Siemens this week unveiled a newly expanded campus to train workers on advanced manufacturing technology.
The German conglomerate's Technical Application Center in suburban Chicago allows workers from machine tool dealers and importers, along with some end-users of the company's technology, to train on Siemens software and equipment and see it in action — free of charge.
"This is as important as any piece of equipment that we would produce," said Raj Batra, the president of Siemens' U.S. digital factory division, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in Elk Grove Village, Ill., on Tuesday.
The company offers three-day courses at three levels of training on Siemens' SinuTrain CNC simulation software, along with another course for dealer service training. About 240 people completed courses last year, and more than 250 are expected to do so in 2017.
Siemens also offers live online training and webinars — the latter of which are available to any interested individuals — through the TAC.
Officials hope to increase the course offerings to include mixed technology operation and programming, as well as build its online offerings and digital archive.
The upgraded TAC also includes a machine lab to showcase Siemens' digitalization capabilities to students in a "mini-job shop." The facility now features three milling machines, a turning center and a manufacturing robot.
The center allows workers to establish a virtual replica of the entire manufacturing process, or "digital twin," and produce a physical product — which, on the day of the ribbon-cutting, was a small metal bottle opener.
Siemens' Chris Pollack added that the system provides "conversational programming" directions to workers and enables them to use design technology, Siemens' Sinumerik CNC system and the German company's MindSphere platform for the Industrial Internet of Things.
The courses, along with Siemens' L.E.A.P. program to partner with schools and educators, aim to help address the difficulty in finding qualified machinists for the nation's manufacturing sector.
"There is a huge deficiency of knowledge when it comes to advanced manufacturing techniques," Pollack said.
But the TAC also allows Siemens to showcase its Sinumerik CNC system to machine tool makers and promote the benefits of digital manufacturing.
Officials noted during a presentation in Chicago earlier in the day that although about one-quarter of the world's economy will be digital by 2020, only a fraction of current data is "meaningfully used" to generate value for businesses.
Batra said that Siemens particularly hopes to turn the vast amounts of data collected by machines into value for businesses. He acknowledged that businesses cannot afford to wait "four, five, six years" to see a return on their investment in technology, but he also warned that businesses fail to take advantage of digitalization could see their competitors cut their times to market and bolster profits.
"Betting on the status quo is sort of a dangerous proposition," Batra said.