The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode · 1 month 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.

Hear me people make it your strategy tohave automation and people complement one another said to the robot, what itcan do, and hopefully that's greater than fifty or sixty or seventy percent,but then be OK with having a manual station. Just segregate him welcome to the manufacturing executivepodcast, where we explore the strategies and experiences that aredriving midsize manufacturers forward here. You'll discover new insights frompassionate manufacturing leaders who have compelling stories to share abouttheir successes and struggles and you'll learn from B to be sales andmarketing experts about how to apply actionable business developmentstrategies inside your business. Let's get into the show, welcome to another episode of theManufacturing Executive Podcast, I'm Joe Sullivan your host and a Co founderof the Industrial Marketing Agency guerilla. Seventy six when you're, considering any bigfoundational change in your business, expanding your facilities, addingmachinery staffing up implementing a new technology. A big part of thatconversation almost certainly revolves around the topic of Roi. What will thereturn be, but often rly isn't quite as black and white as we can make it outto be today. My guests will unpack this topic in the context of factoryautomation, where Roy isn't as simple as if I replace x with why the expectedgrowth on my bottom line will be Z, let's get into it. Eric Avis is the COfounder and CEO of plus one robotics software company dedicated to roboticsfor automated warehouses and logistics prior to plus one Eric was technologydirector for Scala Moto men robotics for twenty six years withresponsibility for the technology, Road Map and emerging markets, with a deepfocus on collaborative applications. A tireless advocate for the industry.Eric is a board member of Ria and is a frequent speaker on robotics technologyand its implications to public policy. Last year, plus, one robotics was namedbest place to work in San Antonio, when the customer Value Leadership of BestPractice Award from frost and Sullivan and was named one of the fifty mostpromising start ups by the Information Eric Welcome to the show. Thank so muchjoe glad to be here. Awesome. We had a chance to met you when we did a clubHouse panel a couple months back at this point, and I don't know where aclub house is going at this point, but it was, it was fun when we did it atleast and had a few other robotics industry leaders and on thatconversation loved some of the the things you talked about, and I had toget you here on the show, so it's great to have her. Finally, I remember thatday and it was a good group and if we have as much fun today as we did, thenthen it'll be a win for everybody awesome. Well, we set the bar high, soI'll do my best so eric something that I see in my world as a marketing guyworking with manufacturers is technology. Intimidation in general-and I know this is a real thing in your world as well as a robotics leaderlooking into the manufacturing sector. Sometimes you mentioned to me in aprevious conversation that one of the barriers to entry with automation is aplant manager saying things like. I don't know how to run this thing, andso I would like to hear you kind of talk about what can you say aboutmaking it technology accessible and easy to use among the people readyrunning a factory operations? Yeah, I mean look if you're talking to a plantmanager, you know what they care about. Is You know, quality and throughputright? It's not the technology that ever mattered to them. It's the widgetand can I get enough of them out the back and to the degree that technologyor equipment or machinery or automation... can play a role all to the better?You know if there's an Roi Great, but there is you know we talked aboutvaccine hesitancy, a lot in this country right now. There is technologyhesitancy in industry, and it's because some of these are pretty big betsbought your first robot and you know, didn't work out. That would have been abad thing, so the I don't know how to run. This thing is real. If you don'thave 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 foryou, the big companies in some ways have an advantage in that. Well, heywe've got a innovation lab or some r ND sandbox, where these new technologiescan be tested out, and you know we'll see what sticks and what does it, butif you're, a small to media manufacturer you don't so how do I keepit running exposure? Of course, a big piece of it and that's why you know thelast year or 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 somedifferent. You know you have your check list of different things you wanted tosolve on your factory operation. You could go see it and you know make somedeterminations as to whether it was a path forward or not at least know somepeople that could solve it. You know so exposure is a problem, but the other isokay. I see it. I think it will work I'd like to have it but who's going tosupport it. You know the the typical answer of well we're the manufacturer,and you know we're here to you know we always stand up. You know with ourcustomers, and don't you worry about that? It's really just not thatsatisfying to the end user. They don't want to have to depend on you as themachinery, supplier or automation house. They want to make it keep. They want tokeep it running themselves. So this is an education thing and I got to tellyou joe in the thirty some odd years now that I'vebeen in this space. I have seen this get so much better over time and it'sgoing to continue this way specifically to the technology ofrobotics. When I was doing this in in one thousand nine hundred and eightyeight you couldn't, there was a first program in high school. You didn't haveyou know robotics clubs, you didn't have robotics as a discipline at thecommunity college. You certainly didn't have it at the four year engineeringschool. You were mechanical engineer. If you were so inclined, look at thedifference now joe robotics is probably the only technology where you couldbring. Somebody in you know from you know two year, Vocational School or acommunity college and your you know, neck of the woods. BRING THEM IN, andthey've had six seven years of exposure to robotics because they started earlyand they just grew with it through their education. I'm actually bullishthat the I don't know how to run. This thing problem will be largely solved for this pieceof technology, not all of them, but certainly robotics,because it has become the vehicle by which you teach engineering andtechnology at the vocational and secondary education level. Now that'sgood, but it does not invalidate the...

