The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode · 2 months ago

Get Started w/ Data Collection & Robotics Today w/ Aaron Prather


Data collection, automation, robotics — these are things reserved for the budgets of the biggest companies out there, right?

Wrong. Anyone can do it with one simple trick:

Just get started.

That’s the simple advice shared by our latest guest, Aaron Prather, R&D Evangelist for FedEx Express, who is deeply passionate about both topics — and if you don’t believe me, just check out his LinkedIn.

In this episode, we discuss:

- The benefits of data collection, automation and robotics for your business

- Why you don’t need to fear robots stealing your jobs

- Why success in either involves getting started and employee input

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

There's so many use cases I've seen inso many facilities. It's like you don't need to bug that thing into a biggersystem. It can be self sufficient on its own. Just get started. Welcome to the manufacturing executivepodcast, where we explore the strategies and experiences that aredriving midsize manufacturers forward here. You'll discover new insides frompassionate manufacturing leaders who have compelling stories to share abouttheir successes and struggles, and you will 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 Salvan, your Houst, a Co founder ofthe Industrial Marketing Agency, Gorilla, seventy six, two thousand andtwenty and two thousand and twenty one have obviously brought a wide varietyof challenges about for manufacturers and near the top of that list. Is thesupply chain disruption looking back over the last year and a half very fewmanufacturing leaders could probably look at you with a straight face andsay supply chain issues didn't really affect our business. I guess today is aleader in the logistics world that is seen technology from robotics to smartdata change the manufacturing supply chain at a faster pace than ever before,and it's this technology that can help us prepare for and better navigatefuture logistics challenges and supply chain disruptions. So let me introducehim with over twenty five years at Fedex, Aaron Prather has developed anddeployed numerous technology applications across the Fedexenterprise from help operations in Memphis, Indianapolis and Oakland. Thecourier operations around the world he has worked in every corner of Fedex isday to day operations in his current role of senior advisor technologyplanning and research, Aaron leads efforts to find and deploy newtechnologies into Fedex operations, including robotics and automationoutside of Fedex Aron, participates in developing robot standards at the RIAand ul through the Fedex Institute of Technology at the University of Memphis.He works with universities and colleges in the development of educationalprograms for the next generation of technologists and logistics. Arnreceived an MBA from Christian brothers university and holds a Bas from theUniversity of Memphis in geographic information, science and cartography.Aaron. Welcome to the show, thanks for Avermi Joe, let's just dive right inhere Aaron. You are somebody who has worked inside of Fedex for over twentyfive years, and so, if anyone I've talked to on the show knows, logisticsand supply chain is probably going to be you obviously, the last year and ahalf has been a complete mess on the supply chain front in a lot of ways andI'd love for you to start things out here by just talking about how and whythe manufacturing supply chain became such a mass when the pandemic set in great question Joe Yeah, and weactually had we've had a front row here on my side of the fence of actuallyseeing this all play out and yet the and emit very much wrecked globalsupply chains as the virus spread and shut down facilities across the globeat very much started. ambering. What we've been building for numerousdecades of the Justin Time Model, getting your hearts made and shippedand to the Final Assembly vient done also just out a little. He sort ofcrumbled under the virus and shut downs around the world. So it is still anongoing challenge. It is interesting to see how supply chains have evolved soquickly, as factories do come back online. They are trying to catch up,but it's creating some new...

