The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode · 1 year ago

How to Solve the Technology Hesitancy Issue in Manufacturing w/ Erik Nieves


You hear people talk a lot about a labor shortage in manufacturing and automation and robotics are a great way to tackle it. 

Not just to replace jobs — but to find more workers. 

If only we could get over manufacturing’s technology hesitancy problem. 

Today’s guest, Erik Nieves, Founder at PlusOne Robotics, can help you do just that. That’s because, in his years of experience in robotics, he’s seen a solution to every excuse for why automation won’t work.

In this episode, we discuss:

-The problem of technology hesitancy (and how it hurts smaller manufacturers more)

-How to build a strategy around automation

-Whether there really is a labor shortage and why, if there is, robots can help

To ensure that you never miss an episode of The Manufacturing Executive, subscribe on Apple Podcasts, or Spotify.

Here me people make it your strategy to have automation and people compliment one another. said to the robot what it can do, and hopefully that's greater than fifty or sixty or seventy percent, but then be okay with having a manual station. Just segregate it. Welcome to the manufacturing executive podcast, where we explore the strategies and experiences that are driving mid size manufacturers forward. Here you'll discover new insights from passionate manufacturing leaders who have compelling stories to share about their successes and struggles, and you'll learn from B tob sales and marketing experts about how to apply actionable business development strategies inside your business. Let's get into the show. Welcome to another episode of the Manufacturing Executive podcast. I'm Joe Sullivan, your host and a cofounder of the Industrial Marketing Agency guerrilla seventy six. When you're considering any big foundational change in your business, expanding your facilities, adding machinery, staffing up, implementing a new technology, a big part of that conversation almost certainly revolves around the topic of our OI. What will the return be? But often are why? Isn't quite as black and white as we can make it out to be. Today, my guests will unpack this topic in the context of factory automation, where Roy isn't as simple as if I replace x with why, the expected growth on my bottom line will be Z. let's get into it. Eric Yavis is the CO founder and CEO of plus one robotics, a software company dedicated to robotics for automated warehouses and logistics. Prior to plus one, Eric was technology director for Yeskawa Modeman robotics for twenty six years, with responsibility for the Technology Road Map and emerging markets, with a deep focus on collaborative applications. A tireless advocate for the industry, Eric is a board member of our IA and is a frequent speaker on robotics technology and its implications to public policy. Last year, plus one robotics was named best place to work in San Antonio, won the customer Value Leadership at Best Practice Award from frost and Sullivan and was named one of the fifty most promising startups by the Information Eric. Welcome to the show. Thanks so much, Joe. Glad to be here. Awesome we had a chance to I met you when we did a clubhouse panel couple months back at this point and I don't know where clubhouse is going at this point, but it was it was fun when we did it at least, and had a few other robotics industry leaders in on that conversation. Loved some of the things you walked about and I had to get you here on the show. So it's great to heavy here finally. I remember that day and it was a good group and if we have as much fun today as we did, then then it'll be a win for everybody. Awesome. Well, we set the bar high, so I'll do my best. So, Eric, something that I see in my world as a marketing guy working with manufacturers is technology and timidation in general, and I know this is a real thing in your world as well as a robotics leader looking into the manufacturing sector. Sometimes. You mentioned to me in the previous conversation that one of the barriers to entry with automation is a plant manager saying things like I don't know how to run this thing, and so I'm I would like to hear you kind of talk about what can you say about a making it technology accessible and easy to use among the people already running a factories operations. Yeah, I mean, look, if you're talking to a plant manager and what they care about is, you know, quality and throughput right, it's not the technology that ever mattered to them, it's the widget. And can I get enough of them out the back door? And to the degree that technology or equipment or machinery or automation tools can... a role, all to the better. You know, if there's an Roi right, but there is. You know, we talked about vaccine. Has It, and see a lot in this country right now. There is technology hesitancy in industry and it's because some of these are pretty big bets. Bought your first robot and you know, I didn't work out. That would have been a bad thing. So the I don't know how to run this thing is real. If you don't have exposure, if you don't have experience with any given technology, you're going to be less apt to deploy it in what it's a critical process for you. The big companies in some ways have an advantage in that. Well, Hey, we've got a innovation lab or some rd sandbox where these new technologies can be tested out and, you know, we'll see what sticks and what does it, but if you're a small to medium manufacturer, you don't. So how do I keep it running? Exposure, of course, a big piece of it, and that's why, you know, the last year, two years, is hurt so much. Is Because, with trade shows drying up, you didn't have the opportunity to go to IMPs, walk the floor, check some different you know, you had your checklist of different things you wanted to solve on your factory operation. You could go see it and, you know, make some determinations as to whether it was a path forward or not. At least know some people that could solve it, you know. So exposure is a problem, but the other is, okay, I see it, I think it will work. I'd like to have it, but who's going to support it? You know, the the typical answer of well, we're the manufacturer and you know we're here to you know, we'll always stand up, as you know, with our customers and don't you worry about that. It's really just not that satisfying to the end user. They don't want to have to depend on you as the machinery supplier or automation house. They want to make it keep they want to keep it running. themselves. This is an education thing and I got to tell you, Joe, in the thirty some odd years now that I've been in this space, I have seen this get so much better over time and it's going to continue this way. Specifically to the technology of robotics. When I was doing this in one thousand nine hundred and eighty eight, you couldn't. There was no first program in high school. You didn't have, you know, robotics clubs, you didn't have robotics as a discipline at the community college. You certainly didn't have it at the four year engineering school. You were mechanical engineer if you were so inclined. Look at the difference now, Joe. Robotics is probably the only technology where you could bring somebody in, you know, from you know, a two year vocational school or a Community College in your, you know, neck of the woods, bring them in and they've had six, seven years of exposure to robotics because they started early and they just grew with it through their education. I'm actually bullish that the I don't know how to run this thing problem will be largely solved for this piece of technology, not all of them, but certainly robotics, because it has become the vehicle by which you teach engineering and technology at the vocational and secondary education level. Now that's good, but it does not invalidate the...

