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Robotics is the science of remote handling. Robots are modeled on humans, with “arms” and “fingers” that can move in arcs or circles. Some robots can fit tiny parts precisely in place. Others can hold and operate welding torches or paint sprayers. Some are so sensitive they can pick up an egg without breaking it. They can walk, respond to voice commands, and see, using TV cameras for eyes.
The use of robots in assembly lines is changing the way American companies manufacture goods. Robots never call in late or complain about boredom, but they do break down, and that's when a robotics technician is needed.
There are several kinds of robotics technicians, each requiring specific skills. All these technicians need good eyesight, manual dexterity, and the ability to figure things out on their own. This is a good field for people who like to tinker with machinery.
Robot assemblers work with robotics engineers to design and construct industrial robots. They may build a prototype (first of its kind) or tweak an old model. There are hundreds of designs for robots and most of them don't look anything like toy models. Many robot assemblers also build robots as a hobby and stay current with robot electronics as it continues to emerge.
Programmers also work under the direction of a robotics engineer. They help develop the computer programs that will direct the robot to respond to commands and do a specific task. The task may be as simple as picking up a bolt and putting it in place.
Trainers “teach” robots what to do. They use a keyboard called a teach pendant, or controller. Once the desired actions of the robot are chosen, they are keyed in, one by one. Each movement is stored in the controller's memory. The robot can then repeat the exact movement an infinite number of times. If a programmer comes up with a new set of actions, the robot can be retrained.
Installers set up robots at a manufacturing plant or other site and oversee the operation until they are satisfied that everything is working correctly. Installers usually work for a robot manufacturer and travel where they are assigned. An assignment may last several weeks.
Robot operators, also called precision assemblers, operate robots. They must read and interpret engineering specifications about how the robots should work. These specifications may be in text form, but are often drawings or CAD (computer-aided design) programs. Precision assemblers may work on their feet in old-style noisy assembly lines. The trend today is to work on subassemblies sitting at tables in quiet rooms with small-sized robots.
Precision electrical and electronic equipment assemblers with their robots put together missile control systems, radio equipment, computers, machine-tool numerical controls, radar, sonar, and appliances. Precision electromechanical equipment workers assemble machinery for offices, oil fields, textile plants, printing companies, food processors, and dozens of other industries. They also rebuild engines and turbines.
With the success of robots in the auto and airframe industries, many other kinds of assembly lines are converting to allow robots to take over tedious jobs from humans. The projected growth in robotics is 5 percent per year over the next ten years, but that is probably conservative. Both robot manufacturers and manufacturing firms using robots hire technicians.
Robotics technicians are paid an hourly wage. Depending on the industry and geographic location, rates range from $6 to $17.50 an hour for entry-level positions. An experienced technician can expect to earn as much as $25 an hour, although $15 an hour is more standard. Since this field is in a major growth phase, it is hard to predict what wages will be in five or ten years.
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