By bridging the gap between industry and education, industrial automation specialist FANUC is ideally placed to support both the manufacturers of today and the engineers of tomorrow.
As Science Week (12-19 Nov 2023) sparks discussions around promoting STEM to young people, the company is leading the charge to help manufacturers bridge the current engineering skills gap. Whether helping to shape Ireland’s first robotics and automation apprenticeship or delivering on-the-job robot programming courses, FANUC is ensuring that our booming manufacturing sector is supported by staff that possess all the skills required by today’s smart, digital factories.
Ireland is a manufacturing powerhouse. Thanks to a combination of strong foreign investment and a thriving domestic manufacturing industry, we have world-class manufacturing clusters in fields such as medical and pharmaceutical products, organic chemicals, food and drink, agricultural machinery and precision engineering. According to Central Statistics Office data, manufacturing accounts for over 36% of our GVA (gross value added) – significantly higher than other leading European economies.
Shifting skill sets
The Government now has ambitions to place our manufacturing sector at the forefront of Industry 4.0 development. However, to realise this advanced manufacturing potential, we need to adopt new technologies and skill sets.
“Ireland is a booming industrial economy. The challenge now is keeping pace with demand by producing trained, competent and confident engineers and technicians. There is demand right across the country for engineers who understand robotics, controls and automation,” states Conor O’Kelly, Sales Manager of FANUC Ireland.
Since opening its state-of-the-art robotics facility in Maynooth, Co. Kildare, in October 2022, FANUC has been working closely with Ireland’s manufacturing community to address this challenge. Through collaboration with educational partners and the provision of training to the industry, the company is equipping the current and next generation of engineers with the skills needed to embrace automation and propel manufacturing forwards into the digital era.
Action on apprenticeships
The task of both nurturing new talent and upskilling the existing workforce is a complex one, requiring a multi-faceted approach that spans training centres, technical colleges, universities, research institutes and industry. However, our current apprenticeship system is very limited, as Ronan Rasdale, Sales Manager, Robotics, FANUC Ireland and Northern Ireland, outlines:
“Our current apprenticeships often struggle to address the needs of companies who are automating. They need a workforce that is ready to operate the technology that’s being implemented, with skills from basic robot operation through to controls, automation and software engineering.”
The Government is seeking to rectify this through its Apprenticeship Action Plan, which aims to increase the number of apprenticeships to 10,000 per year by 2025. For its part, FANUC is supporting this expansion by collaborating with the AMTCE (Advanced Manufacturing Technology Centre of Excellence) to launch Ireland’s first robotics and automation apprenticeship – a QQI Level 6 qualification. As well as receiving training from FANUC’s automation experts, students will work on training cells supplied by the company. Subject to funding, the course will welcome its first intake in September 2024.
“As Ireland’s manufacturing sector ramps up its investment in automation to remain competitive, there will be an even greater need for engineers who can programme, install and maintain robots and automation systems. We are using both our expertise and equipment to rise to this challenge by working with the AMTCE to shape the content of Ireland’s first robotics and automation apprenticeship,” explains Mr O’Kelly.
But it’s not just about robots. A supporting industry to med-tech, aerospace and electronics manufacturing, the precision engineering sector is experiencing strong growth. Machine shops are turning to CNC automation to keep pace with demand and need staff with in-depth programming skills to operate and maintain digitalised systems.
FANUC is committed to advancing skills in components engineering through its work with the TUS (Technological University of the Shannon); Ireland’s premier centre for precision engineering education. Undergraduates on the university’s Level 7 Precision Engineering degree course have access to a FANUC ROBODRILL machining centre, enabling them to gain hands-on experience of working with the latest CNC automation technology. FANUC even invited students from TUS to operate the a-DiB Plus ROBODRILL – its most advanced drilling and machining solution – at this year’s Manufacturing Solutions event.
The ability to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies will also be crucial to maintaining a competitive edge. The industry will need visionaries who can harness technologies such as mobile robot technology, drones, machine vision, AI, edge computing and 3D printing, to conceive the factories of the future.
Just eight kilometres away from FANUC’s facility, Maynooth University runs an Advanced Manufacturing Degree programme for Industry 4.0 technologies. Here, FANUC will help students to acquire practical knowledge of present-day industrial robot systems as well as an insight into future technologies.
“We’re giving students the opportunity to come to our robotics showroom and work on the development of real-life applications and solutions for customers,” states Mr O’Kelly.