...reality that for a small manufacturer, and certainly for a warehouse like plus one deals with that, the robot you put in there is still probably the first robot they've ever had, and that just comes with a higher bar then you'll see elsewhere. Let me put it to you like this. If if we sold a system to Toyota tomorrow and it was a complete disaster, did work at all, completely missed the metrics, what a waste of our ow I this was. You know what Toyo was going to do next year? They're gonna buy more robots because that is a mature market. They made a bad bet. They're not throwing the baby out with the bath water. This technology is here to stay. You don't do automotive without robots anymore. But if you would put that robot in at that medium size manufacture and it was their first robot and it failed, you've ruined them for ten years. That's not a bet they're willing to take lightly and neither should God the supplier. I got to tell you I talked about this a lot here at plus one, because one of our four pillars is empathy for our customers. This is what it means. It's going to be their first system. They're worried. Can they keep it running? We've got to help them not only by pointing them to resources they've got available to them. Right I can tell you this fedeggs, which nobody would call a small company, but the robots we put in with the first robots they ever had. Now they are building up a cadre of technicians at the local university and at the local community college. They're bringing your robot technology down because they know they've got to grow their own staff. Right. So we have to point these users to resources and we've got to take seriously our responsibility as the machine builder to make it reliable, easy to use and maintain. Do those three things, and I don't know how to run this thing or I'm worried about support becomes less of an issue. You covered a lot there. You answered all my follow up questions on that particular one so well stated. So Eric, you've told me that you'll walk through a factory sometimes and you'll hear someone say, well, we can't automate that because of this one variable. What do you have to say about these applications that are almost prime for automation but some elevant element of it just can't get done without human touch? Man, is that ever frustrating to me. You know, when I was at Yeskawa and you know, we would be deploying a system I got, I bet you I would walk by a half a dozen, you know, what seemed to me good robot applications and we walk right by them to go to the one robot in the back and I'd be like, well, what about this? And it was often that scenario. They would like, yeah, we would love to automate this, but you know, most of the time it's these parts. But every once in a while we get some option code. It's got to be like this and yeah, well, let's do it by hand, right. or it was material supply, you know. We yeah, you know, when the material comes in in SPEC, it fits in the fixture real good and yeah, you could probably automated with a robot then, but no, sometimes, you know, the mill speck isn't that great and so you kind of have to do it, you know, by hand. So we just these keep throwing labor at it. It was this whole set of almost good enough for robot applications. A man. If you could solve that, you would really grow not only the robot industry, but you would grow, you know, the footprint in these facilities and you would help them be more productive and less immune to...

