The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode · 4 months ago

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

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

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 strategyto have automation and people compliment one another. said to the robot what it cando, and hopefully that's greater than fifty or sixty or seventy percent,but then be okay with having a manual station. Just segregate it. Welcometo the manufacturing executive podcast, where we explore the strategies and experiences that aredriving mid size manufacturers forward. Here you'll discover new insights from passionate manufacturing leaderswho have compelling stories to share about their successes and struggles, and you'll learnfrom B tob sales and marketing experts about how to apply actionable business development strategiesinside your business. Let's get into the show. Welcome to another episode ofthe Manufacturing Executive podcast. I'm Joe Sullivan, your host and a cofounder of theIndustrial Marketing Agency guerrilla seventy six. When you're considering any big foundational changein your business, expanding your facilities, adding machinery, staffing up, implementinga new technology, a big part of that conversation almost certainly revolves around thetopic 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, theexpected 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 softwarecompany 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 responsibilityfor 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 ourIA and is a frequent speaker on robotics technology and its implications to publicpolicy. Last year, plus one robotics was named best place to work inSan Antonio, won the customer Value Leadership at Best Practice Award from frost andSullivan and was named one of the fifty most promising startups by the Information Eric. Welcome to the show. Thanks so much, Joe. Glad to behere. Awesome we had a chance to I met you when we did aclubhouse panel couple months back at this point and I don't know where clubhouse isgoing at this point, but it was it was fun when we did itat 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 youhere on the show. So it's great to heavy here finally. I rememberthat day and it was a good group and if we have as much funtoday 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 guyworking with manufacturers is technology and timidation in general, and I know this isa real thing in your world as well as a robotics leader looking into themanufacturing sector. Sometimes. You mentioned to me in the previous conversation that oneof the barriers to entry with automation is a plant manager saying things like Idon't know how to run this thing, and so I'm I would like tohear you kind of talk about what can you say about a making it technologyaccessible 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 whatthey care about is, you know, quality and throughput right, it's notthe technology that ever mattered to them, it's the widget. And can Iget enough of them out the back door? And to the degree that technology orequipment or machinery or automation tools can...

...play a role, all to thebetter. You know, if there's an Roi right, but there is.You know, we talked about vaccine. Has It, and see a lotin this country right now. There is technology hesitancy in industry and it's becausesome 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. Sothe 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 goingto 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 technologiescan be tested out and, you know, we'll see what sticks and what doesit, but if you're a small to medium manufacturer, you don't.So how do I keep it running? Exposure, of course, a bigpiece of it, and that's why, you know, the last year,two years, is hurt so much. Is Because, with trade shows dryingup, 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 youwanted 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 ornot. At least know some people that could solve it, you know.So exposure is a problem, but the other is, okay, I seeit, I think it will work. I'd like to have it, butwho'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 alwaysstand up, as you know, with our customers and don't you worry aboutthat. It's really just not that satisfying to the end user. They don'twant 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, inthe thirty some odd years now that I've been in this space, I haveseen 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 onethousand nine hundred and eighty eight, you couldn't. There was no first programin high school. You didn't have, you know, robotics clubs, youdidn't have robotics as a discipline at the community college. You certainly didn't haveit at the four year engineering school. You were mechanical engineer if you wereso inclined. Look at the difference now, Joe. Robotics is probably the onlytechnology 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, sevenyears of exposure to robotics because they started early and they just grew with itthrough their education. I'm actually bullish that the I don't know how to runthis thing problem will be largely solved for this piece of technology, not allof them, but certainly robotics, because it has become the vehicle by whichyou teach engineering and technology at the vocational and secondary education level. Now that'sgood, 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 youput in there is still probably the first robot they've ever had, and thatjust comes with a higher bar then you'll see elsewhere. Let me put itto you like this. If if we sold a system to Toyota tomorrow andit was a complete disaster, did work at all, completely missed the metrics, what a waste of our ow I this was. You know what Toyowas going to do next year? They're gonna buy more robots because that isa mature market. They made a bad bet. They're not throwing the babyout with the bath water. This technology is here to stay. You don'tdo automotive without robots anymore. But if you would put that robot in atthat medium size manufacture and it was their first robot and it failed, you'veruined them for ten years. That's not a bet they're willing to take lightlyand neither should God the supplier. I got to tell you I talked aboutthis a lot here at plus one, because one of our four pillars isempathy for our customers. This is what it means. It's going to betheir first system. They're worried. Can they keep it running? We've gotto 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 andat the local community college. They're bringing your robot technology down because they knowthey've got to grow their own staff. Right. So we have to pointthese users to resources and we've got to take seriously our responsibility as the machinebuilder to make it reliable, easy to use and maintain. Do those threethings, and I don't know how to run this thing or I'm worried aboutsupport becomes less of an issue. You covered a lot there. You answeredall 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 someonesay, well, we can't automate that because of this one variable. Whatdo you have to say about these applications that are almost prime for automation butsome 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 Yeskawaand you know, we would be deploying a system I got, I betyou I would walk by a half a dozen, you know, what seemedto me good robot applications and we walk right by them to go to theone robot in the back and I'd be like, well, what about this? And it was often that scenario. They would like, yeah, wewould love to automate this, but you know, most of the time it'sthese 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 inthe 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 andso you kind of have to do it, you know, by hand. So we just these keep throwing labor at it. It was this wholeset of almost good enough for robot applications. A man. If you could solvethat, you would really grow not only the robot industry, but youwould grow, you know, the footprint in these facilities and you would helpthem be more productive and less immune to...

