The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode · 1 year ago

Amplifiers of the workforce: The future of robots in manufacturing w/ Ryan Lillibridge


Robots have been around since Mamie Eisenhower presided over the White House.

But recent advancements in robotics have helped bring automated workers out of big automotive companies and into mainstream manufacturing.

Are the robots coming for your team's jobs? How should manufacturers determine whether or not to add a robot?

In this episode, Ryan Lillibridge, director of business development at Mission Design & Automation, discusses the impact of robotics in the manufacturing sector.

Here's what Ryan and I talked about:

  1. The biggest changes happening in robotics
  2. How to evaluate when adding a robot makes sense
  3. Are robots an opportunity or a threat?

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

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I like to see robotics as an amplifier. It amplifies the ability of the people on the team to produce more, to produce better, and also amplifies their ability to learn and educate and become more technically savvy. 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 CO founder of the Industrial Marketing Agency guerrilla. Seventy six one thousand nine hundred and sixty two. That was the year the first industrial robot went to work, when GM deployed unimate in their die casting factory. Fast forward almost sixty years and robots are everywhere in the manufacturing space, but they're far from a commodity, and today's gas will talk about why. I'll also dive into the role robots are playing in filling the manufacturing labor shortage, the changing role of cobots and what's on the horizon in an ever evolving world of robotics. So, on that note, let me take a moment to introduce our guest. Ryan Lili Bridge, is the director of Business Development, admission, design and automation, with over fifteen years of experience in the automation industry, serving as an applications, engineering manager and process owner. Ryan enjoys the opportunity to help establish a winning team and culture by focusing on the people and attributes of the strong team. Ryan lives in your grand rapids, Michigan, with his wife, Liz and three boys. Ryan, welcome to the show. Thanks, Joe. I'm just grateful for the opportunity to talk with you and your audience. Yeah, me too. We got a great topic here and I'm excited to get into it, and a lot of our listeners are going to be. This is kind of right up their alley. So let's do this thing. Huh? Yeah, for sure. Let's go cool. Okay, so you and I were talking recently, Ryan, about the fact that robots have been around for sixty years, which is kind of kind of crazy to think about. You know, I wouldn't have guessed that, but you know, they're more readily available now than ever and in some ways the traditional industrial robot is almost becoming commoditized. But at the same time the advancements being made in robotics right now our immense and I was hoping you could kind of talk about where you see some of the biggest and most impactful changes happening in robotics. Sure, yeah, I like to talk about that kind of stuff. So, yeah, sixty years, it's a long time, right. So you think about that and what else has been around for sixty years and been unchanged? Industrial robot arms...

...are have been involving over that time, but they're always been working towards going faster, being more accurate and high volume production, right, typically automotive. So a lot of those robots and the programming structures have not evolved to the point that's needed now and a lot of the manufacturing are. So they're continually trying to evolve those and you're seeing these edge companies in different devices come into evolve those robots and help them continue to bring value outside of maybe some of the larger automotive companies that are pulling them in. They'll still continue to bring value in those high volume areas and they're the perfect tool for that. The tool is very valuable there. But I think what we're seeing is you need a system integrator to do that and there's a lot of system integrators now. So it does become somewhat of a commodity as the tools been around so long and people are using that in regular the programming that and implementing that. But a lot of the smaller manufacturers have had hurdles in getting robotics in and I think what we're seeing with the evolution of stem education, plug and play devices, portable robotics, cobots, those kind of things, is the availability in the wider and broader adoption of robotics acrossed and umber of smaller manufacturers. So I think now is the one of the Times you can get someone fresh out of college with eight years of programming experience on robots, with the ability come fresh out of college program those robots. They can go to these smaller manufacturers, bring the robots in that have plug and play devices on them and be doing that programming and set up a lot themselves. So as that evolves, I think the system integrators need to evolve as well and they'll continue to bring value with understanding the manufacturing process, understanding these new technologies and then understanding how robots, these traditional arms, get kind of accessorized with advanced perception systems of vision and how they can learn their environments and pick those locations, or advancements and ease of programming for the cobots or portability of that capital so that the cobots or different robots can be moved to location of use and you can use that capital, take it from one place in the facility on one application one day and then move it later that day, reprogramming because it's that easy, and to redeploy it in another location of the factory. So I think that commodity takes place if you picture it as traditional robotics, but there's a lot of advancements in robotics that are are exciting and continue to add value to that commodity item. I think a good model too, is like you look at Tesla right with with the automobile. How long has the automobile pent around and what kind of advancements had as seen? But now you take this compilation of...

