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If you need an indication which way the warehousing and manufacturing industry is going, consider this: Swisslog North America, a leading forklifts solution company, is adding 30 new robotic engineering jobs at its Newport News, Virginia, headquarters.
The addition to its workforce is in direct response to a growing demand for its self-driving forklifts and pallet movers. The company also sells entire computer-controlled cube-storage systems where robots bring specific cases of items to employees’ work stations on demand.
Customers Demanding High Tech Solutions
These futuristic forklift solutions are the kinds of things Swisslog’s customers — which include Wal-Mart and Target — are asking for, according to Bill Leber, the company’s business development manager.
“Some of the projects we manage are absolutely enormous,” Leber told the Daily Press, the local Newport News newspaper. Among Swisslog’s projects are the a Wawa refrigerated storage distribution center that the company designed and outfitted in Pennsylvania.
To get help preparing for these future innovations, Swissair is turning to workforce’s future engineers and designers. The company has aggressively begun recruiting engineering students from nearby Old Dominion and Christopher Newport universities, hosting a collegiate technology fair at its headquarters on April 22. More than 50 students and faculty members attended the event.
Students Shown Cutting Edge Technology
Participants got to see Swissair’s industrial robots in action. They also toured the company’s 24 hour support center, where about 33% of their clients problems are solved automatically before their clients even have to call them.
Jonathan Harmon, a Swissair intern from Old Dominion who was hired full-time by the company a year ago, demonstrated for the group a three dimensional emulation and simulation system that make sure a system works and fits in the space where it will be installed before it is even built.
“This isn’t meant to scare you,” Harmon told his former classmates. “It’s meant to intrigue you.”
While many of Swissair’s products are driverless, there are still some that still require the human touch. The company’s SmartLift tracking system utilizes a conventional forklift that has been equipped with sensors that track an indoor GPS system that uses an on-board computer to direct drivers where to go. Program manager Sahil Patel demonstrated the system,in which a sensor automatically scans bar codes to find pallets then their location is recorded and stored so that no time is lost trying to locate them later.
Patel also showed the students how workers use the Google Glass — the portable Internet access device that you wear on your face like eyeglasses — to research and develop its future systems. The goal is for forklift operators and warehouse workers to wear the devices so they can be connected to voice-controlled computers.
One student — Ashish Kshrisagar, 28, who graduates from Old Dominion with a Master’s degree in computer science — said he was “astonished” by the demonstrations.
“That’s the next technology,” he said. “I really want to work here.”
A.K. Schulz, vice president of customer service for Swisslog, said the company has doubled its workforce since 2011 and already has hired 75 new full-time workers. Last year, the company also doubled its space, adding a 20,500 square foot warehouse.