...reality that for a small manufacturerand certainly for a warehouse like plus one deals with that,the robot you put in there is still probably the first robot they've everhad and that just comes with a higher bar, then you'll see elsewhere. You can putit to it like this. If, if we sold a system to Toyota tomorrow- and it was acomplete disaster- did work at all completely miss the metric, what awaste of Uri this was, you know what to is. Gonna be next year, they're goingto 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 hereto stay. You don't do automotive without robots anymore, but if youwould put that robot in at that medium size manufacture and it was their firstrobot and it failed you've ruined them for ten years. That's not a bit they'rewilling to take lightly, and neither shout could the supplier I got to tell you. I talk about this alot here, plus one, because one of our four pillars is empathy for ourcustomers. This is what it means it's going to be their first system. They'reworried. Can they keep it running? We've got to help them not only bypointing them to resources. They've got available to them right. I can tell youthis fedex, which nobody would call a small company, but the robots we put inwith the first rope as ever had now. They are building up a cadre of technicians at the localuniversity and at the local community college they're, bringing your robottechnology down because they know they've got to grow their own staffright. So we have to point these users to resources, and we've got to takeseriously our responsibility as the machine builder to make it reliable,easy to use and maintain. Do those three things, and I don't knowhow to run this thing or I'm worried about support, becomes less of an issue.You covered a lot. There answered all my follow up. Questions on thatparticular one. So I think well stated so. Eric you've told me that you'llwalk through a factory sometimes and you'll hear someone say well. We can'tautomate that because of this one variable, what do you have to say aboutthese applications that are almost prime for automation, but some elevantelement of it just can't get done without human touch? Man Is that everfrustrating to me. You know when I was at Osca and you know we would be deploying a systemI got. I bet you, I would walk by a half a dozen. You know what seemed tome good robot applications and we walk right by them to go to the one robot inthe back and I'd be like what what about this, and it was often that scenario theywould like yeah. We would love to automate this, but you know most of thetime it's these parts every once in a while, we get some option code. It'sgot to be like this and yeah. Let's do my hand or it was material supply. You know we yeah, you know. When the material comesin and speck, it fits in the fixture, real good and yeah. You could probablyautomate it 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 wejust West kept on labor at it. It was this whole set of almost good enoughfor robot applications and man. If you could solve that, you would really grow,not only the robot industry, but you would grow. You know the footprint inthese facilities and you would help...

...them be more productive and less immuneto shocks and labor, but they're not wrong. They're. Talkingfrom you know a real truth. The variability is the problem. Well, you know two approaches, one is well: Can you just automate the eightypercent? Can we just play t twenty and you kind of only send to this sectionwhat the robot is capable of and over here you do. All of the you know, oneoff and in this station you pay the extra nickle for the material and itcomes in good and over here it's you know where the variability is done with. Canyou separate? That's not that unusual joe? I can tellyou in the warehouse automation space. We have to do this by necessity. Thinkabout a pick and place robot, so we have systems that do pack out. So herecomes a to you pack, the pick the stuff out of the toat with the robot, you putit in a box, steal the box and then on its way, you better make sure you onlysend to the robot. Don't that have stuff in them that the robot canphysically pick up the grippers. You know siding vacuum pump. All of thatplays a role in what the robot can can't do. So what do we do? Do we justsay? Well, I guess we can't ever use robots because there's parts and sometones that you can't use robots for no, you discriminate early, you segregateit and you make it your strategy hear me.People make it your strategy to have automation and people compliment oneanother said to the robot. What it can do, and hopefully that's greater thanfifty or sixty or seventy percent, but then be OK with having a manual station.Just segregate em. That's one approach. The other is okay. We're going to use arobot we're going to have automation, but we're going to include a human inthe loop to deal with the exceptions, and you know that's what plus one doeson other applications meeting the robot is doing its thing. It's picking itsplacing and all of a sudden it encounters a seat. It simply does notunderstand it. Mes. Remember everything we do is vision guide it. So we seethat hot mass and go yeah. That's a problem. I would probably pick up thisone and we command the robot from remote. For that exception and the robot says. Thank you very muchand it goes back to work, and maybe we don't hear from that robot for a coupleof hours until some other thing it doesn't understand, can you see how wewould be able to apply the same approach in the factory? It's calledsupervised autonomy, and I'm not here talking about you know, plus one can. Iis going to execute this in the manufacturing space. I'm saying that asa manufacturing executive, as you know, the operator of that factory, you needto be thinking about. What can robots do versus people do and what could arobot do if a person was its back up and supervised? Autonomy is exactlythat. It is a robot backup, a human backup to win a robot. You know dealswith has to deal with something it can manage of itself well, Eric Was it'sshift gears for a moment here. You I mentioned this Handel discussion thatwe did a while back and the topic that we used sort of, as the overarchingtheme of that conversation was the new rly of automation, and so I wonder whatI wanted to ask you here was what are some of the things that an excelspreadsheet won't necessarily show you that need to be considered when you'remaking an investment in automation? You...

