By Rich Rovito, Industry Reporter, WMEP

Erik NRobots are a way of life for Erik Nieves.

A passionate advocate for robotics, he speaks glowingly of a technological advancement known as a telepresence robot that allows him to carry out his job duties for Miamsburg, Ohio-based Yaskawa Motoman from a reclaimed goat ranch outside of San Antonio, Texas, where he resides with his family.

“I would not be able to do that and still be effective work without this technology,” Nieves said.

The technology, which features a remote-controlled robot on wheels with a video display, has allowed Nieves to spend more time with his children and aging family members in Texas, something he wouldn’t be able to do if he worked from Yaskawa Motoman’s corporate headquarters in Ohio more than 1,200 miles away.

Nieves has served as Yaskawa Motoman’s technology director since 2008. He is responsible for crafting the strategic technology roadmap for the company, a provider of industrial robots and robotic automation solutions. Yaskawa Motoman provides automation products and solutions for a wide variety of industries and robotic applications; including arc welding, assembly, coating, dispensing, material handling, material cutting, material removal, packaging, palletizing and spot welding. It has an installed base of more than 300,000 robots.

Nieves will speak about robotics at the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s Manufacturing Matters! conference on Thursday, Feb. 26, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Milwaukee. To register or learn more about the conference, go to www.manufacturingmatters.org.

Nieves has worked at Yaskawa Motoman since 1999 and specializes in emerging applications. He also is a leader within the Robotic Industries Association, a North American trade group, where he represents the interests of academics and educators. He also is a contributor to public policy on robotics, including the U.S. Robotics Roadmap, and he has published many articles on advances in robot technology.

The pace of innovation in the robotics industry is at an all-time high, Nieves added.

For example, technological advancements combined with new safety initiatives are allowing for collaboration between workers and robots, a trend that could have major ramifications for the industrial work force, Nieves said.

Traditionally, industrial robots have been confined to protected, wall-off areas of a plant in order to prevent injuries to workers. The robots are designed to shut off when a worker enters its workspace.

“Typically, you see robots on one side of a fence and people on the other,” Nieves said.

However, new features on robots are shifting the labor dynamics in factories, allowing humans and machines to work together through “fenceless” applications that allow for greater efficiency on the shop floor, Nieves said. The new robots are lighter in weight and more dexterous than the robots typically seen in factories.

“Collaboration is a key going forward,” Nieves said.