The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode · 9 months 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.

Listening on a desktop & can’t see the links? Just search for The Manufacturing Executive in your favorite podcast player.

I like to see robotics as anamplifier. 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 andbecome more technically savvy. Welcome to the manufacturing executive podcast, where we explorethe strategies and experiences that are driving mid size manufacturers forward. Here you'll discovernew insights from passionate manufacturing leaders who have compelling stories to share about their successesand struggles, and you'll learn from B tob sales and marketing experts about howto 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 sixone thousand nine hundred and sixty two. That was the year the first industrialrobot 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, butthey're far from a commodity, and today's gas will talk about why. I'llalso 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 worldof robotics. So, on that note, let me take a moment to introduceour guest. Ryan Lili Bridge, is the director of Business Development,admission, design and automation, with over fifteen years of experience in the automationindustry, serving as an applications, engineering manager and process owner. Ryan enjoysthe opportunity to help establish a winning team and culture by focusing on the peopleand attributes of the strong team. Ryan lives in your grand rapids, Michigan, with his wife, Liz and three boys. Ryan, welcome to theshow. Thanks, Joe. I'm just grateful for the opportunity to talk withyou and your audience. Yeah, me too. We got a great topichere and I'm excited to get into it, and a lot of our listeners aregoing to be. This is kind of right up their alley. Solet's do this thing. Huh? Yeah, for sure. Let's go cool.Okay, so you and I were talking recently, Ryan, about thefact that robots have been around for sixty years, which is kind of kindof crazy to think about. You know, I wouldn't have guessed that, butyou know, they're more readily available now than ever and in some waysthe traditional industrial robot is almost becoming commoditized. But at the same time the advancementsbeing made in robotics right now our immense and I was hoping you couldkind of talk about where you see some of the biggest and most impactful changeshappening in robotics. Sure, yeah, I like to talk about that kindof stuff. So, yeah, sixty years, it's a long time,right. So you think about that and what else has been around for sixtyyears 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 highvolume production, right, typically automotive. So a lot of those robots andthe programming structures have not evolved to the point that's needed now and a lotof the manufacturing are. So they're continually trying to evolve those and you're seeingthese edge companies in different devices come into evolve those robots and help them continueto bring value outside of maybe some of the larger automotive companies that are pullingthem in. They'll still continue to bring value in those high volume areas andthey're the perfect tool for that. The tool is very valuable there. ButI think what we're seeing is you need a system integrator to do that andthere's a lot of system integrators now. So it does become somewhat of acommodity as the tools been around so long and people are using that in regularthe programming that and implementing that. But a lot of the smaller manufacturers havehad hurdles in getting robotics in and I think what we're seeing with the evolutionof stem education, plug and play devices, portable robotics, cobots, those kindof things, is the availability in the wider and broader adoption of roboticsacrossed and umber of smaller manufacturers. So I think now is the one ofthe Times you can get someone fresh out of college with eight years of programmingexperience 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 plugand play devices on them and be doing that programming and set up alot themselves. So as that evolves, I think the system integrators need toevolve 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, getkind of accessorized with advanced perception systems of vision and how they can learn theirenvironments and pick those locations, or advancements and ease of programming for the cobotsor portability of that capital so that the cobots or different robots can be movedto location of use and you can use that capital, take it from oneplace in the facility on one application one day and then move it later thatday, reprogramming because it's that easy, and to redeploy it in another locationof the factory. So I think that commodity takes place if you picture itas traditional robotics, but there's a lot of advancements in robotics that are areexciting and continue to add value to that commodity item. I think a goodmodel 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 youstart building the machine learning ai into those systems and it allows what used tojust be an automobile to know drive itself, and just a big leap and thattechnology that I think, caught a number of the large automotive suppliers offoff guard with how well it did, and I'm curious with the robotics industryif you'll see something similar. Right someone gets into the ACTUA, they takesoftware and these perceptive devices, cameras, etc. Light ars tie them intorobotics and also you see a leap and robotics with maybe a Boston biped BostonDynamics biped robot being the manufacturer robot of the future potentially. But there's excitingtime and robotics as as all these things come together right in the processing powersnow there to do that. So it's fun to see, it's fun tobe 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 atendency to assume that they need robots and they get excited by the shiney objectand they jump straight to a tactical solution and then meanwhile in the background you'vegot 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 aorganization, how an organization should evaluate when and where a robot actually makes sense. Yeah, for sure, Jo I get this question a lot. I'vegot a went to a lot of manufacturers that are in this position right they'retrying 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 weneed to automate, automation as a solution, and automation is often paired with therobotics, which is quite often the right answer but not always the rightanswer. So it's going into those companies understanding what the goals of the executiveteam are along with what are the goals of the plant managers in the manufacturingteam, and how do we align those, how they bring those into a pointto build a bridge between those two groups and solve both goals, understandingwhen to use er about or when to use a different type of actuator willcall. It really comes down to the application, the return on investment themaintenance teams at the manufacturing facilities. So is it a highly capable maintenance teamthat's done robotics in their past? We'll play in heavily to if you wantto use robotics, or is executive team looking for putting those type of playerson their team as well to you to handle that kind of system? Ithink with some of the advancements of robotics we're just talking about, that levelof capability can be a little bit different and more accessible. So robots arebecoming 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'sreally assessing what are you manufacturing, how are you making it and what isthe best tool in the toolbox to to facilitate those goals? I do wantto touch on one of the thing here too, because often you'll see executiveteams 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 lookingfor 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 pastdoes the lot of the baby boomers are moving out of manufacturing and andbeen 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 babyis going to go to college and do something different. Manufacturing jobs do nothave 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 lureinto my company? One of the ways that you can do that as anexecutive 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 workwith 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 putautomation in place. That is the newer shiny object right, because that's whatpeople are paying attention to and that's okay in their mind to have a jobthat's doing that, but if it was just standing on a stamping line runninga press press break, that's not exciting or it's not maybe perceived as themanufacturing you have of choice. So yeah, that's a really good point. Iit's amazing. I feel like every other conversation I have on this podcastthis idea comes up of, you know, the the labor shortage and and thethe widening skills gap for machine operators and robotics and automation. I thinkto 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 youI seem to be hearing from a lot of people like you who are inthe heart of this world of automation and robotics is that now we can't findthe labor and people don't want to do those jobs, and so the robotsare helping fill back GAPP and you still need human beings to operate the robotswho understand, you, know robotics and have the skill sets and are trainedin it. So it's an opportunity, not a threat, I think,more than anything. Would you agree? I would totally agree. One ofthe things I get to do in this this job is that I'm grateful foris talk with different industry experts on a pretty regular basis, and I lovewhat Eric have is a plus one.