...shocks and labor. But they're not wrong. They're talking from, you know, a real truth. The variability is the problem. Well, you know two approaches. One is what can you just automate the eighty percent? Can we just play twenty and you kind of only send to this section what the robot is capable of, and over here you do all of the you know, one offs, and in this station you pay the extra nickel for the material and it comes in good, and over here it's you know, where the variability is dealt with. Can you separate? That's not that unusual, Joe, I can tell you in the warehouse automation space we have to do this by necessity. Think about a pick and place robot. So we have systems that do pack out. So here comes a toe. You packed the tick, the stuff out of the toe with the robot. You put it in a box steal the box in it on its way. You better make sure you only said to the robot toads that have stuff in them that the robot can physically pick up, the grippers, you know, sizing, vacuum pump, all of that plays a role and what the robot can't can't do. So what do we do? Do we just say, well, I guess we can't ever use robots because there's parts in some tones which can't use robots for no, you discriminate early, you segregated and you make it your strategy. Hear me, people make it your strategy to have automation and people compliment one another. said to the robot what it can do, and hopefully that's greater than fifty or sixty or seventy percent, but then be okay with having a manual station. Just segregate it. That's one approach. The other is, okay, we're going to use a robot, we're going to have automation, but we're going to include a human in the loop to deal with the exceptions. And you know, that's what plus one does on other applications, meaning the robot is doing, it's saying, it's picking, it's placing all of a sudden it encounters a scene it simply does not understand. All right, we remember everything we do is vision guided. So we see that hot mess and go yeah, that's a problem. I would probably pick up this one and we command the robot from remote for that exception and the robot says thank you very much and it goes back to work and maybe we don't hear from that robot for a couple of hours until some other thing it doesn't understand. Can you see how we would to be able to apply the same approach in the factory? It's called supervised autonomy, and I'm not here talking about you know, plus one can is going to execute this in the manufacturing space. I'm saying that as a manufacturing executive, as you know, the operator of that factory. You need to be thinking about what can robots do versus people do, and what could a robot do if a person was its backup? And supervised autonomy is exactly that. It is a robot backup, a human backup to when a robot, you know, deals with, has to deal with something it can manage of itself. Well, Eric, let's let's shift gears for a moment here. You mentioned this panel discussion that we did a while back, and the topic that we use sort of as the overarching theme of that conversation was the new Roi of automation, and so I wonder what I wanted to ask you here was what are some of the things that an excel spreadsheet won't necessarily show you that need to be considered when you're making an investment in automation? You know nobody wants to throw money away.