...different sensors, advanced software and you start building the machine learning ai into those systems and it allows what used to just be an automobile to know drive itself, and just a big leap and that technology that I think, caught a number of the large automotive suppliers off off guard with how well it did, and I'm curious with the robotics industry if you'll see something similar. Right someone gets into the ACTUA, they take software and these perceptive devices, cameras, etc. Light ars tie them into robotics and also you see a leap and robotics with maybe a Boston biped Boston Dynamics biped robot being the manufacturer robot of the future potentially. But there's exciting time and robotics as as all these things come together right in the processing powers now there to do that. So it's fun to see, it's fun to be a part of, and so it's interesting to talk about. Absolutely well, Ryan, you mentioned to me that upper management in manufacturing organizations have a tendency to assume that they need robots and they get excited by the shiney object and they jump straight to a tactical solution and then meanwhile in the background you've got their production teams kind of reeling just trying to get the job done. So I was wondering if you could talk about, you know, how a organization, how an organization should evaluate when and where a robot actually makes sense. Yeah, for sure, Jo I get this question a lot. I've got a went to a lot of manufacturers that are in this position right they're trying to understand a manufacturing system is not working like I'd like it to. I know there's concerns with it. Executive team or board members are saying we need to automate, automation as a solution, and automation is often paired with the robotics, which is quite often the right answer but not always the right answer. So it's going into those companies understanding what the goals of the executive team are along with what are the goals of the plant managers in the manufacturing team, and how do we align those, how they bring those into a point to build a bridge between those two groups and solve both goals, understanding when to use er about or when to use a different type of actuator will call. It really comes down to the application, the return on investment the maintenance teams at the manufacturing facilities. So is it a highly capable maintenance team that's done robotics in their past? We'll play in heavily to if you want to use robotics, or is executive team looking for putting those type of players on their team as well to you to handle that kind of system? I think with some of the advancements of robotics we're just talking about, that level of capability can be a little bit different and more accessible. So robots are becoming more than norm in manufacturing, but sometimes it's just a hard tool, thematic actuator, that's needed with a simple...

...system and no robotics. So it's really assessing what are you manufacturing, how are you making it and what is the best tool in the toolbox to to facilitate those goals? I do want to touch on one of the thing here too, because often you'll see executive teams looking for robotics and it may not just be to solve a manufacturing problem, and I think there's concerns with kind of what the labor force is looking for right how do I how do I draw in new employees, new talent, and how to make the job desirable. So what I've seen over the past does the lot of the baby boomers are moving out of manufacturing and and been okay with that job. A lot of the next generations we're told, hey, manufacturing, by baby's not going to go to manufacture. My baby is going to go to college and do something different. Manufacturing jobs do not have that a lure for certain generations, but if it's a robotics job, it does have more a lure. So how do I bring that a lure into my company? One of the ways that you can do that as an executive team is to play to that desire for people to learn advanced technologies, and that can be by putting automation in place and saying we're highly automated factory, we're investing in the future of automation, we're hiring people that want to work with robots, we're hiring people that want to work with the Spanish technology. So it really is a it can sometimes be a hiring advantage to put automation in place. That is the newer shiny object right, because that's what people are paying attention to and that's okay in their mind to have a job that's doing that, but if it was just standing on a stamping line running a press press break, that's not exciting or it's not maybe perceived as the manufacturing you have of choice. So yeah, that's a really good point. I it's amazing. I feel like every other conversation I have on this podcast this idea comes up of, you know, the the labor shortage and and the the widening skills gap for machine operators and robotics and automation. I think to the general public have this perception sometimes of overtaking your jobs. You know, the robots are taking our jobs right and I think the reality that you I seem to be hearing from a lot of people like you who are in the heart of this world of automation and robotics is that now we can't find the labor and people don't want to do those jobs, and so the robots are helping fill back GAPP and you still need human beings to operate the robots who understand, you, know robotics and have the skill sets and are trained in it. So it's an opportunity, not a threat, I think, more than anything. Would you agree? I would totally agree. One of the things I get to do in this this job is that I'm grateful for is talk with different industry experts on a pretty regular basis, and I love what Eric have is a plus one.

