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Students watch importance of robots in manufacturing

In the future, who will weld metal, sort goods, lift packages and deal decks of cards? Robots, in many instances.

Who’s will make robots? Leaders of Yaskawa Motoman hope that some of the students who toured the company’s Automation Way facility Thursday will take up that challenge.

As part of National Robotics Week, the company is hosting tours by several area secondary schools, including Troy Christian, Carroll, Dayton Early College Academy, Alter and others, including Boy Scout troops.

The idea is to take students through a clean, well-lighted modern facility and show them how “cool” robots — and manufacturing — can be, said Eric Nieves, Yaskawa’s technology director.

“Where are we going to get the next generation of technicians and programmers and such?” Nieves asked. “Robots are cool, but how do you make manufacturing cool?”

One way: Speak to students through a “remote presence system,” or as Nieves called it: “Skype on Wheels.” The mobile, wheeled system gave students a live feed of Nieves — his face and his voice in real time — as he spoke to them from the music room of his San Antonio home. Nieves controlled the robot from Texas.

“This is how I come to work every day,” he said with a smile.

For robotics to remain viable, manufacturing must remain viable, he said. “You’ll find more robots on the factory floor than anywhere else.”

Tour guide Shishir Rege took students across the facility floor, explaining that while Motoman’s robots are made in Japan, 350 Miamisburg workers add value to them, customizing them for specific customer needs and maintaining them when needed.

“Millions of dollars of inventory are maintained in this section,” Rege said.

Guide Greg Smith showed students how robots properly equipped with cameras can distinguish between objects, choosing the correct course of action.

They watched robots dealing cards, putting golf balls and going through the precise motions of painting and welding. One robot shaped like a human’s torso — with a head, two arms and a waist — went through several complex exercises with an 80-kilogram (176-pound) object.

While the Beam remote presence system Nieves used to speak with visitors is a $17,000 machine, a weight-lifting robot is easily “six figures,” Nieves said.

“We’re very interested in getting students more interested in engineering, robotics and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) platforms,” said Jennifer Kann, Yaskawa spokeswoman.

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