He says they're tagline on the oneof the walls there is robots work, people rule, and since I've seenthat, it stuck with me a little bit. Is that people are theones that make the systems work, make them run effectively and and I liketo see robotics as an amplifier. It amplifies the ability of the people onthe team to produce more, to produce better, and also amplify as theirability to learn and educate and become more technically savvy in those roles. SoI 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 youhear it on every podcast, but I feel like I hear it every daywith different customers. It's it's a pretty regular occurrence acrossed each industry that Italked with. It could be food, it could be ECOM it could beegg it could be automotive. It really doesn't matter right now who we talkedwith. Could be appliances. Every customer that I've been talking with and incontact with seems to be struggling with that this year and in the midst ofa pandemic, you can you can understand why people would be sometimes scared tocome to work and there's there's probably a number of different factors that play intothat that have been challenging for manufacturers. Yeah, I'm hearing the same thingall 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 intothis question in this conversation. You know, this idea of even how the pandemicover the last year. You and I recording this on March eleven oftwenty 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 passesright, and here we are here later. But I'm kind of curious, youknow, one year into this pandemic and with a labor shortage and issueson that front that were already well in the works, what kind of vulnerabilityare you seeing manufacturers facing right now as a result of hiring challenges, peoplenot showing up to work. The impact of Covid on these companies and whatcan 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'sa challenge. There's Times where they're just down for a shift, there's notenough people to run the equipment or run the machines. And then the hardpart is that they still have customers and consumers, I want to buy theirproducts. 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 arestopped. That are depended upon people coming to work, which is important,right. Who Want people at work able to help do that, and Ithink one of the ways that will be mitigated, and I think some ofthe vulnerabilities that they're seen is man my...

