Festo Didactic Takes Its Apprenticeship Program to the Next Level

Festo has made significant investments in education and training over the past few years in Mason, Ohio just outside of Cincinnati. This news notes the next step.

Festo Didactic Learning Systems North America and its partners announced plans for the Mechatronics Apprenticeship Program (MAP) at its Regional Service Center (RSC) in Mason with industry, education, and government coming together.

And a word from a graduate.

“Festo’s side of the apprenticeship provided an affordable, unique, hands-on approach to learning mechatronics. This program taught me the very basics of electrical power up to advanced industrial troubleshooting,” said former Festo Didactic Apprentice, Kenneth Bibb. “I was able to gain more learning and experience with Festo than I would have in a traditional four-year university. Festo has set my life up perfectly by providing the skills I needed through the apprenticeship to begin a successful Mechatronics Engineering career.”

The award-winning mechatronics program has been a growing collaboration among Art Metal Group, Clippard Instruments, E-Beam, MQ Automation, Nestlé, Festo Didactic, and others. At its core, MAP supports manufacturers locally and nationally in training and retaining skilled workers. Heading into its sixth year, MAP will begin accepting apprenticeships on a rolling admission basis instead of a semester schedule. The program will consist of 57 weeks of training instead of five semesters. This transition will allow for more apprentices to enroll faster, train faster, and get to work faster.

My grandfather launched a solid career in manufacturing through an apprenticeship program in the early 1900s. Companies stopped doing that for a long time. I’m happy to see a rebirth.

Nationwide, apprenticeship continues to experience strong growth. On September 1, 2022 the White House launched the Apprenticeship Ambassador Initiative—a national network of more than 200 employers and other organizations who signed on to create almost 500 hundred new registered apprenticeship programs. Through the new federal initiative, companies agreed to build new programs across a wide range of industries and to hire 10,000 new apprentices in the coming year. The Department of Labor also announced plans to invest over $330 million through grants to states, employers, labor organizations, and workforce intermediaries to expand and diversify Registered Apprenticeships.

According to apprenticeship.gov, managed by the Department of Labor (DoL), 93% of apprentices who complete an apprenticeship retain employment, with an average annual salary of $77,000.

Wearable Robotics Demonstration

While we are on a robot/human collaboration theme, take a look at this exoskeleton from WearTech Center. The evolution of ergonomics and human-assist tech has fascinated me for a very long time. I’m old enough to remember the hard and dangerous ways. Given some of the stuff I’ve done early in my career, I’m lucky to be hear with all my extremities intact.

The WearTech Center, an applied research center accelerating the development of emerging technology products, along with Arizona-based wearable device companies GoX Labs and AKE, and Arizona State University’s top mechanical engineering researchers, are advancing worker wellness and safety with new exoskeleton technology. Through the public-private collaboration, Arizona-based innovators announced they are developing a new exoskeleton that will make workplaces safer for millions of workers in many industries. The wearable exoskeleton technology called PhenEx will help workers squat and lift heavy loads promoting overall worker health.

Previously, GoX Labs, AKE and ASU successfully developed a similar ex called the Aerial Porters Exoskeleton, or APEx. More than $31 million is spent annually in disability benefits for retired aerial porters, who had a high incidence of musculoskeletal injuries, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center study. To promote worker wellness and make pushing and lifting easier and safer, APEx is designed to assist people in loading a 10,000-pound pallet and pushing it onto an airplane.

“There are 89 million workers exposed to injury at work every day. As Arizona continues to grow as a hub for many different industries, the need for exoskeletons that promote workplace wellness only increases. Working through the WearTech Center to collaborate with ASU’s researchers gives us the push we need to take our technology to the next level,” said Dr. Joseph Hitt, CEO of GoX Labs.

At the WearTech Center, GoX Labs’ and AKE’s exoskeleton technology product development follows the applied research model which accelerates the process via collaboration with public and private sectors partners. The center shepherds these innovative products through the idea generation, project formation, validation, and commercialization phases.

“Innovations like what GoX Labs, AKE and ASU are developing through the WearTech Center have a high impact on reducing workplace injuries and enhancing Arizona’s economic development,” said Wes Gullett, Operations Director of Applied Research Centers for the Partnership for Economic Innovation. “The Arizona Legislature’s public investment in applied research capabilities and our ability to connect innovators to the tools they need to accelerate their product’s development grows Arizona’s economy and fuels its innovation opportunities.”

