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National robotics company teams up with RCBI

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Students at the Robert C. Byrd Institute will soon see new robotics training and curriculum thanks to partnership with FANUC Robotics.

FANUC, based in Rochester Hills, Mich., announced the partnership April 30 at Marshall University's South Charleston campus, home of the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing. Paul Aiello, regional manager of FANUC's Robotics Certified Education Robot Training, said the company will allow schools across the country, currently 250, to use up-to-date robotics technology to train students for careers in the industry. FANUC's curriculum offers courseware for robotics operations, programming and advanced robotics technologies including integrated robot vision, dual check safety, force sensing and ROBOGUIDE simulation software.

"Our latest education curriculum provides academia, students and workers real-world skills that will immediately transfer to high-paying careers that are in demand today," Aiello said. "As the global leader in robotic automation, we've incorporated 30 years of expertise to design an industry training program that underscores our commitment to a true partnership with education and manufacturing."

Officials on-hand at the announcement, including RCBI Director and CEO Charlotte Weber, said the partnership will go a long way to bridging a skills-gap in today's work force.

"The way for the United States to stem the tide of jobs lost overseas, and to restore its economy, is by investing in manufacturing technologies that make U.S. companies more competitive in the world market," Weber said. "Unfortunately, our nation is suffering from what has been called the ‘skills gap,' where there are more high-tech jobs available than workers trained to do those jobs. The partnership between RCBI and the FANUC Robotic' Certified Education Robot Training program will produce certified individuals with the skills necessary to advance West Virginia's high-tech work force."

Representatives from Gestamp and Toyota Motor Manufacturing of West Virginia talked about how their companies use robotics on a day-to-day basis.

"At Toyota, we use robots to play in important role in improving team member safety, improving our product and also giving us flexibility in a fast-pace and highly dynamic automobile market," said Curtis Martin with Toyota.

Toyota uses robots to achieve three objectives: reducing team member burden, improving complex processes and increasing flexibility in manufacturing.

"An important part of this is developing a skilled work force that is capable of managing a robotics system for our Toyota production system," Martin said. "Our team members not only have to be able to maintain these robots, but they also have to possess the skills to make changes to these robotics systems to support our culture of continuous improvement. Developing someone in robotics is a unique challenge in itself. Robotics has a very broad scope of technical capabilities a skilled team member must have. These include electronics, mechanical systems and computer software programming, not to mention knowledge of mathematic formulas."

Karen Price, president of the West Virginia Manufacturers' Association, said the things her organization is hearing from manufacturers across the state has changed from environmental and tax concerns to work force issues.

"I don't think we have a shortage of jobs in this state," Price said. "What we have is a shortage of skills in this state. So what we're seeing here today with the Robert C. Byrd Institute and FANUC, the combination of these folks working together to train our new work force for manufacturing, is a huge step in the right direction. We are excited about manufacturing. It is coming back to this country, it is coming back to West Virginia. There are jobs out there, we just need to prepare our students."

At Gestamp's South Charleston plant, workers use 26 robots to complete their tasks and are expecting eight more to be delivered and set up soon. Mike Anderson, engineering manager with Gestamp, said the company has robots in all 10 facilities in North America. And although most people are still fascinated with the idea of robots, new technology is part of every day life at Gestamp and in most other similar settings.

"While we use robots, its not an exciting, amazing thing anymore," Anderson said. "Its part of every day manufacturing, its expected an we need it as part of our jobs. We're not able to compete in the industry without them. While it does make for a good stop on the tour, it's part of every day life."

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and representatives from the offices of Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., voiced their support for the partnership. And Aiello pointed out that although robotics technology first began in American in the 1980s, it continues to change.

Manufacturing is not dead or decreasing, moreover it is thriving," he said.