COD Trains Future Workforce as Pandemic Spurs Drive Toward Automation
COVID-19 continues to impact the global economy, presenting challenges in nearly all industries and at all levels from small, private businesses to multinational corporations. While the pandemic has forced many businesses and individuals to weigh the balance between saving lives and saving livelihoods, for the manufacturing industry, it is accelerating the inevitable path toward automation.
“The future is already here,” said COD Manufacturing Technology Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator Jim Tumavich. “Look at what is happening in restaurants with self-order kiosks. Remember how many cashiers McDonald’s had years ago? Now it’s just two or three. The next super burger shop may be totally automated. The customer will order and pay for his food via a smartphone app before arriving at the pick-up location. The order will be processed through an automated burger flipper and assembler, drinks are auto filled and placed in a tray with automation, and the fry order is weighed and deep fried individually. Employees will be replaced with higher paid automation experts to keep the equipment running.”
Recognizing the need to keep up with industry trends, Tumavich said COD is working to provide students the opportunity to get hands-on experience with current technology and develop skills sought by employers.
“Last year we started our plan to implement robotics into our Computer Numerical Control program,” he said. “We are beginning with a simple pick-and-place robot to load and unload our machines. This is the same type of robot that would be flipping and assembling hamburgers in an automated restaurant.”
Tumavich said that future manufacturing plants will have little in common with old school factories where workers perform repetitive tasks on an assembly line. Robots and other automated technology will complete those tasks. While the adoption of more automated manufacturing will not increase demand for workers without specialized training and skills, it will produce new opportunities for tech-savvy employees.
“The industry already has manufacturing facilities that operate lights out with robotics swapping parts in machines and technology measuring the parts to ensure quality,” he said. “As this trend advances, there will be emerging opportunities for new and retrained manufacturing industry workers to build, maintain and service this equipment.”
As COVID-19 affected production and supply lines worldwide, U.S. companies also face the downside of decades of reliance on offshore production and supplies, leaving manufacturing with little ability to produce some of the necessities needed to fight the pandemic.
Tumavich said it is likely that the industry will see renewed interest in bringing back those manufacturing segments necessary for national hardiness.
“I believe that we in the industry are smart enough to prepare for the next catastrophic event,” he said. “We will not count on offshore manufacturers to supply critical components to our population. Whether it is ventilators, N95 face masks or Clorox wipes, a part of the manufacturing sector will start to produce these items in limited quantities, planning for the ability to kick it into high gear if necessary.”
He added that despite ubiquitous shutdowns resulting from COVID-19, local manufacturing did not see as much of a slowdown as some industries. In fact, certain sectors of the manufacturing industry saw a bump in production.
“Nearly everyone has still been working,” he said. “The hands-on part of manufacturing did not stop. A lot of companies in the area were considered crucial as they produced parts for the medical industry and serviced parts for utilities and other government-related jobs. While design employees got to work at home, the manufacturing engineers, shop floor managers and machine operators were out there fighting the good fight.”
In response to COVID-19, the College has implemented an educational structure designed to mitigate the potential spread of the virus by limiting the number of students, faculty and staff on campus. Under this structure, students participate in virtual classroom meetings and online courses, as well as hybrid classes for those who require a hands-on element to reach their educational objectives.
“We have transitioned most of our classes to a hybrid format that relies on the student to complete book work at home on a personal computer and then come to our manufacturing lab for the hands-on piece,” he said. “Adhering to the College’s COVID-19 policy, we also have implemented strategies to keep students as safe and healthy as possible while on campus, including social distancing, requiring face masks and temperature screenings.”
Aligned with the manufacturing industry trend toward automation, the Manufacturing Technology program offers the Automated Manufacturing Systems Associate in Applied Science degree and a certificate program that cover a variety of topics, including industrial design and computer-aided drawing (CAD), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), computer numerical control (CNC), programmable logic controllers and robotics. The program also offers A.A.S. degrees in Drafting and Design, Manufacturing Technology, Manufacturing Engineering Technology and Integrated Mechatronics and Manufacturing, as well as certificates in Automated Manufacturing Systems, CNC Operations, Computer-Aided Design, Drafting and Design, Manufacturing Skills Standards and Manufacturing Technology.
Learn more about the Manufacturing Technology program at College of DuPage.