This month’s five questions interview features Laura Evans, Sr. District/Account Manager at FANUC! Laura has been an ARM Institute Member since 2018 and currently volunteers her time on the ARM Institute’s Stakeholder Executive Council (SEC), which acts as the voice for the Institute’s 390+ member organizations. She was also named an ARM Champion at the 2022 Annual Member Meeting; the ARM Champion awards recognize ARM Institute Members leaders in the manufacturing industry who have gone above and beyond to champion the Institute.
Get to know Laura, her background, and more in the interview below:
1. Can you tell us about your background? How did you get started in robotics?
I started in robotics while I was a co-op electrical engineering student at General Motors’ Saturn division. I was fortunate to work alongside engineers that designed the automation solutions for assembling body frames for new model vehicles. My job was to coordinate with our robot supplier, GMFanuc (now called FANUC), where I was involved in the software and programming of spotwelding robots. At the time, I was also completing my senior thesis on real-time seam tracking for sealant dispensing systems. Thus, I was able to learn much about industrial robots from the GMFanuc team and was exposed to the latest developments in the robotics industry, such as machine vision and adaptive control — which were revolutionary in the late 1980s!
I enjoyed working with robots so much that I eventually transferred into what is now FANUC as an applications engineer. This gave me the opportunity to learn about many types of robotic systems from painting, dispensing, welding, material removal and material handling. I subsequently became a project manager, a food/pharmaceutical industry sales specialist and now a Senior District Manager in our Central Region where I support manufacturers, integrators as well as manage several corporate accounts. To say that I love my job would be an understatement. Being part of the ever-evolving robotics field is more fun than work!
2. What advice to have for others who want to get involved in the robotics industry? Specifically, what advice do you have for women and young girls looking to work in robotics?
My best advice is “Do it!” Our industry continues to innovate, grow, expand into new applications, and develop new technologies. Whether you like working with your hands, running machinery, are interested in design or programming, or consider yourself a free thinker with creative ideas — there are opportunities in the robotics field for your talents. For example, I have noticed that many young people who are adept at video games become great programmers and excel at using simulation tools for offline programming.
The robotics industry needs all types of workers—operators to run and manage machines, maintenance staff to keep robots running, tooling designers, engineers and programmers creating solutions, project managers, and PhDs and researchers who are developing the next generation of robots. Opportunities abound!
To get started, many high schools, vocational schools, community colleges and universities offer robotics programs. Some focus on theory, and others focus on teaching robot programming along with related disciplines like CAD modeling and PLC programming. Seek out the one that most appeals to you.
Although women are still a minority in the robotics industry the tide is changing quickly. When I first started my career, I was the only female engineer in my area. Now, I work with some of the best and brightest female engineers, designers, programmers, project managers, marketing managers and the like. There are no barriers to entry, as long as you have the interest, drive, fortitude and work ethic to get involved and learn from those around you. Be inquisitive and don’t be afraid to ask questions. In my early years, I gained the most knowledge from plant electricians who had the best practical answers to my many questions.
3. You are a member of the ARM Institute’s Stakeholder Executive Council, which acts as the voice for the ARM Institute’s 380+ member organization consortium. Can you tell us more about what it’s like being on the Council?
It is an honor to be on the ARM Stakeholder Executive Council (SEC) along with so many dedicated professionals in the robotics industry. Being on the SEC gives me a chance to better understand needs from the ARM member community and to be engaged in technologies under development through research funding provided by the ARM Institute. The SEC assists with the roadmapping of programs and projects. I enjoy being part of the committee to help address critical needs in U.S. manufacturing and support our country’s leadership as an innovator in robotic automation.
4. You’ve been an ARM Institute Member for many years. Can you tell us why FANUC joined the ARM Institute and what you’ve enjoyed about being an ARM Institute Member?
FANUC has been involved in the ARM Institute for roughly the past four years. Our goal is to provide robots and resources to help the consortium develop emerging technology and applications for solving real-world challenges. As sensors, artificial intelligence, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), collaborative robots, 3D Vision, virtual reality and related devices evolve at a rapid pace, the application for industrial robots continues to transform into more data-driven intelligent solutions, thereby enabling more flexible and lean manufacturing. I have enjoyed seeing several projects move from the research phase into commercialization.
Further, one of the things I relish about being a member is the ability to meet and network with the hundreds of professionals from various backgrounds in the industry. ARM Institute Members are passionate about advancing developments in our field through research and collaboration between industry and academia. It has been rewarding to see the impact the ARM Institute has made in both technology advancements, along with workforce development to help promote more education in robotics and automation.
5. Can you tell us about FANUC?
FANUC is the world-leader in robots, RoboMachines and CNC controls. We offer a broad lineup of robots and cobots for various applications and environments. From high-speed food grade picking robots, to cleanroom robots working in electronics or medical applications, to explosion-proof or foundry-grade robots, we have over 200 models ready to work!
We continue to innovate and add intelligence to our robots. We offer fully integrated 2D and 3D vision solutions along with force sensing to give our robots the ability to ‘see’ and ‘feel’. Our simulation software is extremely powerful and enables users to setup and program a digital twin to prove-out the application.
As evident by the statistics from the A3 Association (also an ARM Institute Member), the robotics industry as a whole is experiencing exponential growth. FANUC is growing to keep up with demand and to continue providing exceptional service and support for our large installed base. We are expanding our footprint in Michigan with an additional 800,000 square foot facility, along with modernizing or expanding our 25 regional-based facilities in the Americas.
There are many new applications where our robots are being applied to help bridge the labor shortage in both traditional and emerging industries such as agriculture, foodservice, eCommerce, construction industry. We currently have FANUC robots sorting recyclables, managing order fulfillment in eComm, flipping hamburgers, picking vegetables in greenhouses, sealing cracks in roads, and 3D printing to name a few. In addition to expanding our facilities we are continuing to ‘staff up’ and ensure we have the support resources to meet growing demand. Afterall, robots are an invaluable tool, but it is people that make them work!
For more information about FANUC America visit www.fanucamerica.com.
About the ARM Institute
The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute is a Manufacturing Innovation Institute (MII) funded by the Office of the Secretary of Defense under Agreement Number W911NF-17-3-0004 and is part of the Manufacturing USA® network. The ARM Institute leverages a unique, robust, and diverse ecosystem of 390+ consortium members and partners across industry, academia, and government to make robotics, autonomy, and artificial intelligence more accessible to U.S. manufacturers large and small, train and empower the manufacturing workforce, strengthen our economy and global competitiveness, and elevate national security and resilience. Based in Pittsburgh, PA since 2017, the ARM Institute is leading the way to a future where people & robots work together to respond to our nation’s greatest challenges and to produce the world’s most desired products. For more information, visit www.arminstitute.org and follow the ARM Institute on LinkedIn and Twitter.