...shocks and labor. But they're notwrong. They're talking from, you know, a real truth. The variability isthe problem. Well, you know two approaches. One is what canyou just automate the eighty percent? Can we just play twenty and you kindof only send to this section what the robot is capable of, and overhere you do all of the you know, one offs, and in this stationyou 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. Canyou separate? That's not that unusual, Joe, I can tell you inthe warehouse automation space we have to do this by necessity. Think about apick and place robot. So we have systems that do pack out. Sohere comes a toe. You packed the tick, the stuff out of thetoe with the robot. You put it in a box steal the box init on its way. You better make sure you only said to the robottoads that have stuff in them that the robot can physically pick up, thegrippers, you know, sizing, vacuum pump, all of that plays arole and what the robot can't can't do. So what do we do? Dowe just say, well, I guess we can't ever use robots becausethere'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 makeit your strategy to have automation and people compliment one another. said to therobot what it can do, and hopefully that's greater than fifty or sixty orseventy percent, but then be okay with having a manual station. Just segregateit. That's one approach. The other is, okay, we're going touse a robot, we're going to have automation, but we're going to includea 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'ssaying, it's picking, it's placing all of a sudden it encounters ascene it simply does not understand. All right, we remember everything we dois vision guided. So we see that hot mess and go yeah, that'sa problem. I would probably pick up this one and we command the robotfrom remote for that exception and the robot says thank you very much and itgoes 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 to 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 canis going to execute this in the manufacturing space. I'm saying that as amanufacturing executive, as you know, the operator of that factory. You needto be thinking about what can robots do versus people do, and what coulda robot do if a person was its backup? And supervised autonomy is exactlythat. It is a robot backup, a human backup to when a robot, you know, deals with, has to deal with something it can manageof 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 thetopic that we use sort of as the overarching theme of that conversation was thenew Roi of automation, and so I wonder what I wanted to ask youhere was what are some of the things that an excel spreadsheet won't necessarily showyou that need to be considered when you're making an investment in automation? Youknow nobody wants to throw money away.