APEx is already being used by the U.S. Air Force by aerial porters to load heavy cargo onto planes. GoX Labs, AKE and ASU are continuing their collaborative efforts creating the quasi-active exoskeleton PhenEx with the support of the WearTech Center. The wearable PhenEx leverages sensors to activate spring elements when workers need to perform physical activities for their jobs. The quasi-active exoskeleton unlocks when the worker is at rest, walking or driving as to not hinder motion. The WearTech Center will assist with applied research and testing for product development.

GoX Labs and AKE will test out PhenEX on local employers like Amazon, Lucid Motors, and other industry partners through WearTech. Arizona employers can get involved in the testing of PhenEx by emailing [email protected]

Rockwell Automation Earns 10th Consecutive Perfect Score In Corporate Equality Index

I’ve had a hectic couple of weeks. Therefore, I didn’t post much last week, and I’m a bit late today. One of my brothers caught the corona-virus bug. One thing led to another, and I traveled back to Ohio last week for a funeral. We were four. Now we are two.

On the plus side of things, we visited Indianapolis over the weekend before to watch our granddaughter swim in a regional, invitation meet. As a 12-year-old, her times would put her in the top half of the high school league we left behind. On the other hand, she’ll have to improve those times to even make the team in the high school she’ll attend. They are much more serious about swimming up here in the west Chicago suburbs.

ARC Forum was to be next week, but it has been postponed to June. We were going to vacation for a week visiting my wife’s two sisters. However, she slipped on ice while hiking at a state park yesterday and broke her wrist. Now, we wait for the surgeon’s diagnosis and treatment later this week.

Like I say, crazy.

Meanwhile, I’ve had a communication link with a Rockwell Automation communications strategist. I told her that no company has changed as much the past five years as Rockwell. The software strategy seems more solid. The executive team has diversified bringing in women, minorities, and (gasp) outsiders. I’m also pleased that corporations are stepping in where governments fear to tread to improve things for society at large.

Here is news (with more to come) from Rockwell regarding its efforts in the area of human rights and equality. Oh, yes, I should mention before the news, that earnings and stock price seem to be doing well, too.

Rockwell Automation has earned a top score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2022 Corporate Equality Index, the nation’s foremost benchmarking survey and report that measures corporate policies and practices related to LGBTQ+ workplace equality. This is the 10th consecutive year Rockwell has earned a perfect score.

“Earning the top rating on this index is important to us because it’s one of the ways we can show potential employees that we offer a safe and equitable work environment,” said Rockwell’s Becky House, senior vice president, Chief People and Legal Officer. House also serves as executive sponsor of ROKout, the company’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group.

“We work to create an environment where all people can bring their full selves to work,” said House. “We listen to what our employees want and need, and we try to follow through with new benefits and other initiatives.”

For example, in 2021, Rockwell expanded its medical benefits package with enhanced coverage for transgender employees.

“Updating and aligning our healthcare benefits with our values demonstrates how we continually strengthen our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Rockwell’s Samantha Murphy, a system engineer and ROKout’s transgender liaison. “It’s one thing for a company to talk about inclusion; it’s another to carry it through.”

Established in 2013, ROKout provides a networking and support resource for LGBTQ+ employees and allies, helping to foster an inclusive workplace where all employees are empowered to be their authentic selves. The ERG is a valued voice for LGBTQ+ issues related to recruitment, retention, culture, and benefits.

“Congratulations to Rockwell Automation for working to advance inclusion in the workplace and achieving the title of ‘best places to work for LGBTQ+ equality,’” said Jay Brown, Human Rights Campaign senior vice president of Programs, Research and Training.

“When the Human Rights Campaign Foundation created the Corporate Equality Index 20 years ago, we dreamed that LGBTQ+ workers—from the factory floor to corporate headquarters, in big cities and small towns—could have access to the policies and benefits needed to thrive and live life authentically,” Brown continued. “But there is still more to do to create more equitable workplaces and a better tomorrow for LGBTQ+ workers everywhere.”