He says they're tagline on the one of the walls there is robots work, people rule, and since I've seen that, it stuck with me a little bit. Is that people are the ones that make the systems work, make them run effectively and and I like to see robotics as an amplifier. It amplifies the ability of the people on the team to produce more, to produce better, and also amplify as their ability to learn and educate and become more technically savvy in those roles. So I really think it's that more than the ladder. That's a really good perspective. And Joe, you brought up the labor shortage thing. You said you hear it on every podcast, but I feel like I hear it every day with different customers. It's it's a pretty regular occurrence acrossed each industry that I talked with. It could be food, it could be ECOM it could be egg it could be automotive. It really doesn't matter right now who we talked with. Could be appliances. Every customer that I've been talking with and in contact with seems to be struggling with that this year and in the midst of a pandemic, you can you can understand why people would be sometimes scared to come to work and there's there's probably a number of different factors that play into that that have been challenging for manufacturers. Yeah, I'm hearing the same thing all the time. It's a it's a real problem for sure. Yeah, well, it's a good lead and I was going to sort of dive into this question in this conversation. You know, this idea of even how the pandemic over the last year. You and I recording this on March eleven of twenty one. It was almost exactly a year ago to the day when, you know, we sent our employees home with their monitors and said, hey, you know, work from home for a few weeks until this thing passes right, and here we are here later. But I'm kind of curious, you know, one year into this pandemic and with a labor shortage and issues on that front that were already well in the works, what kind of vulnerability are you seeing manufacturers facing right now as a result of hiring challenges, people not showing up to work. The impact of Covid on these companies and what can manufacturers do to mitigate that vulnerability is as much as possible. Yeah, it's real. It's definitely a real thing for a lot of customers and it's a challenge. There's Times where they're just down for a shift, there's not enough people to run the equipment or run the machines. And then the hard part is that they still have customers and consumers, I want to buy their products. They still have demand to fill. So the demand is still there, which is great, right. You want that. That's good to have, but the supply is can be lagging because plant shut down or machines are stopped. That are depended upon people coming to work, which is important, right. Who Want people at work able to help do that, and I think one of the ways that will be mitigated, and I think some of the vulnerabilities that they're seen is man my...

...customers asking me for my product and I cannot get it to them and that's not a good spot to be, and for a couple reasons. Write the consumers want it. You can't provide it. And then there's other there's the penalties and incentives that come with some of the other manufacturers do. So some people get penalized when they're not shipping enough products. So there's financial ramifications there as well. In what I've seened from a request standpoint is that people are trying to understand how to automate areas of the equipment that they traditionally had it. So they have heard automation or they have a system that you can load the load the parts into and the machine will produce the part, but there's no one there to load it anymore. So now the question becomes how do we give robots the right eyes and the right hands to be able to load the components into the machine? And often that was a challenging off automation task because, and that's why it was left to the operator, because it took that dexterity and took that per option. So some of those challenges you'll see advancements and been picking coming along and different vision systems that allow you to detect or see those things, different grippers coming along, through on robot through soft robotics, through Festo. There's all kinds of different robotic hands that are coming up to try and mimic the dexterity of people. So that's that's one area where we do see people seeking ways to still be producing and remove some of that vulnerability of labor shortages. And the Labor when it comes in, will be aiding those automation systems. But the ingress and Egress, the dunnage and the parts coming into the systems and going out of the systems that were typically front end and back end of automation are now kind of expanding out right. Can we automate those other edges that hadn't traditionally been done or were more complex to to do? And this machine makes this part for one shift and I've got another one over here that makes it for another shift. So is there a way for me to move my capital equipment from loading this piece of equipment over here for one shift and then I need to shut a little across the plant for the next shift to produce the the lower volume system over here? So how does that robot gripper manipulator adapt to those different applications? And then how do I program it quickly, which is where you know earlier we're talking a little bit about the cobots and the plug and play efforts taken place. Well, let's let's go there then, because I think this is really interesting and I know that cobots or something that you talk about and deal with quite a bit as the needs for automation become a sort of expand and become more advanced and find their way to places where they didn't traditionally, I guess, used to be where like, what role do you see cobots playing now? How's that changing? How can they aid with some of the challenges that we've been talking about in this conversation? Yeah, and we talked about cobots as...

