Technology is ever-changing, and unionized sheet metal training centers across the country are consistently trying to decipher which technology still needs time to percolate and what technology would benefit members and the contractors who employ them.
For the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation workers (SMART) Local 104, located near and in the heart of Silicon Valley, technology is at the forefront of the training side as well as for contractors. This year, due to contractor demand, Local 104 and the Bay Area Industry Training Fund have partnered with Dusty Robotics, a venture-backed, construction technology startup out of Mountain View, California, to create curriculum and host training for its FieldPrinter in three progressive parts — setup, software and full spectrum comprehensive operation.
Dusty Robotics’ overall goal is to enable the construction industry to build more with less in order to increase efficiency and encourage safer job sites. The FieldPrinter automates layout with the ability to print any combination of points, text and lines directly from an Auto CAD or Revit file to the floor of the job site.
“It can be operated by one individual. You can have one person lay out an entire job,” said Nate Vennarucci, training coordinator at Local 104’s East Bay Counties/Livermore training facility. “Typically, if you’re laying it out on the ground [without the FieldPrinter], it takes more time, the layout will be less detailed, it’ll take more people. It’s great for jobs that have concrete or plywood decking, and it can lay out really efficiently and accurately as well.”
Though the technology is easily learned, training for this technology is critical for maximum productivity. As with most emerging technology, efficiencies can disappear if an untrained worker spends too much time troubleshooting errors that could have been avoided with the proper training. This is the main reason the Bay Area Industry Training Fund partnered with Dusty Robotics to create the curriculum and host the training, Vennarucci said.
The first class covers the set-up of the system, how it works, FieldPrinter components and hands-on operation during an eight-hour course over two days or in a single weekend day. The second class covers the user interface and software, including how to troubleshoot common problems seen in the field, over 12 hours of instruction broken up into a three-day course. The final course takes attendees through the entire technology, from beginning to end, and includes a test run of actual job site tasks with an emphasis on hands-on operation.
The third class is planned for early 2024, and Vennarucci anticipates it will also be held over 12 hours, broken up into a three-day course. The first two classes are available for members to take, and were first held in April. Training is open to all members — including on weekends, if requested — and certification will be outlined by Dusty Robotics and recognized by Local 104.
The curriculum, specific to the sheet metal industry, is a collaboration between the Bay Area Industry Training Fund instructors, Vennarucci and Dusty Robotics.
“The members are excited to take the curriculum. Some of them have seen it in the field and didn’t have the opportunity to run the equipment,” Vennarucci said. “They’re seeing the benefit of it. They’re seeing the value of it, and they’re very receptive to that training.”
“It’s neat to watch them train our product,” said Marshall Hawley, head of training for Dusty Robotics. “There is enough enthusiasm around the product to develop a curriculum and then train it to groups of students.”
With multiple union contractors using the FieldPrinter, Dusty Robotics is helping bring job sites together, literally placing them on the same page (or floor), said Tessa Lau, CEO and developer of Dusty Robotics.
“Everyone’s layouts all line up together. Everyone can see what everyone is going to do, and you can resolve any inconsistencies right there as you’re looking at it,” she added. “Everyone is confident that what they’re seeing on the floor is what everyone is going to build.”
Lau has watched her technology go from an idea that lived in her head to a tool that can change the way a job site operates and functions. Passing the knowledge onto workers who can put it to good use is a good feeling, she said.
“It’s like watching your baby grow up,” she added. “It was a good fit, and the sheet metal trades in general are some of the most active users of our FieldPrinter, so it made sense to go forward.”
Apprentices at Local 104 receive training in AutoCAD, air balancing, refrigeration/service, welding and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) design, fabrication and installation. While they are learning in the classroom, they are gaining skills on the job site including installation of architectural sheet metal, kitchen equipment and duct for heating and air conditioning systems in residential and commercial buildings.
The goal is for apprentices to graduate with zero tuition debt and a career to last a lifetime. More than 14,000 apprentices participate in 150 training centers across the United States and Canada, learning curriculum and using the free training materials provided by the International Training Institute (ITI), the education arm of the unionized sheet metal, air conditioning and welding industry.
For more information about ITI and its available training curriculum for members covering sheet metal trade work, visit the website or call 703-739-7200.