Human Resources In Supply Chain and Manufacturing

I have worked in manufacturing as an hourly worker and alongside hourly workers. Despite spending many years in management among some who held condescending views of them, I’ve found most hourly workers to be intelligent, hard working, and creative. Companies that have discovered how to build teams of “knowledge” workers and “hourly” workers have discovered rewards from increased productivity, reduced scrap, improved quality, and better relationships.

Although I seldom write on human resources, a white paper found its way to me called Human Resources in Supply Chain & Manufacturing: How Industry 4.0 Will Play Out. Authored by insiders from General Motors, Whirlpool, Alcoa, General Mills, and the Boston Consulting Group, this forecast and trend report for HR professionals in the manufacturing and supply chain industry contains insights and advice.

The authors of the paper have developed a technology to meet the demand for ways to foster communication between employer and employee. The company, TeamSense, was acquired by Fortive last year.

The authors are Sheila Stafford, a mechanical engineer who has developed a technology to systemize COVID-19 symptom tracking and is currently CEO of TeamSense, Alison Teegarden, a graduate of Stanford, Peking University and the Harvard School of Business, who developed a mobile text tool while at Pioneer Square Labs, and Eric Welke, a supply chain expert from Alcoa, General Mills and Yoplait.

TeamSense makes a human resources technology that is used by the manufacturing industry to revolutionize communications between deskless workers and their employers. The use of technology was utilized, specifically to close a communications chasm that currently exists between teams of hourly workers and their employers.

Industry 4.0 is upon us, yet 90% of funding for technology innovation ignores 80% of the global workforce, the hourly makers of the manufacturing industry. The shift toward smart factories, combined with the pandemic and labor challenges, has created a new blue ocean of opportunity for technology innovation to impact the manufacturing industry and the hourly workers who make it run. Specifically, there are many human resources processes in this industry in need of a next generation upgrade. Manufacturers need updated tools to attract and retain hourly talent and remain competitive in the future.

Despite it being a time in history when technology such as artificial intelligence has almost reached human levels of understanding, hourly workforces are often still being managed in antiquated ways. In 2021, supervisors are still making phone calls and leaving voicemails to call on / off team’s of 1000’s to 10,000’s of workers. Because hourly workers do not have corporate emails and some do not speak the same language as their employer, it’s not easy (or fast) to communicate with these teams. While it may seem unlikely, these practices persist in this industry.

There are many hourly worker processes that remain laborious, outdated and paper-intensive such as attendance, tracking COVID symptoms, sick days, onboarding, exiting and team announcements. Updated systems are needed to reach this population easily and quickly for emergencies and high stakes standard operating procedures, such as incident reporting. The opportunities that exist for technology to ease these burdens are endless, exciting and portend to skyrocket efficiencies for manufacturers.

The authors identify these six trends and offer advice to develop solutions. You can download the whitepaper and find the details.

  • Trend 1 — HR Tech to Enhance the Employee Experience
  • Trend 2 — “Anti” Technology and the Power Shift in the Employee/Employer Relationship (mobile phones)
  • Trend 3 — Employee-Centric Workplaces: The Art of Good Feelings and Retention
  • Trend 4 — Engaging and Retaining the Hourly Worker
  • Trend 5 — Meeting the Needs of the New Generations of Hourly Workers
  • Trend 6 — Talent Retention in a Post-Pandemic World

Communications Tool Mitigates Workplace Harassment

The contractors just installed in the men’s restroom in the factory would intermittently make a whirring sound and a little shutter would open. I had a first level management role in the plant at that time of the early 70s. The guys would talk to me. They wondered if it was a camera spying on them to see who spent too much time away from production.

It was a deodorizer.

But that suspicion has stayed with me.

So, that was my first impression when I received this press release regarding “Safe Communications Software” that looks at workplace email and chat communications in a company. As the company told me, people should be aware that any time they use any communication tool on the company’s servers they are not using a private communication channel.

Besides, this application is not designed for nefarious spying on workers but is designed to protect employees from harassment, discrimination, bullying, and even workplace violence. Proactive mitigation benefits everyone in the company as well as prevents those post-event questions and recriminations.

