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Use of robots in Rome industries is soaring

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While Rome is not necessarily viewed as a hotbed for advanced manufacturing, a new report done by Brookings, shows that Rome manufacturers have more robots per 1,000 employees than any other metropolitan area in Georgia except Warner Robins. The report covers a time span from 2010-2015, and shows Rome with 4.6 industrial robots per 1,000 employees. The Gainesville MSA also reported a 4.6 RPT rate.

The 4.6 robot count per 1,000 employees in Rome is significantly higher than either Atlanta, at 0.9, or Chattanooga, which was at 2.8.

Both the Athens and Dalton MSAs reported a RPT rate of 1.2. All of the metro areas south of the Gnat Line registered an RPT rate of less than one, ranging from 0.9 in Valdosta to 0.7 in Savannah, 0.5 in Macon and 0.4 in Brunswick, the lowest in the state.

The report provided data which showed that in 2010, industries reported 61 robots in use in Rome and Floyd County. In 2015, that number had grown to 163, an annualized growth rate of 22 percent. If growth continued at 22 percent, that would mean there would be something in the neighborhood of 240 robots in use in 2017.

Bruce Critchlow, manager of the F&P Georgia plant in the Floyd County Industrial Park off U.S. 27 South, couldn’t help but smile when the Rome News-Tribune provided the numbers to him. “We have 302,” Critchlow said. The numbers in the Brookings report are obviously significantly under-reported.

Pirelli, Suzuki, Neaton, Stemco, Profile — all are among major users of robots in their manufacturing process.

Most of the robots at F&P — 268 — are MIG weld robots; the rest are material handlers. The robotic welding helps F&P ensure continuous accuracy and quality of its products. A variety of welding techniques are used across the footprint of the plant.

Critchlow explained production at F&P is done in what are called cells. “Our standard cell is a jig and four robots,” Critchlow said. “The operator will load parts into it, press the buttons, the robots come in and do the welding. Once it’s finished the robot will take it from that station and move it to another station.” He said one employee may man three stations and is constantly loading parts at the next station.

Ken Wright, director of business and existing industry services at the Rome Floyd Chamber, said companies may have as many as two people in the workforce to support the function of the robot. “Either it needs someone to load fixtures that robot is going to weld, or it needs somebody to pull the final part off of the fixture,” Wright said. “If it’s running an injection molding machine, you’ve got somebody that is loading resin into the machine or actually removing the end product. Every process requires human intervention as well.”

While F&P uses more than 300 robots, the plant has 560 and plans to add more associated before the end of the year because Honda is seeking to virtually triple the amount of product it receives from F&P Georgia.

Wright said robots used for welding are the most prevalent type of robot in plants across Rome and Floyd County.

The Pirelli tire manufacturing plant in Rome was constructed with the company’s revolutionary Modular Integrated Robotized System in mind. The technology was introduced in 1999, just a few years before the Rome plants were built.

According to the Pirelli website, the work of the MIRS production line covers the tire manufacturing process from start to finish without interruptions, without movement or storage of semi-finished components, without waste of energy. MIRS is capable of producing a tire every three minutes.

In March of 2016, F&P Georgia donated three robots to Georgia Northwestern Technical College for the purpose of providing students with experience on equipment that is used in real-world manufacturing applications.

Critchlow said every production technician on the welding line at F&P has either graduated from GNTC or is enrolled in the automation production training program at the technical college.

The three industrial robotic arms have an estimated value of $50,000.

Bill Scoggin, assistant dean of industrial technologies at GNTC, said there is a lot of job demand in the field right now. Greg Smith, the robotics instructor at the Floyd County College and Career Academy, said his program has been focused for the last several years on motor controls and robotics. “They’re able to complete two certificates from GNTC before they graduate from high school. Then they can go across to GNTC and, in one calendar year, complete their associate’s degree,” Smith said.

The high school program now has 52 students in the dual-enrollment program. The two certificates the students can get are Basic Mechatronics Specialist and Programmable Controls Technician.

Smith said the College and Career Academy has had several kids who left from high school and got jobs related to robotics, several of whom got jobs and are going on to GNTC. “We’ve had companies that will pay students who come back to school, so we’re trying to meet the needs in robotics,” Smith said.