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Festo Expanding in the U.S. and Bringing Back Vocational Education

Festo Expanding in the U.S. and Bringing Back Vocational Education

The company's recently opened new plant in Mason, Ohio, is also a new educational model for the skilled labor force.

At Festo’s newly established logistics and assembly plant in North America, 70% of customers can be delivered with automation products in a 10-hours-truck-drive – from New York in the East to Chicago in the West, from Toronto in the North to Atlanta in the South. (Photo: Festo)

Festo has opened the doors on its brand-new Regional Service Center (RSC) in the center of Ohio. The service center located in the town of Mason will serve the North American market, including Canada and Mexico. With the new center, 70% of Festo’s North American customers will only be a 10-hour truck drive away. Festo recently opened its doors for a tour of the facility to highlight how it is bringing the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to the North America region and how it plans to develop a higher skilled labor force.

Festo and IIoT in North America

The investment Festo is making in the United States and American region is due to the growing manufacturing market. According to Carlos Miranda, cluster lead of the Americas, the potential market for Festo in the Americas is a projected $3 billion. This includes not just the United States and Canada, but also Mexico and South America. Mexico is becoming an important hub for North American car manufacturing. Richard Huss, president of Festo Corp USA, said that automation is key to the rise of manufacturing in the states. It is becoming more expensive to assemble overseas with countries like China rising in cost and with the help of automation, manufacturing is rising in the Americas.

What set this Regional Service Center apart from other facilities in North America is its highly automated order picking system. (Photo: Festo)

The RSC in Mason will serve has a hub for the United States, Mexico, and Canada for Festo products. The facility has a storage capacity of 65,000 bins and is completely automated. The Witron company implemented the automation used inside the warehouse to prepare products for delivery. Witron designed how the bins are stored, retrieved, and delivered to each of the picking stations. The 10-aisle automated storage retrieval system has 73,000 bin locations and is designed for a variety of tote sizes. A conveyor system delivers the bins to the picking stations. Each picking station, besides having an integrated computer system, has a pick-by-light system and integrated weight scale to ensure a high pick quality. Each workstation can pick up to four customer orders at the same time. The light flashes over the correct bin per order and the scale measures the bin ensuring the correct number of pieces per shipment. The bin is then transported back on the conveyor to packaging and shipping. The system makes it possible to pack up to 10,000 order lines without any errors.

The facility is also the assembly site for many customized parts. The RSC integrates assembly into the warehouse, providing direct access to components. This helps minimize the wait time for customers to receive parts by cutting down on additional supply chains. The customizable products assembled at the RSC include: pressure switches, custom cylinders, valve terminals, cylinder/valve combinations, valve manifolds, semi-rotary drives with ball valve, and sensor boxes.

The automated warehouse system enables the processing of large order volumes. With storage capacity of 65,000 bins and the high performance picking and packing stations the system enables Festo to pick and pack more than 1,000 items per hour.

Didactic Learning

To help push manufacturing in the Americas, the need of a highly skilled labor force will be essential. According to American Manufacturing, in 2011, an estimated 600,000 manufacturing jobs went unfilled in the United States. Manufacturers could not find enough workers with the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines necessary to work in advanced manufacturing environments. By 2025, there will be over 3.4 million manufacturing jobs available and fewer than half of those openings will be filled due to the shortage of skilled labor fource.

Festo is tackling this problem through Festo Didactic. For more than 40 years, Festo Didactic has prepared students in North America for complex industrial environment jobs by simulating smart factories in high schools and college classrooms. The students receive hands-on learning on how to build and operate IIoT-related equipment. In Mason at the RSC, Festo is taking it one step further with their Mechatronics Apprenticeship Program to equip today’s workforce with the necessary skill set and help recruit more young people to manufacturing.

Students in the Mechatronics Apprenticeship Program learn through a hands-on experience on how to operate modern IIoT-related equipment.

In Germany, 1.5 million apprenticeships are given to youth and it results in a low 7% youth unemployment rate. In the United States, the youth unemployment rate is 17% and only 358,000 apprenticeships are given to young students. Festo Didactic created the Mechatronics Apprenticeship Program in partnership with Sinclair Community College in Mason. The manufacturing partners are TechSolve, and employer partners are Art Metal Group, Clippard Instruments, Festo Automation, MQ Automation, and Nestlé. The two-year program helps train young students for careers as maintenance technicians, automation specialists, service technicians, and manufacturing technicians.

Each apprentice will earn an associate’s degree in mechatronics from Sinclair Community College. Based off the German apprenticeship model, apprentices spend one day each week in educational classes at the college, one day using and learning how to operate modern IIoT equipment at the new Festo Learning Center in Mason, and three days working and training at their respective employers. Scott Markland, vice president for regional genters at Sinclair Community College, says , “We heard loud and clear from small, medium, and large manufacturers in our area that they have a skills gap and it is challenging to find young people who are interested in manufacturing. At the same time, [employers] have a workforce that is moving toward retirement, so the talent pipeline is a big concern.” With the help of Festo Didactic and the Mechatronics Apprenticeship program, that talent gap will start to close.

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