Here is the release:

CommSafe AI launched CommSafe AI Safe Communication Software. The software has received certification with ServiceNow, a leader in enterprise digital process automation tools. CommSafe AI also integrates with Microsoft products and Google Workspace accounts.

The CommSafe AI tool is a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product that in near real-time allows companies to get ahead of threats of conflict and violence in the workplace before they escalate to situations of physical or psychological harm causing costly lawsuits. The tool uses artificial intelligence (AI) models to analyze company communication to identify toxic behaviors and IP loss.

The smart and scalable software integrates into a company’s human resource workflow to capture in real time toxic email and chat communications among employees. In addition, CommSafe AI employs algorithms not only to identify toxicity, but also poor sentiments.

Because employees feel safer knowing their company is taking steps to protect them from harassment, they are focused and more productive. Equally important, company brand reputation remains uncompromised.

For companies and employees worried about privacy concerns, the software does not monitor electronic communications; rather it scans and flags potentially toxic language and poor sentiment.

“All flagged messages are reviewed by HR staff to determine the next course of action. Additionally, CommSafe AI works with your organization’s systems and methodologies and easily integrates with your tech, case management system, and workflows.”

“Identifying toxic communications and behaviors are at the forefront of making the workplace a safe space for everyone. It’s the intelligent solution combining machine learning, human judgment and experience to help identify risks to your employees and the workplace culture,” adds Sanjit Singh, Chief Revenue Officer at CommSafe AI.

CommSafe AI’s subscription software is designed to uncover language associated with bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination and intellectual property theft. It works across email products including Microsoft Outlook and Google Suite, as well as collaboration tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams. The company worked with a select group of beta customers to perfect the algorithms. Emails and communication on a company server are never private and are actually the property of the employer. In a day and age where violence is escalating among organizations there has been a huge demand for this product. As we know Emails cross multiple channels and networks/servers to get from the server to recipient.

Rockwell Automation News and Updates

The first business trip involving airplane and car in 18 months took me to Houston in November to Automation Fair, the Rockwell Automation user conference and trade show. They offered five press conferences via remote conferencing. I felt the urge to visit with people in person. Several thousand visitors wandered the show floor along with me. And I sat in the press conferences in person with a couple of editors from Control, a couple of analysts from ARC Advisory Group, an editor I didn’t know for one session, and an editor from Automation World for one other session. It felt good to be back, but this was hardly like old times. I was not rushed from appointment to appointment—I had no appointments.

The content was not like old times. No motor control or programmable controllers, although I did look up a PLC product person on the show floor to dive into a couple of things. The press conferences were somewhat IT oriented with cybersecurity and cloud, workforce issues around culture and diversity, and sustainability. Following are summaries of the press conferences and of three news items released at the show.

Cybersecurity Steps Needed for 2022

No discussion of industrial technology can begin without considering cybersecurity. Angela Rapko (Regional Vice President, Lifecycle Services, Rockwell Automation), Shoshana Wodzisz (Manager, Product Security, Rockwell Automation), and Theodore Haschke (Manager, Business Development, Functional Safety & Cybersecurity, TUV Rheinland) talked standards with us. High-profile cyber and ransomware attacks rocked the manufacturing industry in 2021 and raised government attention to the need for stronger oversight to protect businesses worldwide. Global cybersecurity standards have been established based on guidance from industry leaders for both the IT and OT level, but adoption still wanes. We’ll share how businesses can utilize standards to improve security in 2022, and why OT can’t be left behind when updating best practices.

Leveraging Culture and DEI as a Competitive Advantage

Bobby Griffin (Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer, Rockwell Automation) and Becky House (Senior Vice President & Chief People & Legal Officer, Rockwell Automation) discussed how many companies have put a more intentional focus on company culture and DEI – but how do you know you’re having the right impact? Diversity, equity, and inclusion are core principles at Rockwell. This has a KPI associated and manager’s compensation is tied to it. Among other things, check out the senior leadership page on the Rockwell website. There are women on it. And a couple of other faces that are not old white men. There is a refreshing mix of ages, genders, ethnicities.