Are you going to go backwards again so you're not going to deploy an automated system that costs you more than you know the Labor or whatever? Okay, first off, cancers are your Roy model is not capturing all that. Really are your costs, and that's, you know, directly your question, Joe. But I want to shelve that for a minute because before you get to that, you really need to be asking do I need to be talking about oury primary or not, because Roy only is a legitimate conversation if you can get labor. It's what you're comparing it too, and everybody I talk to says, you know, they can't get enough help. Their churn is too high, we're growing too fast. We need people we can't find them. There's too much competition. You know, we had another factory move in across town. And so, okay, I get it that Roy is a number and we need to be, you know, respectful that there's a number that needs to be dealt with, but don't be holding me to Oro. I so tight if you can't get Labor to begin so can we be honest with each other about this, because you say you have a hard time finding labor and yet if the Roy, you know, maybe doesn't pay off in eighteen months and it's twenty eight and well, that's just not good enough. Of My internal Ray to return. Does that mean you found more labor? Because if it does, which it must, because you didn't just shut the doors, then did you really have that bigger problem finding labor? I wonder sometimes if the Labor problem is overblown, because if it were really as severe as people say, then you would hear less about Roy, or at least the Roy durations would be extended. Okay, so now you've decided. Yeah, I want to evaluate this problem, this project and see if it's going to make sense for you. Generally, the Roy sheets that I see from users are very straightforward, meaning to not say simplistic, because all they're doing is saying, well, here is my you know what I pay by our and you know, with benefits, it rolls up to whatever this number is. Divide by the number of hours in the year. How much is robot cost? That's it. Okay, Hey, if we cleared that hurdle, then we cleared everything, because you know, that's as simplistic as it gets. But that's more. That is not enough to capture your real cost. Okay, so let's do talk about on boarding, churn, etc. Okay. Well, the truth is I can't ever see me keep anybody in this job longer and eight months. Okay, what's it cost you to sort them, on board them, you know, when they lose all lose all of them, all of that. Okay, that's a number that get. That plays in there for some of our applications, which are for, you know, really large outfits. It's hey, parking, bathroom facilities, space in the cafeteria. People take up a lot more room than robots do, when you think about it. Not on the floor where the work is taking place. There it's pretty much one to one, but when you peel it back, no robot had to drive to work. No, robot needed a spot in the fridge for, you know, that lunch Pail, you know, or back. All of that stuff is, you know, part of it.

But the other thing that you really need to be thinking about is, let's assume the Roy wasn't there or it was marginal and it's a push. I could just do it with people. Okay, you can today. Where are you going? Is Your Labor problem getting better or worse? Okay, you need to be you need to have a sober self assessment about what is happening in your neck of the woods with your labor force. Is it growing or you need to just up and move the factory somewhere else so that you have more labor, or or, you know, can automation play a role for you? That's one. Then the other is, let's assume that there is labor available. How you going to win? I gotta Tell You, robotics. I can't solve the problem that a lot of people don't believe manufacturing is a sexy enough industry anymore and Mama's don't want their babies to grow up to work in the factory. I can't solve that. That's a cultural thing, but I'll tell you what people like working with robots. You want to make your place, you know, an employer of choice. You want to be a yeah, I go over there, but over here it's same thing, but I'm getting to work with technology. I feel like I'm learning something and this is a more marketable skill for me. Were they going to go? Does it have to be robots per se? People? But you need to be thinking about how do my manufacturing processes support my hiring? What can I do to make my you know, lines, yes, more productive, yes, higher quality, but also, at the same time, make it my building, my factory, my plant, a more attractive place to work? Then no Roy spreadsheets going to capture that for you. You're going to have to know this in your gut. So this, people, is a data sandwich. The Roy, you know, is maybe the two slices of bread on the outside, but it's your gut, that's the mill, and you're going to have to make a call, and sometimes you're going to have to call against an obvious you know. You know Ury cout that maybe it wasn't completely in your favor, but you're the boss. It's time to move forward. Like a pep talk. I'm kind of getting fired up myself right now. I'm not running a factory, but you know now, that's really good, Eric, and I was gonna was going to gask you about the the labor shortage and kind of what your perspective is on some of what's going on here and you got into that. Is there anything more you want to say on that topic and maybe in relation to the role that robotics is starting to play and we'll continue to play, because, I mean, Hey, we we all see the same stats, we hear the same things. Like, you know, workers are exiting, workers are coming in, there's a you know, there's those problems with perception of manufacturing with you hint to that, but like what, what? What are we going to do about this? How we're going to fix it? Work and people get started. I mean attack that however you want to. I'm just very curious to hear you take on on this a little deeper. Sure so. I mean there isn't a factory or a warehouse in America. Don't have a help want to sign out front. Yeah, right. So if you just look at it like that, well we there must be just some giant labor shortage and you look at the numbers and everybody says there is. I actually believe that it's less about a labor shortage in the absolute and more about churn. I think people are more ready to switch jobs now than, maybe you know, culturally was acceptable...