...opportunities out there and we'reactually seeing like re shoring efforts here in the United States and wheresome factories are brain, certain parts back home to be made we're seeing thatin the chip industry and for us it Fedex. I mean we're here tosupport those efforts. Our network has been built to be as global as you needto be, or as local as you need it to be, and so we are working with ourcustomers every day to make sure that he as they change their supply teamsand get them back up and running we're right there with them, helping themevery way. We keen awesome when you- and I talked a few weeks ago- youquoted Fred Smith, the founder of Fedex, and the quote: was the data around thepackage is becoming as valuable as the package itself. I thought that wasreally interesting and I was wondering if you get unpacked that a little bitfor us yeah, I mean going back to how supply chains evolved and then tookthis great google shock to themselves the more data you have around yoursupply chain and how things are flowing through. It is really critical and itreally proved itself out during the pandemic. If you had a robust digitalinof your supply chain already place, you were able to sort of ebb and flow a loteasier than your competition that might not have done that work, repand mic,and so yes, our customers are demanding a lot more information about theirpackages and it is going beyond the Bargo we're very much getting totechnologies now, where it's just not your currier scanning your package intothe network and back out of the network that they deliver it, but it's tracking.How is it moving through the network? Is it moving safely through the networkbased off of certain parameters that you might have said something like forour Vaccine Shipman? You got to make sure that those shipments are stayingcool as they travel through the network, so having censor were technology onthere, but then also just tying together. All these various data feedswhere you can see your items manufactured to the plan, how they moveon to the next step, how all that tracking is taking place, probablyinternal for your own facilities and then handing that off to a shipper likea Fedex to move it on to its next destination and thus providing databack to you. So you have track ability of all of your goods as they moveinternally within your network and even externally, through other channels likemyself here, Cornet Yeah. That's that's really interesting. You mentioned anexample to me when we talked recently about you kind of reference that crazyDallas, north Texas winter storm that we had. You know February of this year,two thousand and twenty one and how the data component allowed Fedex and, onbehalf of all the business customers, they have to be able to navigate thismass and for the sake of some context and wonder if you could maybe talk tosome some of what went on there and how how the data actually helped getcompanies through that yeah I mean when you have a major storm like what USexperience this winter. In Texas I mean that storm shut down the Texas PowerGrid. I mean we are talking a super powerful storm, and so not only are youlosing pretty much a whole major state in the middle of the country thatpackages are transversing, but some of that weather actually came up into ourarea. Here in Memphis we memphis all record amounts of snow. That's achallenge for southern states to deal with that much snow, and so it did slowdown one of our pager facilities. But the whole thing is is because we hadall this data and we could see where packages were originating from andwhere they're going. We were able to create reroutes around those networks.We were able to use our Indianapolis B to do more of those trans cons acrossthe country from East Coast, the West Coast West Coast, the East Coast. Italso allowed us to use our trucking network more wisely, realizing thatmaybe moving through the state of Texas and not a wise motion at this time ofokay. How do we move that through it or...