Why Cloud? Why Now? Three Factors Driving Adoption of SAAS-Based Solutions

I could understand the discussion of cybersecurity, which can be expected given the several-year-old vision of Rockwell regarding the Connected Enterprise. The discussion of computing in the cloud would never have happened with a straight face even three years ago. Maybe two. Let us consider two very recent acquisitions of cloud-based companies—Plex and Fiix. Brian Shepherd (Senior Vice President, Software & Control, Rockwell Automation), James Novak (Chief Executive Officer, Fiix), and Bill Berutti (Chief Executive Officer, Plex) joined us for a discussion of the companies, products, and benefits of cloud. Yet another sign of a rapidly changing Rockwell Automation.

Using Data to Drive Productivity and Sustainability

Rockwell Automation has had sustainability goals and solutions for many years. This topic remains a key focus for the corporation. Tom O’Reilly (Vice President, Sustainability, Rockwell Automation) and Arvind Rao (Director, Product Management & Head of Industry Solutions, Rockwell Automation) met with us to discuss how “customers and investors are demanding that we do business in ways that are more productive and more sustainable.” Operational data and analytics can reduce waste, improve quality, and reduce energy, all while driving increased productivity and delivering results against sustainability initiatives.

Three Strategies for Creating an Agile and Flexible Workforce

Rachael Conrad (Vice President & General Manager, Customer Support & Maintenance, Rockwell Automation) and Sherman Joshua (Director, Workforce & Competency, Lifecycle Services, Rockwell Automation) revealed Rockwell’s on key strategies for creating an agile and flexible workforce post pandemic and how manufacturers can leverage their workforce as their greatest asset.

New Initiatives to Bolster Cybersecurity Offering for Customers

Rockwell Automation, Inc. announced new investments to enhance its information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) cybersecurity offering. These initiatives include strategic partnerships with Dragos, Inc. and CrowdStrike, as well as the establishment of a new Cybersecurity Operations Center in Israel.

Rockwell and Dragos, a global leader in cybersecurity for industrial control systems (ICS)/OT environments, have announced a partnership that combines Rockwell’s global industry, application, and ICS domain expertise with Dragos’s world-class technology, professional services, and threat intelligence services. The partnership will focus on incident response services and threat intelligence.

Rockwell and CrowdStrike, a leader in cloud-delivered endpoint and workload protection, have formed a partnership to deliver end-to-end cybersecurity and network service solutions to customers. The partnership will examine initiatives for CrowdStrike’s cloud-native, AI-powered Falcon platform with Rockwell’s global deployment, network architecture, support, OT, and managed services capabilities to deliver differentiated solutions that address customer cybersecurity pain points.

Rockwell Automation Expands Supply Chain Services with Acquisition of AVATA

Rockwell Automation, Inc. has acquired AVATA, a leading services provider for supply chain management, enterprise resource planning, and enterprise performance management solutions. AVATA has significant domain expertise in enterprise applications and is a leading consultant and systems integrator for Oracle cloud software applications.

By significantly improving end-to-end supply chain visibility and management, AVATA, together with Kalypso, Rockwell’s industrial digital transformation services business, will help further unlock the value of information technology/operational technology (IT/OT) convergence that Rockwell can deliver to customers. AVATA will be integrated into Kalypso, which is a part of Rockwell’s Lifecycle Services business.

AVATA supports Rockwell’s recent cloud-native investments, building on its open architecture to extend the digital thread and enable powerful integrations with other leading technologies, now including Plex and Oracle Cloud.

Rockwell Automation and Battery Pioneer Cadenza Innovation to Explore Driving Energy Storage and Advance Sustainability

Rockwell Automation has begun collaborating with Cadenza Innovation, the award-winning provider of safe, low cost, and energy-dense Lithium-ion-based storage solutions, to define a strategic relationship including a   shared goal of building the industry’s highest performance battery cell production lines.

During 2022 the companies intend to collaborate to develop a customer cloud portal to manage deployed distributed energy resources, an end-to-end battery manufacturing execution system (MES), and equipment automation to support the expansion of Cadenza Innovation’s battery manufacturing in the US and abroad.

Rockwell Automation and Cadenza Innovation intend to create a full digital thread that feeds information from business systems to the factory floor and subsequently out to the field-deployed energy storage systems to ‘close the loop’ by feeding data from the field back into Cadenza Innovation’s connected operations. This, in turn, will ensure peak performance of customer systems.