...know nobody wants to row money away.Are you going to go backwards again, so you're not going to deploy anautomated system that cost you more than you know the Labor or whatever,okay, first off cancer, your Roy model is not capturing. All that really are yourcosts and that's you know directly your question Joe, but I want to shelve thatfor a minute, because before you get to that, you really need to be asking. DoI need to be talking about ry, primary or not, because Roy only is alegitimate conversation. If you can get Labor it's what you're comparing it to and everybody I talk to says you knowthey can't get enough help. Their turn is too high, we're growing too fast. Weneed people, we can't find them. There's too much competition. You knowwe had another factory moving across town and so okay, I get it that Roy is a number and weneed to be. You know respectful that there's a number that needs to be dealtwith, but don't be holding me to Roi so tight if you can't get Labor to beginso can we be honest with each other about this, because you say you have a hard timefinding a labor, and yet, if the Roy, you know, maybe doesn't pay off ineighteen months and it's twenty eight. Well, that's just not good enough of myinternal ray of return. Does that mean you found more labor, because if itdoes, which it must, because you didn't just shut the doors, then did youreally have that big er problem? Finding Labor? I wonder sometimes if the a Labor problemis overblown, because if it were really as severe aspeople say, then you would hear less about ry, or at least the ry durationswould be extended. Okay, so now you've decided yeah. I want to evaluate thispro this project and see if it's going to make sense for you generally. TheRoy seats that I see from users are very straight forward, meaning to notsay simplistic, because all they're doing is saying well. Here is my. Youknow what I pay by hour and you know with benefits it rolls up to whateverthis number is divide by the number of hours in the year. How much is a robotcost? That's it: okay, Hey! If we cleared that hurdle, then we clearedeverything because that's a simplistic as it gets, but that's more. That isnot enough to capture your real cost. Okay, so let's do talk about onboarding, turn etcetera, okay. Well, the truth is, I can't ever seem to keep anybody in thisjob longer in eight ponts. Okay, what's it cost you to source themon board them? You know when they lose lose all of them all. Ifthat, okay, that's a number that get that plays inthere for some of our applications, which are, for you know, really largeoutfits. It's hey parking bathroom facilities, space in the cafeteriapeople take up a lot more room than robots. Do when you think about it, noton the floor where the work is taking place there, it's pretty much one toone, but when you peel it back, no robot had to drive to work, no robotneeded a spot in the fridge, for you know the lunch pail you know or bat.All of that stufft is, you know, part...