...a generation ago. And what that means is, okay, maybe you can find the labor, you just can't keep them. So if continuity is important in your process, then automation is going to have an important role to play for you. If continuity doesn't matter, you always teak, somebody knew how to do this. Then you just have to manage the cost of churn. And if that cost is, you know, sufficiently mitigated, you're like yeah, it doesn't, just just doesn't cost me that much, then you have your answer. Keep the help wanted sign outside and just know people are going to come and go and that's your business. But if that's not satisfying to you, then you know it's time to look at, you know, automation as a prospective means to ensuring continuity or at least reducing your cost of churn. You know where to start. If I'm right that there's not a labor shortage per se, then it's it really is about being a place where people want to stay. And that's more than whether you bought a robot or a D printer or whatever it is. It's not just technology, it's not just your manufacturing. It has a role to play, but you know, you still have to pay a decent wage, respect your people, give them opportunities to grow and be a good employer. So you know, I'm not here to tell you that you put a robot in and all of a sudden you don't have a Labor problem. You very well might. You know, robots are going to do what they can to help you with your narrative. You've got to do the heavy work of, you know, being an employer of good repute that invests in your people. You invest in them, they'll stick around. Back to the basics. H's all I know how to do. It's good advice. Is there anything Eric that I didn't ask you, that you want to communicate to the manufacturing leaders out there? What I would say to the manufacturing leaders is, Hey, man, stick this out right. Don't say, Hey, I'm just going to close up shop because you know there's better cost structure for me south of the border or elsewhere. That is you know. You may well be right. I can't argue with what you have to pay here versus what somebody's going to make it right now, sir. But you know, if we are going to deliver on the promise of this economy for all America, then manufacturing has to play a leading role, and most manufacturing is at the small to medium scale, not the giant enterprise. So in many ways the lynch pin to moving forward in this economy lies with you and I think you need to consider that in the decisions that you make. Your Roy she may say it's time to take and move this to a lower cost center of manufacture, but I would encourage you don't do that. Take your responsibility as the Lynch pin of where we are going seriously and understand that we in the automation community and, you know, machinery etc. Are here to do everything we can to support you in being successful in keeping the work here. Love that message. Great Way to put a bow on it. Thanks, Joe. This was a lot of fun. I appreciated it and I hope it's useful to our audience today. I think it will be. Yeah, for sure. Well, Eric, I can you let our listeners know what's the best way to get in touch with you and to...

...learn more about what you and and plus one are doing. You Bet so. Plus one is plus one roboticscom there you'll see everything that we're doing for supporting warehouse operations in picking place and deep palletizing and a lot of jobs that have a lot of churn. If you you can always find me on Linkedin. I speak a lot about these issues and in the Public Forum. So it's just Eric Ar Ik nievs Nie Vas and Victor Es Eric Nievez. You'll find me on Linkedin and and we talk a lot about this and we could happy to continue the conversation. Awesome. Well, Eric, once again, thanks for doing this today. Really great conversation. You had a lot of a lot of great sound bites in there too that I'm excited to be sharing with the world. I appreciate you. Joe, be well and as for the rest of you, I hope to catch you on the next episode of the Manufacturing Executive. You've been listening to the manufacturing executive podcast to ensure that you never missed an episode. Subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you'd like to learn more about industrial marketing and sales strategy. You'll find an ever expanding collection of articles, videos, guides and tools specifically for bedb manufacturers at Gorilla Seventy sixcom learn thank you so much for listening, until next time.

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