Factory Machinists Become Coders


 As automation changes the way factories operate, some U.S. companies are training workers in programming and robotics, letting machinists get a taste of coding.
 Competition from China was among the reasons Drew Greenblatt, chief executive of manufacturing firm Marlin Steel Wire Products LLC, purchased $2 million of robots in the past 15 months. The Baltimore maker of wire baskets is training employees on operating the robots and using laser cutting software.
 The company's machinists develop code so robots can make parts to specifications, replacing several workers who physically created parts. Other employees use collaborative software to interact with customers on real-time design changes, helping the company manufacture higher-quality steel products, charge more for them and create unique intellectual property, he said.
 Marlin Steel is on track to generate $8 million in revenue this year, up from about $5 million last year.
 “We're not going to beat the competition because we are charging lower prices. We are going to beat the competition because of the technology. These are factory workers turning into coders to exploit the technologies,” Mr. Greenblatt said.
 The automated factory floor has helped streamline operations and bring in new business. It has also contributed to a technology-based skills gap. Attracting and retaining high-quality workers was the biggest concern of almost three-quarters of 466 respondents in a National Association of Manufacturers outlook survey released in March.

BY AGAM SHAH

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