...a new and upcoming thing, but the like, like the traditional robots, cobots have been around for fifteen years. It's kind of crazy to think about they've been along, been around that long. But definitely a lot of advancements in Kobots and what they can do. I think some of the differentiators between industrial robot and the COBOT is, like we said, the industrials high volume, high speed, high accuracy, where you see the cobalt come in as a little bit lower speed, higher mix, maybe portable, working alongside operators. So less safety, less less hurdles to integration, I would say. So simpler to deploy and one of the barriers cobots that we've seen in the past with just kind of the limited speed capabilities running at a safe range, understanding the safety of the end of our tool. The last thing that anyone wants to have happened as someone gets in your during their job. So there's a lot of different ways to make sure that that's safe going through risk assessment. But one of the things that we see there is the advancements and Co bats are coming along to where they can run at a higher speed and still maintain a safety so that was a tradeoff. Often where people want to produce very quickly and make the parts as fast as they can, probably not going to be a cobat because I have to go fast. COBAT needs to move slow so if it hits anyone it doesn't injure them. But the centers and the force feedback and that has been improving so that those robots can react quicker and still remain safe around operators. So one is the Phantas here x. We got a couple of those here mission that are able to go back and forth between full speed almost industrial robot to the collaborative space, which really gives you a lot of flexibility as a manufacturer to be able to be running at a higher speed and then, as a person approaches this cell, you can slow down to a collaborative speed and make it a safe system. So I think that's where we'll see cobats moving into and allowing to help in that edge space of loading the machine. Maybe they don't want all the Guardian around it because they need an operator to be delivering toads and bins and parts to the the COBAT and positioning the Cobat in the right places and then also coming in and and retraining the Chobat the next application. So that that's where I see kobats really coming ahead. You see there being sort of a knowledge gap here from manufacturing organizations who are using robots, or should be, in terms of, you know, how the Kobat is evolving, because it's interesting, I think. I have been in a number of manufacturing facilities. I've seen these fanic arms moving, you know, like crazy speeds and you can understand why I human being can't be near that thing. And so my perception has always been there's limited capabilities for a Cobat for the safety reasons you describe, but with the improvement in sensors and the versatility of of a robot being able to go back and forth between working independently at high speed versus next to human being at a slow speed. I'm just kind of curious to you. Do think...

...that there's a knowledge gap out there to people realize what's even possible right now? Yeah, I think there was early doctors at Kobats, which will probably take a long time to come back to some of them right just because of some of those constraints and the capability is of the early ones, but I don't know that they've explored either. So education out to the those groups is important and kind of talking through those advancements. But I think people are understanding starting to see that more with the cobats. I'm actually celebrating my son's birthday this weekend and one of our partners are good friend of at Midwest automation supplies. Let me borrows techmenkobat. So I'm going to bring it to my son's birthday party and surprise them with a Cobat at the birthday party around kids right got some on robot grippers on that are made to be safe around people. So Oh yeah, it's one of those things where I'm comfortable. I'm going to have it around realm some kids and moving around slowly and it's it's safe. So but there are different ways to do that and definitely if you're in a factory and you see the big yellow arms move around very quickly, don't go in there. You can't go in there. That's where the fences are. But some of the sensor technology and area scanners and other items that you can pair with a Cobat can give you that higher speed and then also tagging into a safe mode when there's people nearby. So that's that's one of the big advancements to is just being able to tie a couple technologies together to make it safe and understand that it's safe. But AKBAT, with a state knife, it's never to be safe. So it's always got to go through risk assessment and proper safety assessment just to make sure that everybody's safe. Right. Yeah, for sure. Well, I think that's a testament to, you know, the potential of a Cobat when you can bring it to your kids birthday party, which, by the way, you're probably going to be the coolest dad in the school. I think, you know, a little bit more interesting then when I had chuckles the clown at my, you know, seventh birthday or whatever. Right. That's pretty cool. Well, Ryan, is there anything we did not touch on that you like to talk to our audience about before we put a wrap on this one? Joe, I don't think I had too much more. I just enjoyed talking with you and talking about the different robots and technologies coming up and I think for the audience, everybody appreciate you listen. Of grateful for the opportunity and I think you'll probably have robots in your future in the next five to ten years, if there's not one in your house already sweeping your floor. So thank you. That's awesome. Well, great conversation. Ryan. Can you tell our audience about how they can get in touch with you and where they can learn more about mission design and automation? Sure, Joe, you can find me on Linkedin. That's usually where I hang out for my platform under Ryan Little Bridge and then for a mission design automation. Are you Urla's mission design Autocom so you can find our website there and then also on Linkedin and facebook and Youtube. Okay, well, awesome. So, yeah, check out what mission design and automation is doing. Find Ryan Lillibridge on Linkedin and Ryan, this is great conversation. Thanks for sharing your expertise. Yeah, thank you, Joe.

Grateful for the opportunity. Awesome. That's 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 miss 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 bdb manufacturers at Gorilla Seventy sixcom learn thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

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