Technical Education Post

News and Information for Technical Educators

Cobots in Technical Education

While enrollment in traditional undergraduate programs has experienced a decline, the
popularity of technical education has boomed. Some of this trend could be attributed to the
increasing use of advanced technologies in trade school programs that enable students to hone
skills that are sought after in today’s job market. Cobots in Technical Education.

One of these skill sets is the ability to work with robots, which are increasingly used in all types
of manufacturing jobs. Technical college laboratories are embracing smaller robots that
collaborate with humans, or “cobots,” for hands-on learning. Community colleges across the
U.S. are beginning to ride this growing wave that is bringing robotics technology into the
classroom. But the number of technical education programs that adopt a robot-focused
curriculum is still evolving.

Because of their convenient, safe and easy-to-use nature, cobots are an excellent way for
technical schools to teach students the basic and advanced robotics skills needed to support
today’s — and tomorrow’s — tech-dependent industries.

Advantages of Cobots for Robotics Education

Hands-on learning with industrial automation is prohibitive for some technical schools and
community colleges, as traditional robotics systems used in manufacturing operations are large,
immobile and unifunctional, thus not well-suited for in-classroom use.

Cobots, however, are ideally suited for hands-on classroom training because they are:
● Small and mobile. Many cobots take up just a few feet of surface area, and some can
sit on countertops or tables. Many are mountable on mobile carts or stands and can
even be plugged into 110V electrical sockets, so they can be used in any classroom
● Versatile. Cobots can often perform multiple functions. Typical form factors include a
robotic arm to which operators can attach a variety of end-of-arm tools, from hand-like
grippers to sanding wheels.
● Safe. Importantly, cobots are designed to be safe enough to operate alongside humans.
They include sensors that stop or pause operation if they detect a human or object in
harm’s way.

Versatility and Nimbleness

The ability to roll a cobot into a classroom or lab brings versatility and nimbleness to traditional
robotics education, allowing all types of learners to get hands-on experience with this practical
technology that assists technicians in performing myriad tasks in “the real world.”

Today’s technical school students arguably have an advantage in using cobots because they
have grown up in the age of gaming, and they employ technological tools in everyday life.
Learning to use cobots is a natural extension of their ability to navigate advanced interactive
simulations, communicate and solve problems using technology.

Some cobot manufacturers are beginning to do community outreach via educational institutions
to promote the science. Our Austin, Texas-based cobot company, Kane Robotics, invites
students into our workshops to learn the basics of cobot technology.

Students tend to be excited about learning to operate the cobots. This hands-on, experiential
learning is invaluable for them to grasp and retain robotics concepts that will serve them well in
their future careers. And we want them to come to the industry with those skills and that

Training and Retraining

Continuing education programs across the U.S. are incorporating cobots into their curricula
because companies are interested in upskilling their workforce. Manufacturing institutes like the
nonprofit California Manufacturing Institute are training small- and medium-sized businesses’
employees to use cobots for various processes instead of hiring and training new staff.

The re-education, retraining and redeployment of displaced workers is another area where
cobots are useful. If displaced weld grinders can learn to operate cobots that perform their
previous job function, for example, they can stay relevant in an increasingly technology-
dependent industry.

Cobot makers themselves have a vested interest in promoting cobot use and training in
technical education institutions. They want to raise the next generation of cobot programmers so
that the industry has qualified people to hire. Kane Robotics, in fact, has been approached by
multiple manufacturers to help them solicit proposals and select vendors of continuing education
programs that would train employees in cobot operation.

Technical Education to Fill a Training Gap

Cobot manufacturers also need outlets for their engineers to learn. We at Kane Robotics send
some of our new hires to cobot training programs like Universal Robots’ (UR) hands-on program
at the University of California, Irvine, as part of the onboarding process. We consider technical
training crucial for improving technology skills and learning about industry trends more

Robotics companies often partner with educational institutions to offer this type of training. In
addition to the UR-Irvine partnership, robotics company Olympus Controls provides training for
its customers via a Washington State University government-subsidized workforce training
program. FANUC America partners with community colleges and other educational institutions
to deliver robotics training and certification programs.

