Education and Training: High school plus two years of training
Salary: $30,400 to $50,500 per year
Employment Outlook: Excellent
Definition and Nature of the Work
Robotics, or flexible automation, is the technology involving the design, maintenance, and use of robots. Robotics technicians work as part of the team that produces robots, which are machines designed to perform tasks in place of a living agent. Most robots are "manipulators"—machines that function in place of a human hand and arm. They may also function as "walking" machines, or teleoperators, using remote control or sensory manipulators. Robots are usually directed by microprocessors, which are tiny computers that are installed in these machines.
Robotics technicians assist manufacturing, mechanical, and electronics engineers in all phases of robotic design, development, production, testing, and operations. Robot maintenance technicians are employed either by the manufacturers and distributors of robots or by the robot users. These technicians are often responsible for the initial installation of the robot. They may then establish an in-house maintenance and repair program. If employed by the robot manufacturer or distributor, maintenance technicians usually respond to service calls. These members of the robotics team work closely with engineers and other technical workers.
Robotics technicians who are trained in computer programming sometimes perform low-level programming and reprogramming of the robots. The technicians often act as the liaison between robotics engineers and the customers who purchase the machines. They may also install the robots at the manufacturing plant or other site where they will be used.
Technical workers called robot assemblers construct the robot for the robot manufacturer according to the design worked out by the robotics engineer. Generally, these workers receive in-house training for this job.
Robot operators actually operate the robots. Some of the larger users of robots provide their own specialized in-plant training programs to instruct their workers in the systems and equipment used to power and control the robots.
Another group of robotics technicians works as robotics trainers. Robotics trainers must have extensive experience installing and maintaining robots. They supervise trainees and less experienced technicians in all aspects of robotics design, installation, and maintenance. Trainers are employed at companies that manufacture robotic systems. They may also provide instruction at trade and technical schools, vocational schools, and some high schools.
Education and Training Requirements
For all jobs in this field you will need at least a high school education with a good background in science and mathematics. Most robotics technicians earn a two-year associate's degree in robot technology. Many colleges, technical institutes, and trade schools offer programs in this field. Your studies will concentrate on hydraulics, pneumatics, electronics, CADD/CAM (computer-assisted design and drafting, and computer-assisted manufacturing) systems, and microprocessors. Robotics manufacturers generally provide additional on-the-job training.
Robot maintenance technicians must often complete an apprenticeship training program to learn how to service the robots. These programs, which usually take two years to complete, combine classroom instruction with on-the-job training. Training includes instruction on how to maintain hydraulic valves and how to operate electronic systems. Although some of the instruction is highly technical, the skills that are taught generally are not very different from those needed to maintain other complex machinery.
Robot manufacturers and vendors often provide training programs to teach employees how to assemble or operate robots and their related electronics systems. Most robot operators need only minimal training. Typically, experienced machine operators require only one week of formal training to adapt their skills to routine operating and monitoring of robots. If you want to become a robotics trainer, you will need at least a two-year associate's degree in robotics technology together with extensive practical experience in robot design, installation, and maintenance work.
Getting the Job
If you attend a program at a college or technical institute, your school placement office may be able to assist you in finding a job. State employment agencies should also be able to help. You can apply directly to companies that hire robotics technicians, including robot manufacturers and robot suppliers and distributors. Jobs are often listed in newspaper classifieds, job banks on the Internet, and trade journals that specialize in robotics.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Experienced robotics technicians can advance in many ways. They can become robotics trainers and teach other technicians how to design and maintain robots. With additional education they can become robotics engineers. Other experienced technicians can become sales representatives. Robotics technicians who demonstrate managerial skills and receive advanced technical training may be able to work as independent consultants.
The job outlook for robotics technicians and technical workers is excellent. The demand for skilled technicians in this field is high.
Most robotics technicians work forty hours per week and some work overtime. Generally, they work alone or in pairs. Some technicians travel to customers' plants to service or install equipment. Others spend their time working in-house with engineers and scientists. Robot maintenance technicians, assemblers, and operators often work in noisy plants. Maintenance technicians may be expected to be on call around the clock in plants where robots are in twenty-four-hour use. Operators may have to work night shifts. In some cases robotics technicians belong to labor unions.
Where to Go for More Information
Robotics International of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers
One SME Dr.
P.O. Box 930
Dearborn, MI 48121-0930
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings vary widely depending on education, experience, and the kind of job. The average salary for a robotics technician ranged from $30,400 to $50,500 per year in 2002. Benefits generally include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.