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The skills gap is a growing problem for the U.S. manufacturing industry. Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute recently found that as many as 2.1 million jobs in the sector could be left unfilled.
But that won’t happen, if the eKentucky Advanced Manufacturing Institute (eKAMI) has anything to say about it.
Today eKAMI announced the opening of its new robotics center. A grand opening will be held tomorrow, June 4. Instructors and students will demo to industry and government attendees how each robot in the facility operates and how they can be used in different environments such as manufacturing and logistics.
And the list of fixed and mobile robots, as well as accessories, services, software and sponsoring companies, featured in the facility is already quite impressive. The list below will certainly only get larger over time:
- Appalachian Wireless
- AutoGuide Mobile Robots
- Heartland Automation
- Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR)
- READY Robotics
- Universal Robots (UR)
The new robotics center will allow eKAMI students to receive hands-on training with robots that are used daily in manufacturing and logistics facilities across the world. eKAMI students earn national credentials from the National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS).
“We are excited to open this new chapter in the eKAMI story,” eKAMI founder and CEO Kathy Walker said about the robotics center. “This expansion provides additional cutting-edge skills, which are in high demand by employers. To deploy automation, more companies are looking for individuals with a basic understanding of robotics. eKAMI will be able to assist with this transition by providing a new workforce skilled in this area.”
Opened in the fall of 2017, eKAMI has done a tremendous job retraining former coal miners in the Appalachia region. Many of them lost their mining jobs due to the 2008 War on Coal. eKAMI will soon be opening another facility to retrain prisoners and help them develop skills for a successful reintegration into society.
In Paintsville, Ky., eKAMI uses a 40,000-square-foot training facility to prepare its students for jobs in advanced manufacturing, automation, and robotics. Students train on state-of-the-art CNC equipment and robotics, learning to program, set-up and operate machines. eKAMI uses READY Robotics’ Forge/OS universal operating system as part of its curriculum. Students have learned to program robots from multiple vendors in one day. READY Robotics recently launched the fifth generation of Forge/OS.
“We’re excited about our robotics contribution to eKAMI’s curriculum, and we’re excited to build on these efforts in a way that can solve the skilled labor shortage at scale and enable every U.S. manufacturer to easily deploy automation,” said Ben Gibbs, CEO, READY Robotics. READY, an early supporter of eKAMI’s efforts to add robotics to their curriculum, has already worked with three of the class cohorts taking them from zero robot knowledge to doing light’s out production runs using the robots.”
Many eKAMI students have been hired as robot technicians by firms such as Heartland Automation and AutoGuide Mobile Robots. AutoGuide won a 2020 RBR50 Innovation Award for hiring 25 former coal miners who were retrained at eKAMI.
“Our students were already in high demand by employers due to their advanced training in CNC Machining. Adding robotics to the curriculum is the natural next step in our goal of developing the skills needed to attract more manufacturers to eastern Kentucky,” added Walker.
Walker was a guest on The Robot Report Podcast in July 2020. The master-mind behind eKAMI discussed the creation of the institute and how to scale the program. Walker also talked about the growing demand for robotics engineers, how to position the U.S. to capitalize on automation and the robotics lab, which was in development at the time. You can listen to the interview below, starting at the 3:08 mark.