public increased their knowledge of computers. It’ll be the same for robotics.”

New technologies like robotics and 3-D printers will affect 640 million manufacturing jobs – approximately 24 percent of the global workforce, according to a McKinsey Global Institute report. The efficiency from new technologies will be a mixed blessing, saving $1.2 trillion in the manufacturing sector and $3 trillion in the medical, retail, logistics and personal service sectors by 2025, McKinsey reports.

“We believe that long-term robotics is a major growth industry,” Burnstein said.

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