These examples might be indicators of the need for more cobot-based training offerings in
technical schools. Cobot companies feel obligated to offer training to their customers, but no
company wants to be in the business of training. Company-based cobot training currently
serves as a stopgap — until the educational community can fill in.

Some work has already begun on this front. The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM)
Institute, for example, fosters collaboration among robotics developers, manufacturers and
community colleges to create programs that educate students or retrain workers on how to use
robots. But more formalized cobot education is needed.

How to Use Cobots in Classrooms

While real-world manufacturing requires advanced cobot training, bringing cobots into technical
education classrooms provides a basic understanding of cobot use.

Some cobot companies offer free online training for their own products, like Universal Robots
Academy. But students benefit further by going into a classroom or laboratory setting to execute
what they learned with an actual cobot.

Hands-on training with cobots removes people’s fear of them. They learn that the cobot will not
hurt them and that it is not as daunting as they expected to program and use cobots.

In the classroom, cobot training begins with the fundamentals about cobot capabilities and
operation and then progresses to teaching the cobot to perform simple movements and use
simple end-of-arm tools. Students can learn real-world applications later in industrial lab

Within just a few days, students can understand the value-add of using cobots, help program
them and predict trajectories for their operation.

Similar to learning a new language, some students progress quickly, while others need more
help to learn to operate a cobot, so it is difficult to predict how long training will take. Students
with technical backgrounds may have an advantage, but many students with gaming or other
general technical experience will also have an easier learning curve.

The key is to base the classroom curriculum around fun. Instructors often teach students to
code for entertaining and interactive operations, like cobots throwing a ball to each other.

Wave of the Future

Cobots — and robotics more generally — are undoubtedly the wave of the future, and the
percentage of the manufacturing industry that uses them is still growing. Some manufacturers
already believe robots are simple enough, affordable enough and useful enough to use in their
manufacturing environments. Total robot installations in the North American manufacturing
market, in fact, rose 12% from 2021 to 2022. While many of those are industrial robots, more
than half of companies (55%) use collaborative robots.

Exposing the next generation of the workforce to cobot technology sooner rather than later can
only be an advantage for the industry, individuals and teams. Cobots becoming an integral part
of the manufacturing process is not a question of if but of when. Workforces will be exposed to
cobots or other robotics eventually.

Certain jobs will still require customer service provided by humans, but many low-wage jobs will
be automated. Minimum wage increases, price pressures and an increasing inability to hire
people for certain kinds of jobs will happen for the foreseeable future, forcing an inevitable shift
to cobots performing all types of tasks in heavy industry, fast food and more.

Exposing people to cobots from an early stage is important. Especially as older workers retire,
Gen Z onward will need to take on robotics-based manufacturing jobs and responsibilities.

Like it or not, the robot revolution is here to stay. Cobots are part of this evolutional inevitability
in our industrial age. Technical schools need to get on board.

SOURCE: Cobots in Technical Education

About the Author:

Alan Hiken is COO of Kane Robotics, developer of the first easy-to-use collaborative robotics systems
that provide manufacturers with sanding, grinding, and finishing automation solutions. A chemical
engineer, Hiken is considered one of the world’s top experts in composites manufacturing and appears as
a subject matter expert in various podcasts, research articles and industry publications. After 19 years at
Northrop Grumman and Rubbercraft, he now lends his expertise to improving the industry. He leads
SME’s Composites Committee, serves the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process
Engineering (SEMPE)–Los Angeles, and advises the University of Missouri–Columbia College of
Engineering’s Chemical Engineering department. He also serves as a technical advisor to private and
public sector companies.

Kane Robotics is seeking well-prepared technicians and engineers to “get on board the Kane train.”

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