Are you going to go backwards againso you're not going to deploy an automated system that costs you more than youknow the Labor or whatever? Okay, first off, cancers are your Roymodel is not capturing all that. Really are your costs, and that's,you know, directly your question, Joe. But I want to shelve that fora minute because before you get to that, you really need to beasking do I need to be talking about oury primary or not, because Royonly is a legitimate conversation if you can get labor. It's what you're comparingit too, and everybody I talk to says, you know, they can'tget 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, youknow, respectful that there's a number that needs to be dealt with, butdon't be holding me to Oro. I so tight if you can't get Laborto begin so can we be honest with each other about this, because yousay you have a hard time finding labor and yet if the Roy, youknow, 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. Doesthat 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 biggerproblem finding labor? I wonder sometimes if the Labor problem is overblown,because if it were really as severe as people say, then you would hearless 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 notsay simplistic, because all they're doing is saying, well, here is myyou know what I pay by our and you know, with benefits, itrolls up to whatever this number is. Divide by the number of hours inthe 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 notenough to capture your real cost. Okay, so let's do talk about on boarding, churn, etc. Okay. Well, the truth is I can'tever 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'sa 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 lotmore room than robots do, when you think about it. Not on thefloor 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 reallyneed to be thinking about is, let's assume the Roy wasn't there or itwas marginal and it's a push. I could just do it with people.Okay, you can today. Where are you going? Is Your Labor problemgetting better or worse? Okay, you need to be you need to havea sober self assessment about what is happening in your neck of the woods withyour labor force. Is it growing or you need to just up and movethe factory somewhere else so that you have more labor, or or, youknow, can automation play a role for you? That's one. Then theother is, let's assume that there is labor available. How you going towin? I gotta Tell You, robotics. I can't solve the problem that alot of people don't believe manufacturing is a sexy enough industry anymore and Mama'sdon't want their babies to grow up to work in the factory. I can'tsolve that. That's a cultural thing, but I'll tell you what people likeworking with robots. You want to make your place, you know, anemployer 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 forme. Were they going to go? Does it have to be robots perse? People? But you need to be thinking about how do my manufacturingprocesses support my hiring? What can I do to make my you know,lines, yes, more productive, yes, higher quality, but also, atthe same time, make it my building, my factory, my plant, a more attractive place to work? Then no Roy spreadsheets going to capturethat 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 yourgut, 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'rethe boss. It's time to move forward. Like a pep talk. I'm kindof getting fired up myself right now. I'm not running a factory, butyou know now, that's really good, Eric, and I was gonna wasgoing to gask you about the the labor shortage and kind of what yourperspective 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 relationto 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 perceptionof manufacturing with you hint to that, but like what, what? Whatare 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. Soif you just look at it like that, well we there must be just somegiant 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 andmore about churn. I think people are more ready to switch jobs now than, maybe you know, culturally was acceptable...

...a generation ago. And what thatmeans is, okay, maybe you can find the labor, you just can'tkeep them. So if continuity is important in your process, then automation isgoing 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 justhave to manage the cost of churn. And if that cost is, youknow, sufficiently mitigated, you're like yeah, it doesn't, just just doesn't costme that much, then you have your answer. Keep the help wantedsign outside and just know people are going to come and go and that's yourbusiness. But if that's not satisfying to you, then you know it's timeto look at, you know, automation as a prospective means to ensuring continuityor at least reducing your cost of churn. You know where to start. IfI'm right that there's not a labor shortage per se, then it's itreally is about being a place where people want to stay. And that's morethan 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 roleto 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 arobot in and all of a sudden you don't have a Labor problem. Youvery well might. You know, robots are going to do what they canto 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 anythingEric that I didn't ask you, that you want to communicate to the manufacturingleaders out there? What I would say to the manufacturing leaders is, Hey, man, stick this out right. Don't say, Hey, I'm justgoing to close up shop because you know there's better cost structure for me southof the border or elsewhere. That is you know. You may well beright. I can't argue with what you have to pay here versus what somebody'sgoing to make it right now, sir. But you know, if we aregoing to deliver on the promise of this economy for all America, thenmanufacturing has to play a leading role, and most manufacturing is at the smallto medium scale, not the giant enterprise. So in many ways the lynch pinto moving forward in this economy lies with you and I think you needto consider that in the decisions that you make. Your Roy she may sayit'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 pinof where we are going seriously and understand that we in the automation communityand, you know, machinery etc. Are here to do everything we canto support you in being successful in keeping the work here. Love that message. Great Way to put a bow on it. Thanks, Joe. Thiswas a lot of fun. I appreciated it and I hope it's useful toour audience today. I think it will be. Yeah, for sure.Well, Eric, I can you let our listeners know what's the best wayto get in touch with you and to...

...learn more about what you and andplus one are doing. You Bet so. Plus one is plus one roboticscom thereyou'll see everything that we're doing for supporting warehouse operations in picking place anddeep palletizing and a lot of jobs that have a lot of churn. Ifyou you can always find me on Linkedin. I speak a lot about these issuesand in the Public Forum. So it's just Eric Ar Ik nievs NieVas and Victor Es Eric Nievez. You'll find me on Linkedin and and wetalk a lot about this and we could happy to continue the conversation. Awesome. Well, Eric, once again, thanks for doing this today. Reallygreat conversation. You had a lot of a lot of great sound bites inthere 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 hopeto catch you on the next episode of the Manufacturing Executive. You've been listeningto the manufacturing executive podcast to ensure that you never missed an episode. Subscribeto the show in your favorite podcast player. If you'd like to learn more aboutindustrial 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 learnthank you so much for listening, until next time.

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