Matt Troyer, CFO of Jomar Manufacturing and Fabricating, learned about the LIFT Apprenticeship program through Leighton Johnson, Director of Education and Workforce at South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership.
With the goal of increasing productivity through robotic welding, Jomar decided to utilize this program by offering customized apprenticeship training. Two of their employees are currently participating in classes that were made available through funding provided by the LIFT Initiative.
Jomar employee Lyndon Slabach grew up in welding and began working at Jomar at the age of 16. As the welding industry began transitioning to robotics, a former employee trained him on how to program and run the robotic welder. For Slabach, the offer of an apprentice program meant he could further build on the skills he has already acquired.
“Before the training, I was pretty much self-taught,” said Slabach. “This training takes it farther.”
In addition to adding to his skill set, he can offer constructive feedback about the sessions that would benefit the structuring of future training. For example, Slabach mentioned that some of the basic classes were either not necessary or at least could’ve been shortened.
“The classes didn’t have a lot to do with robots until the last few classes,” said Slabach. And the first classes, he noted, didn’t have any hands-on applications. He admits that those early classes did help with the basic concept of how things worked, but it wasn’t about the robots themselves.
“It was mostly about documentation,” said Slabach. A skill he admits is important and even encouraged him to document better. In addition, he noted that they did some electrical work and worked on robot sensors. “It helped with the basic concept,” he noted, “but it still wasn’t really working with robots.”
While some classes seemed too long, other classes in the program could have been more extensive, according to Slabach.
“There were times I really wanted to dive in and learn more, but they moved us quickly to the next class and I didn’t get the chance,” he said. However, he believes the last few classes sound promising and he looks forward to the Programming Logical Controller (PLC) training, and the Roboguide Fanuc software.
For future training, Jomar will use Slabach’s feedback to work with Purdue to tweak classes to include more hands-on opportunities, as well as possibly shortening the basic classes and extending actual robotic training.
“Lyndon is more advanced than the other two who were in the program,” said Controller Emily Fitt who oversees the apprentice program. “We knew he might get bored a bit, but we also knew he could be our eyes and ears inside the program along with learning new things.”
Having this training available means Jomar can invest in their employees, making them feel more appreciated while adding value to the company itself. Although welding positions are being eliminated by robotic welders, the company still needs individuals to run, program, and troubleshoot the robots. Having the training program in place means employees are more thoroughly prepared for robotic welding positions.
For Jomar, the success of the program is based on how it is enabling them to reach their goals which include investing in employees and employee retention, around-the-clock operations, and increased productivity.
The company was able to take important steps toward reaching those goals during the training. In addition to helping participants build their skills in robotic welding, they added a robot to their existing two robots approximately halfway through the training. Currently, they have two more robots on order. Without properly training employees, they could not have expected to achieve this level of productivity or efficiency.
“Our ultimate goal is to keep robots running 24/7 and in order to do that, we need people with this specific set of skills,” said Fitt. “We also need people on call if something happens to the robots on the weekend. We are not sure how many (people) we need yet, but we definitely need more than one.”
Fitt noted that launching the program has stirred a lot of interest from other employees currently not participating as well.
“The greatest impact on our business, ” said Fitt, ”is that employees are talking about the classes and are interesting in learning opportunities through the company. For example, one person asked if we would be able to offer a CNC program. Investing in employees gives employees the motivation to stay, which isn’t an easy thing in Elkhart,” she noted.
Because it offers a solid learning base that can be customized, Fitt believes this is a great tool for employers to utilize. “It not only increases productivity,” said Fitt, “but more importantly, people are excited.”