...whether there those alternate routes?What other FANCIS are available to us? It's a lot of folks don't realize that,even though you will see trucks and planes operating and they might not belogo as h or ups or Amazon or Fedex, that's not to say those packages mightnot be tranversing on those kind of perfect carriers as well. So it's beingable to use all of this data and look across the entire ecosystem network oftransportation and saying who has capacity, who doesn't have capacitywho's going, which way and might actually able to take an extra load. Imean all of this came together during those storms and was able to be used bylogistic friends back myself to really help our customers get their packagesback on track and get the moving as a major storm sat in the middle of thecountry yeah. It's really interesting, I'm wondering like how long ago, ifthis had happened ten years ago, how different would that have been? Iimagine the technology is just changing so quickly. It would have been tenyears ago would have been very much a struggle, and the good thing is is itwas actually probably about ten years ago, as we started this journey downthere, that we saw that these new technologies were coming on online.That cloud computing was going to be the future, so you could have thesehuge datasets il and these new technologies and just io t now lockchain all these start lairing in and starting to build these rebus systemsfor us so yeah ten years ago. It would have been a completely different story,but it just shows how embracing technology early on and building thesepowerful solutions now exists and actually helped usreally power through a lot of this pandemic, I would have been actuallymore scared of where we could have been if we didn't have these technologiesinvested in a long time ago. I think the pandemic, but actually been a lot oworse than many cases, because we just would have had these data foes of howcould we reroute not only around a storm but just areas of the country?They were shut down to the staffing issues because of outbreaks, and justwhere are other places, you can manufacture our products and shift tothose all this goes back to those strong data sets, and it's not justcompanies like bed exes, they can use these. A lot of companies can use thesedata sets if they are providing that kind of information into into thenetwork Aron. Let's shift gears here for a second and talk about robots. Ifirst discovered you on Linkedin because of all the incredible videosthat you're always curating around robots, doing unique things. I realize,of course, you're coming at this from a logistics point of view, but what is itabout robotics that has you know, has you so interested in this topic, andalways you know kind of sharing information about robotics and howthings are changing there. Yeah, I mean that's that that is my core unctionerated ix is my team really is focused a lot on robotics and interduin thoseinto our operations, anything from fixed arms that are doing picking placeto Mobile Wollos that are moving some of our bigger products around and I'mvery passionate about this, because I really think that robotics andautomation are going to be the future keys for the United States going boardKepner. We are facing the big baby, boomer retirement right now and asthose folks exit the word force into their golden years, we just don't haveenough folks coming into backfield those. So we really need to look atautomation of robotics that all our workforce that's going to stay on byteaming up with robotics to keep backers moving. Our warehouse is movingand just keep our economy growing along with it. It's very interesting that,like right now, there are so manyopportunities out there for robotics,...'s a just a great field to be in, andeven though I'm not making robots or or doing all some of that I get toactually put them into the real world and and really see their full benefit,and so that's where I just kind of huge advocate for it, because we've seen thebenefit of using robotics in our industry. During the same time, we'vebeen hiring like crazy. Our workforce continues to grow, even as we had workautomation in robotic. So I think we need to keep getting thatmessage out to folks, regardless of what industry you're in. If you want tokeep growing your business you're going to have to look at automation ofrobotics to help you accomplish that, because there's just not going to beenough folks out there for all of us to hire and if we can use robotics andautomation wisely, we can all win, and I really like advocating that andthat's why I do put the videos out there. Even if it's in an industry Ihave nothing to do with. I just want to show it the folk saying: Hey look atthis robot and oh by the way, if you're in this industry, this might be ourrobot or a solution that might be of interest to you. So that's why I do itand I've had a lot of comments from folks in various industry. Just saying:Hey, Aran, thanks for showing me, I didn't know that kind of thing existedin my and I can use that I'm going to make a phone call. That's what I wantedto accomplish by that post is just interduce you to company, or somebodywas working on something that might benefit you in your O. I think it'sgreat. You spoke in a previous conversation we had about some. I wassome former coal miners. I think you said in Kentucky who went from likezero robotics to lights out production in ten days you got to tell that storyand sort of explain the role rolt played there. Oh yeah, I mean, I think,one of the biggest things I hear a lot from especially small and mediumenterprises when they were asking about automation and roboticist. I just don'tknow where the start and I just they get into this whole, their paralysis ofBi analysis. They just don't know where to start and what we did in a Ekame in easternKentucky is, he came, was set up to train former coal miners and jobs inadvance, manufacturing and re Bois. A lot of these folks are former home.Miners have been in the omiting industry for decades and those shopsarts are in to disappear, so he came retrains them in advance, manufacturingan robotics and we were able to take one class. None of them had ever seen arobot in their law and using ready robotics for Jos system,some use, cowarts and universal robots. We were able to train those Armelminors from zero knowledge and robotics to light ole production in ten days. So my story, Os goes back in the thesmell menin. Enterprises is just get started, find a use case in yourfacility that you think it is an ideal thing for robotics and automation andget started on it. If you overthink it you're not going to get anywhere. Therewas a group of former cold liners just said. We're going to do this guys we'regoing to learn this they jumped in head first and in ten days, are doing lightsout production. So it can be done everybody. You canautomate one of your use cases in one of your facilities right now, and Idon't care if you're in manufacturing agriculture, logistics find a use caseand go after and just get started and you'll be amazed were the journey page.I think it's a great story and it's a great thing for business leaders to belooking at, but also you know, people who are maybe working the front lines,whether it's a manufacturing or elsewhere. As an example of like thereare some really interesting technology jobs out there that can you know I'mnot saying it's it's plug in play. I mean that that's one example thereright where people moved quickly, but I...

...think the point is you know this sortof technology. This is doesn't mean years and years of training and somekind of special engineering knowledge that only certain people have like.There are different ways to get involved in robotics and the technologyside of manufacturing for a lot of people out there, and I don't thinkpeople really realize that yeah absolutely agree with you. There gopeople again just are over. Thinking of all I have to have a mechanicalengineering or a robotics engineering for your degree to get started and,like you read my bio before I am not a roboticist by trade. I sort of grewinto this position and it really was. I asked for this position. I really wentup to the guy that was doing this job before me saying I want to be part ofyour team. I want to work in robotics. I actually, I was a consultant to thegroup and then when that gentleman actually went on to return to academics,because he wanted to do that in his life and this job opened up. I jumpedright in and that's how I got into it. I literally just said I want to do this and I'm here to help and I think a lotof folks if they just can don't overthink. This, don't think you needthat for your degree than being robotics you don't you can just getstarted the day. Use some research, but there are some lugging playapplications out there they can get. You started there's a lot of mobilerobots that you can have up and operational within an hour out of thegreat, if you're doing something simple, the more integrations. Yes, that doesincrease some of these things, but there's so many use cases I've seen inso many facilities. It's like you, don't need to bug that thing into a bigger system. It can be selfsufficient on its own just get started, and I just hope to see more and morefolks doing that in the coming years and just do go. Do it guys, go just go. Do Ityeah? It's great advice, my one of my favorite things is a marketing guy thatI say all the time. In fact, I've like Hashtag linked in post is ways justfrigging start. You know you talked about that analysis prayses earlier andthinking that you know I need this huge system and all this technology to beimplemented and done perfectly and the reality is and it it comes down to.Let's find a small problem, we could fix and apply automation or robotics toit. Ask the right people, and just starting is, is probably going to leadto a snow ball of things. That can you know happen after that, right yeah, Imean just get started. Talk to your team, get their input. Actually, someof your team members out on the shop floor or out on the warehouse floorcould be the ones that just ask him says what, if I could automate one ofyou were past and make your life easier, what would it be and man he probablywill get an earful and from that list, find one to make sense and get started?So it's really. The ball is in your port. That's a great tangible advicethere. One thing I want to make sure we hit on here we sort of started thisconversation talking about supply chain. We moved into talking about robots andautomation, as you know, to try to bring these two things together. Whatcan you say about how the data from your systems can then go influence?Lajes ICS in your business as you automate your systems, as you addrobotics to it, you're creating more collection points. You can have io tdevices, they re collecting how many parts are coming out of a sea and steamaching. How many pieces are going into a box what parts went into which cockyou can start really building these strong datasets within your company andthen, as there are so many services out...

