I wanted to recount an experience I had very recently and what I learned from it. I found it a bit eye opening and was surprised by some aspects. It made me aware of something I had not considered and changed some of my perspectives.
One of the large worries folks have when looking at automation is staff to handle and program any new equipment. In this case I am just going to focus on robots to keep things simple. The lack of an in house programmer and the fear of what that person will cost always comes up. This leads to companies stipulating that any cell must be delivered with all the needed programs and with acceptable speed and quality. That creates a whole new set of long term problems that is not considered. If I make all of the programs for you then you will have learned little to nothing. The ups and downs of making the programs and refining them is where the meat of the learning process is found. You skip that learning if I am required to make all the programs for you. The issue is 6 months or a year later when the parts change or the customer requirements change. What do you do then? You did not learn how to make or edit programs and now need changes made. Or it could be you have a new part you want to do and you have the same issue.
This is what leads me to offer and insist on 2 weeks of training for staff. I take them out of the factory so that I can have their undivided attention for that time period. I have worked with very skilled engineers, managers, plant owners and all manner of skilled staff. The thing that makes it a challenge is that all of those people have their own way. It could be they have gone through other training or have used robots before or any number of things. I know what it is you need to walk away with and my goal is to get that into your head. With finishing robots I have 2 challenges to overcome, I need to teach you the robot but I also need to teach you about finishing. Its great you know how to program a robot but that is at best half of what you need to know. I know how to use an oven but it in no way means I can bake a cake. Knowing how to use a tool is not all you need to know. How to apply that tool and what it can and can not do are important.
This brings me to my story and point,
A smaller facility in the Midwest had been facing retirements and other labor issues while seeing a rise in demand for their products. To help resolve this they wanted to get a robot to help with weld removal as it was a job that was bogging down their welders and no one wanted to do the grinding all day. The issue of having a programmer came up as it always will. In the end they had two people in their 20s that came in every day but were typical 20 somethings in all other aspects. Neither had any training on robots and we were warned they were typical 20 somethings. I will admit the first few days caused me some worry but they both quickly settled in to the training. Mid way through the second week these two 20 somethings were running a robotic cell like they had been doing it for 10 years. I was absolutely amazed how fast they learned and the good questions they would ask. It showed me that younger folks born into a time when computers and tech are all around them take to automation like a fish to water. I did not have to argue with them why my way was different than what they were shown by someone else. I did not have to spend 2 hours dealing with push back on why I start with the very basics with every one. It was great, I would teach and they would learn simple as that. I was very impressed with them and the way they would work through issues. They communicated with each other well and would throw ideas back and forth with no hesitation. The company they work for is going to be in good hands I am sure of it.
My point is don't discount people you may have on staff. You could very well be surprised by what they can do and learn same as I was. The younger generations are far more comfortable and competent with automation than I think many give them credit for. In some cases it may be that the younger staff just need given the opportunity to shine. Clearly you can have good and bad in any group you look at, Just keep an open mind when you look around the facility.