Robots and Automation
By Harold, Editor-At-Large
Interesting lives we have lived after all I guess. I used to think how mediocre it has been. Over the years I have been associated with a lot of people and the gamut of beliefs they have are amazing.
Racisim, Discrimination or Education?
I worked in California with a black guy for several years, just the two of us in a room testing aircraft fuel pumps, and got to know each other quite well. He was under the impression I came from a rich background. I told him blacks did not have the wrap up on being poor and my family had endured harder prejudice than his had after he told his story.
I told him I owed my success in life to education, which I gathered as much as rapidly as I could. The fact that I could, and was willing to do most anything to earn a living, and always worked toward bettering my circumstances.
I told him that as a child they had my place in life already mapped out for me, and it still aggravated a lot of them that I had escaped and made a better life for myself. He was amazed to hear that, and said, “I had been taught that all whites had a better life than blacks.” And I told him someone is just pulling your chain.
We had a labor force of around four hundred people and about thirty or forty were blacks, because it was high tech and blacks as a general rule do not take the courses in school to prepare themselves for this type of work. I demonstrated this to him until he began to see the light. I told him it is not really prejudice nor bigotry nor racism, but pure facts. If you do not have the background to understand the skills necessary to do the job, no amount of on the job training will help you out. He accepted the dare and I began teaching him.
After two years together, he had rapidly advanced as he became more qualified and understood better. When a product line was changed and one of the older assemblers who had learned his job by on the job training and never bothered to learn the skills necessary was offered a downgrade or layoff because he could not read the blueprint. There was no one available to retrain him, nor had this job been done before. They gave the job to John, with a promotion, and after a slow start as he gained his skills and knowledge he was performing above most of the rest of the assemblers in the department.
The older guy accepted early retirement and went to work in a shoe shop and always held it against John for taking his job as he saw it. I told him several times previous to this happening that he should educate himself either through online correspondence courses, or community college, but he just did not want to do that. Always said he was happy doing what he was doing and not anxious to move away from it. Technology outpaced him.
Automation and Jobs
My biggest hurdles came when I worked for Fanuc Robotics and we installed a number of robot cells I had built in various factories. I had to train the operators. Once, in Kansas City, they were actually going to mob me and beat me senseless for something their company was doing. When I heard their plans and approached them about it, I asked them, “Why would you want to take it out on me? I had nothing to do with the decision to automate this job.”
I told them, “When the company was offered the chance to automate it, we were told that the person who was doing the job was coming up for retirement and no one else wanted the job.” I said, “They told us they advertised in papers and on bulletin boards, but no one wanted to palletize five gallon buckets of soap four buckets high and then shrink wrap the pallet for the fork lift driver to pick it up.”
I told them, “This robot will work all day long without wanting a break, takes no vacations, will work 24/7 without calling in sick or complaining and will considerably speed up the shipping of the finished product which has been a bottleneck.” The cell, when finished, was totally automatic. The robot receiving an empty pallet from a dispenser, putting it in one of the four positions that were vacant, loaded it, shrink wrapped it, and started it moving on a motorized set of rollers to a loading collection point, where a little fork lift working in the box car would position it. Other than the automatic cutoffs on the line, the forklift operator was the only one who could shut down the process as he switched the line to another car.
They complained about high tech taking their jobs, and I again told them “That it was simply not so.”
I said, “You can always go back to school and learn how to work on this. This robot is going to require maintenance and several people are going to have to go to school to learn how to work on it and maintain it.”
One of the loudest complainers accepted the challenge, and Procter and Gamble sent him up to us for initial training, and then on to Detroit for further training. He and two others took care of the robots, and when we put the next one in he was ready for it. Most of the other complainers lost their jobs.
Same thing happened at Cooks Hams in Lincoln, Nebraska when the big lady who boxed and palletized the hams in the cold storage area wanted to retire and no one wanted the job. I told them, “If you are not willing to adapt and change along with the times you will be left by the wayside and this is called evolution.”
High Tech Low Tech
This is what is going on now in our society, only it is being pulled two ways–higher tech and lower tech. People are going to be forced into raising their own gardens again, and a lot of the things we take for granted are going to return to being homemade because they simply will not be available.
Our throwaway society is in for a very rude awakening. The only bright spot I can see is the techniques that we learned over the years can be taught. If we can get the new generation to sit still, and it will be a lesser handicap to them with advanced materials and tools than we had to work with.
One of the big advances I have encountered is the difference between making something out of wood. I used to nail everything together and now I use drywall screws, which in most cases are superior to nails. Since American made nails are no longer available and the foreign nails are too soft to drive through hard material. Items screwed together do not work loose like nailed items do and best of all, I use a little battery powered drill to drive the screws with. One that I can recharge with solar, hand crank or if I have ac power, with the wall charger. What I would have given for that sucker sixty years ago!
Back to the Factory
I done a year and a half there as the assembly supervisor, only they never hired any assembly people. So I fabricated the cells myself with the help of a mechanical and electrical engineer and a shop assistant who functioned best as a door stop. We automated a lot of things. The best one was a complete machining cell for an outfit in Florida that consisted of five robots, three machine centers and several auxillary pieces of equipment. It was making the containers for the propellent charge for the door air bags for the new GM equipment back in the mid-nineties.
It started with a raw casting, checked it against a pattern to make sure there were no mold defects, pressure checked it to make sure it would hold pressure, machined it in three steps, checking the center thickness which was critical due to the pressures with a nuclear detector measuring type device (My idea when nothing else would work accurately enough.), check that both pieces would screw together, pressure checked again, and then separated the pieces and sent them to the appropriate packaging area.
It was a totally unmanned factory with alerts that went off if anything happened and each machine had a set of five lights in a tower cluster where each light meant something. Factory lights were turned off, unless maintenance was being performed.
EMP Lightening Affect
Once, lightning struck nearby, and at that time the logic controllers were not EMP protected and it blew. A quick trip down there and when we opened the doors and went in, all machines were lit up with all five lights. Turned lights off and started trouble checking. Took all of fifteen minutes, since I had written in a self diagnostics test in the program, and when it refused to start up, then the processor was quickly changed out. Two more logic cards were also damaged so I replaced the entire rack with processor, power supply an all cards.
Went down later and installed a new rack with built in EMP protection. Left there to go to work at GE designing reduced voltage starters for large high horsepower chiller units. Never a dull moment for an engineer.
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