...of it, but the other thing that youreally need to be thinking about is: Let's assume the Roy. Wasn't there orit was marginal and it's a push. I can just do it with people. Okay, you cantoday, where are you going? Is Your Labor problem getting better or worse? Okay, you need to be. You need to have asober self assessment about what is happening in your neck of the woodswith your labor force. Is it growing or you need to just up and move thefactory somewhere else so that you have more labor or you know, can automation play a rolefor you? That's the one and the other is. Let'sassume that there is labor available. How are you going to win? I got to tellyou robotics. I can't solve the problem that a lot of people don't believemanufacturing is a sexy enough industry, anymore and Mamas don't want theirbabies to grow up to work in the factory. I can't solve that. That's acultural thing, but I'll tell you what people like working with robots youwant to make your place. You know an employer of choice. Youwant to be a yeah. I can go over there, but over here it's same thing, but I'm getting to workwith technology. I feel like I'm learning something- and this is a moremarketable skill for me, where he going to go. Doesn't have to be robots per sepeople, but you need to be thinking about how do my manufacturing processessupport my hiring? What can I do to make my you know lines?Yes, more! Productive, yes, higher quality, but also, at the same timemake 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 tohave to know this in your God. So this people is a data sandwich. The rly, you know is maybe the twoslices of bread on the outside, but it's your gut. That's the middle andyou're going to have to make a call and sometimes you're, going to have to callagainst an obvious. You know you know Roy Colt, that maybe it wasn'tcompletely in your favor but you're the boss, it's time to move forward like aPAP tock, I'm kind of getting fired up myself right now. We I'm not running afactory, but you know now it's really good Eric Yeah, I wasgonna. I was gonna. Ask You about the the labor shortage and kind of whatyour perspective is on some of what's going on here and you got into that. Isthere anything more? You want to say on that topic and maybe, in relation tothe the rule that robotics is starting to play and will continue to play,because I mean hey, we all see the same stats. We hear the same things like youknow: workers are exiting, workers are coming in, there's a you know, there'sproblems with perception manufacturing with you hinted at, but like what? What?What are we going to do about this? How are we going to fix it? Work? CANPEOPLE GET STARTED? I mean attack that. However, you want to. I just I'm justvery curious to hear you take on on this a little deeper sure. So I meanthere isn't a factory or a warehouse in America? Don't have a help wanted signout front yeah. So if you just look at it like that, well I there must be justsome giant labor shortage and you look at the numbers and everybody says thereis. I actually believe that it's less about a laborshortage in the absolute and more about turn. I think people are more ready toswitch jobs now than maybe you know...

...culturally was acceptable a generationago, and what that means is okay. Maybe you can find the labor you just can'tkeep them. So if continuity is important in your process, thenautomation is going to have an important role to play for you. Ifcontinuity doesn't matter, you always teek. Somebody knew how to do this.Then you just have to manage the cost ofcure, 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 andgo and that's your business. But if that's not satisfying to you, then you know it's time to look at. You knowautomation as a prospective means to ensure in continuity, or at least e,reducing your cost of cure. You know where to start, if I'm right thatthere's not a labor shortage per se, then it's it really is about being aplace where people want to stay and that's more than whether you bought arobot or a three D printer or whatever. It is it's not just technology. It'snot just your manufacturing. It has a role to play, but you know you stillhave to pay a decent wage, respect your people, give them opportunities to growand be a good employer. So you know I'm not here to tell you that you put arobot in and all of a sudden, you don't have a Labor problem. You very wellmight in a robots, are going to do what they can to help you with yournarrative. You've got to do the heavy work of you know, being an employer ofgood repute that invest in your people. You invest in them. They'll stickaround ECTO the basics huh at all. I know how to do it's good advice. Isthere anything Eric that? I didn't ask you that you want to communicate to themanufacturing leaders out there. What I would say to the manufacturing leadersis: Hey man. Stick this out all right,don't say: Hey, I'm just going to close up shop because you know there's bettercost structure for me, south of the border or elsewhere. That is, you know. You may well be right. Ican't argue with what you have to pay here versus what somebody's going tomake a rios. But you know if we are going to deliver on the promise of this economyfor all America, then manufacturing has to play a leading role and mostmanufacturing is at the small to medium scale, not the giant enterprise. So in many ways the lynch pin to movingforward in this economy lies with you, and I think you need to consider thatin the decisions that you make your Roi, she may say it's time to take in movethis 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 goingseriously and understand that we in the automation, community- and you knowmachinery etcetera- are here to do everything we can to support you inbeing successful in keeping the work here. Love thatmessage a great way to put a bell on it text Joe. This was a lot of fun. Iappreciated it and I hope it's useful to our audience today. I think it willbe yeah for sure. Well, Eric can you let our listeners know what'sthe best way to get in touch with you...

...and to learn more about what you andplus one are doing. You Bet so plus one is plus one robotism. There you'll seeeverything that we're doing for supporting warehouse operations inpicking place and depolarizing and a lot of jobs that have a lot of turn. Ifyou, you can always find me on Linkedin, I speak a lot about these issues and inthe Public Forum. So it's just Eric Erik Neves N. I E v N Victor E S, EricNavez you'll find me on Linkedin, and we talked a lot about this and we couldhappy to continue the conversation awesome well Eric once again, thanksfor doing this today, really great conversation, you had a lot of a lot ofgreat sound bites in there too that I'm excited to be sharing with the world. Iappreciate you Joe, be well and as for the rest of you, I hope to catch you onthe next episode of the manufacturing. Exactly you've been listening to themanufacturing executive podcast to ensure that you never missed an episodesubscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you'd like to learnmore about industrial marketing and sales strategy, you'll find an everexpanding collection of articles, videos guides and tools, specificallyfor B to B manufacturers at gorilla, seventy sixscore flash a war. Thank youso much for listening until next time E T.

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