...customers asking me for my product andI 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 provideit. And then there's other there's the penalties and incentives that come with someof the other manufacturers do. So some people get penalized when they're not shippingenough products. So there's financial ramifications there as well. In what I've seenedfrom a request standpoint is that people are trying to understand how to automate areasof the equipment that they traditionally had it. So they have heard automation or theyhave a system that you can load the load the parts into and themachine 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 andthe right hands to be able to load the components into the machine? Andoften that was a challenging off automation task because, and that's why it wasleft 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 anddifferent vision systems that allow you to detect or see those things, different gripperscoming along, through on robot through soft robotics, through Festo. There's allkinds of different robotic hands that are coming up to try and mimic the dexterityof people. So that's that's one area where we do see people seeking waysto still be producing and remove some of that vulnerability of labor shortages. Andthe Labor when it comes in, will be aiding those automation systems. Butthe ingress and Egress, the dunnage and the parts coming into the systems andgoing out of the systems that were typically front end and back end of automationare now kind of expanding out right. Can we automate those other edges thathadn't traditionally been done or were more complex to to do? And this machinemakes this part for one shift and I've got another one over here that makesit for another shift. So is there a way for me to move mycapital equipment from loading this piece of equipment over here for one shift and thenI need to shut a little across the plant for the next shift to producethe the lower volume system over here? So how does that robot gripper manipulatoradapt 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 andthe 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 somethingthat you talk about and deal with quite a bit as the needs for automationbecome a sort of expand and become more advanced and find their way to placeswhere they didn't traditionally, I guess, used to be where like, whatrole do you see cobots playing now? How's that changing? How can theyaid 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, butthe 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 thatlong. 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, whereyou see the cobalt come in as a little bit lower speed, highermix, maybe portable, working alongside operators. So less safety, less less hurdlesto integration, I would say. So simpler to deploy and one ofthe barriers cobots that we've seen in the past with just kind of the limitedspeed capabilities running at a safe range, understanding the safety of the end ofour tool. The last thing that anyone wants to have happened as someone getsin your during their job. So there's a lot of different ways to makesure that that's safe going through risk assessment. But one of the things that wesee there is the advancements and Co bats are coming along to where theycan run at a higher speed and still maintain a safety so that was atradeoff. Often where people want to produce very quickly and make the parts asfast as they can, probably not going to be a cobat because I haveto go fast. COBAT needs to move slow so if it hits anyone itdoesn't injure them. But the centers and the force feedback and that has beenimproving 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 heremission that are able to go back and forth between full speed almost industrial robotto the collaborative space, which really gives you a lot of flexibility as amanufacturer to be able to be running at a higher speed and then, asa person approaches this cell, you can slow down to a collaborative speed andmake it a safe system. So I think that's where we'll see cobats movinginto and allowing to help in that edge space of loading the machine. Maybethey don't want all the Guardian around it because they need an operator to bedelivering toads and bins and parts to the the COBAT and positioning the Cobat inthe right places and then also coming in and and retraining the Chobat the nextapplication. So that that's where I see kobats really coming ahead. You seethere 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 isevolving, because it's interesting, I think. I have been in anumber 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 thatthing. And so my perception has always been there's limited capabilities for a Cobatfor the safety reasons you describe, but with the improvement in sensors and theversatility of of a robot being able to go back and forth between working independentlyat high speed versus next to human being at a slow speed. I'm justkind of curious to you. Do think...

...that there's a knowledge gap out thereto people realize what's even possible right now? Yeah, I think there was earlydoctors at Kobats, which will probably take a long time to come backto some of them right just because of some of those constraints and the capabilityis 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 thoseadvancements. But I think people are understanding starting to see that more with thecobats. I'm actually celebrating my son's birthday this weekend and one of our partnersare good friend of at Midwest automation supplies. Let me borrows techmenkobat. So I'mgoing to bring it to my son's birthday party and surprise them with aCobat at the birthday party around kids right got some on robot grippers on thatare made to be safe around people. So Oh yeah, it's one ofthose things where I'm comfortable. I'm going to have it around realm some kidsand moving around slowly and it's it's safe. So but there are different ways todo that and definitely if you're in a factory and you see the bigyellow arms move around very quickly, don't go in there. You can't goin there. That's where the fences are. But some of the sensor technology andarea scanners and other items that you can pair with a Cobat can giveyou that higher speed and then also tagging into a safe mode when there's peoplenearby. So that's that's one of the big advancements to is just being ableto 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. Soit's always got to go through risk assessment and proper safety assessment just tomake sure that everybody's safe. Right. Yeah, for sure. Well,I think that's a testament to, you know, the potential of a Cobatwhen you can bring it to your kids birthday party, which, by theway, you're probably going to be the coolest dad in the school. Ithink, you know, a little bit more interesting then when I had chucklesthe clown at my, you know, seventh birthday or whatever. Right.That's pretty cool. Well, Ryan, is there anything we did not touchon that you like to talk to our audience about before we put a wrapon 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 comingup and I think for the audience, everybody appreciate you listen. Of gratefulfor the opportunity and I think you'll probably have robots in your future in thenext five to ten years, if there's not one in your house already sweepingyour floor. So thank you. That's awesome. Well, great conversation.Ryan. Can you tell our audience about how they can get in touch withyou 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 formy 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 thenalso on Linkedin and facebook and Youtube. Okay, well, awesome. So, yeah, check out what mission design and automation is doing. Find RyanLillibridge on Linkedin and Ryan, this is great conversation. Thanks for sharing yourexpertise. Yeah, thank you, Joe.

Grateful for the opportunity. Awesome.That's for the rest of you. I hope to catch you on thenext 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 inyour favorite podcast player. If you'd like to learn more about industrial marketing andsales strategy, you'll find an ever expanding collection of articles, videos, guidesand tools specifically for bdb manufacturers at Gorilla Seventy sixcom learn thank you so muchfor listening. Until next time.

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