...there. I don't even know where he werego to begin, but if you start realizing, there are key data says: If you want tocut on not only just your processes, but your product go start collectingthose there are devices that will help you collect those. There are greatcensors from connects and sick. They can scan your products out machine anddo visual inspections, and you can have that data set and actually number allyour parts and just it just keeps building. Then you could tie it into alarger Det. Lor mine is you're in shipping. Those I can show you whenthose parts were picked up at the warehouse. When did they get delivered?If you need additional information, but censor were stuff on to your shipmentand provide that data to you, it goes into another warehouse you can haveclutches. I mean it just build a builds on itself, but the whole thing is isits gin. Unless you're collecting that data and then actually knowing whatyou're, how you're structuring that data you're sort of going to struggle,because then you are getting here like almost a getting too much data butagain start simple, find out where that, where are those key data? Sets that youknow you need to collect and start going after them look for those vendorsthat can help you provide those are what allowed services you might want touse. There's some ate services out there, there's plenty of those outthere now, because we used so again, it just gets started and just start simpleand just start milling from there. The simplest state of sets can become thosebigger ones over time that just help you out, but unless you know what youwant to go, get your sort of don't collect the fire Os. That's the firstwarning but start simple, just as we said with robotics on that's, that'sSomepin use case find those early data says that really makes sense to yourbusiness and start go getting it and you'll be amazed where all thatleads you to great advice, and is there anything that I did not ask you thatyou'd like to ad to this conversation, I would just again stress everyone islisten to your workforce, they're, going to be your biggest help in all ofthis. From what task should I automate with a robot or automation, they'llhelp you out there ask them about your data, says what data do you think theythink might make sense to play and look at? How are they currently flecking? Itbe surprised that there might already be some data sets being collectedthrough just what the employees are doing on the floor or at the warehousefor you, but really engage your team. They hate those frontline folks aregold to your operation in more ways than one. Not only are they helpingyour business tribe by doing just their day day, work, but they're also seeingthings that, if you really ask them to give you get that information from themand make them a partner in all the future, Brook that you want to go afteryou're setting yourself up for a huge wind down the road of just engage yourteam members make them part of the process. Have them feel like they're,being very much listen to and value because, as you implement, both thesephysical and digital solutions down the road they're going to be critical andmaking that successful as well? So if they're, already Balton ahead of time,you're just again setting yourself over a huge wind down the road, because youhave a partner there internally with you that want to see all this succeedbecause they were brought in early on in the process as well. Nice way to puta bow on, it will Erin great conversation. I appreciate you doingthis today, like a you kind of bridge the you know, logistics and roboticssides of what we talked about here and keep popping those videos out. I'mlinked in if you're not following erand go. Do that there's some reallyinteresting applications that he's sharing all the time so Arnell. How canour audience get in touch with you and kind of learn more about what you'redoing, as you said Joe followed me on...

Lincoln, that's always the my preferredsocial media choice. I try and keep up with messages and request on there asbest I can. I am in and dated a lot, but that is the best way to get a holdof me and also just share share what you're working on. I always love,seeing what other coats are working on, and I try and amplify those as much aspossible on my channels of saying Al Look what this these guys are doing inthis industry, because you just don't know where that's going to go, butLincoln is always the best place for me, perfect Laren. Once again, thanks fordoing this today, thank you, Joe. As for the rest of you, I hope to catchyou on the next episode of the Manufacturing Executive. 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 be manufacturers at gorilla. Seventy sicot flash warn thank you somuch for listening until next time E T.

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