The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode · 1 year ago

The Robots Are (Not) Coming: How Wearable Technology Augments But Doesn't Replace Human Labor w/ Tracy Hansen


Automation cannot replace human labor. Rather, the key is to augment the workforce by equipping humans with the technology they need to be more effective, more efficient, and safer.

Tracy Hansen, president of North America and global CMO for ProGlove, a German maker of wearable digital interfaces and operations analytics for industry, joined this episode of The Manufacturing Executive Show. She talked about the ways manufacturers need to pivot with technology as they look at how to emerge from this pandemic in one piece.

Here's what we discussed with Tracy:

  • How wearable solutions can augment the human worker
  • Examples of the ways wearable technology improves safety, efficiency, and productivity
  • The wearable technology solutions executives should know about
  • ...And what excessive automation looks like and how to avoid it.

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

Humans aren't going away, nor istechnology, and I think the insightful, innovative executive is going to be theone that can look at both and and put them together in a way thatis meaningful. Welcome to the manufacturing executive podcast, where we explore the strategiesand experiences that are driving midsize manufacturers forward. Here you'll discover new insights from passionatemanufacturing 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 actionablebusiness development strategies inside your business. Let's get into the show. Welcome toanother episode of the Manufacturing Executive podcast. I'm Joe Sullivan, your host anda cofounder of the Industrial Marketing Agency guerrilla seventy six. So if you've beenlistening to the first handful of episodes or so of the show, you've probablynoticed that a majority of focused on a marketing, your sales related topics.But we've designed the podcast to cover growth from a variety of angles, andone of those angles is technology. So our guests today is at the forefrontof that movement and on that note, I'm super excited to introduce Tracy Hanson, president of North America and global CMO for Pro Glove, a German makerof wearable digital interfaces and operations analytics for industry. Tracy brings more than twodecades of strategic brand building experience at's, start up, scale up and fortunefive hundred firms to the role. She's a student of disruptive innovation, championingideas that stretch boundaries, mobilized teams and deliver business breakthroughs. Tracy, welcometo the show. Thank you. It's wonderful to be here so tracy.I found you through an article that you recently published on manufacturing DOTNET, backin May, I think it was, that covered some ideas about how manufacturersneed to pivot as they look at how to emerge from this pandemic at onepiece, and since then I've connected with you and your team at pro gloveand had a chance to see your thinking behind some of the things that aregoing on in this industry four point o world we're now living in, andin particular, were caught my attention were some of your thoughts about this misconceptionthat automation can replace Human Labor and the argument I've seen from you, andsupported by high profile business figures like Elon Musk and some of the biggest technologycompanies in the world, including Apple, is that human labor is still veryessential and the key is not to replace Human Labor but instead to augment theworkforce by equipping humans with technology they need to be more effective and more efficientand safer. So I'm excited to unpack all the stuff with you today andsort of drawing your insights and experience for our listeners. Yeah, wonderful,glad to talk about all of this stuff. Great. Yeah, I know it'syour world. So, before we get into the thick of it,though, I was wondered if you could just kind of give us a littlebit of a quick background on pro glove and also tell us a bit aboutyour personal journey that brought you to where you are today. Absolutely so,as you mentioned in the introduction, and thank you for all of that.PROBLOB is a German manufacturer. Were based out of Munich and we also areheadquartered in Chicago. So we are four or five year old company. Wewere founded after our cofounders one that Intel make it wearable contest. It wasan idea that they had germinating around how to make people and the assembly lineand manufacturing more effective and more productive. And the thing that they made,the wearable device that they made, is a wrap that you can put aroundyour hands, and now I'll show your case, use video. They putit on your hand and very quickly have a scamer that is as light asa matchbox on the back of your hand but has the power of data intelligence, real time feedback and really clear, clear data capture on the manufacturing floor. So it shifted the focus away from how do I use all of thesetools all around me into one wearable device...

...that you can put on the backof your hand within seconds. And the team, the team from there,grew to be a multinational company with more than five hundred companies using our producton the manufacturing and Supply Cheam Universe. Wow, super interesting and such aunique advancement. I've seen pictures of it. I haven't seen or heard you talkabout it yet, though, and think it's that light and it's Imean, it makes a ton of sense. One of my favorite analogies is whenyou think about scanners and anybody who's assembling anything that has multiple parts islikely scanning and the the supply chain. Everything we touch, each drink wherehas been scanned multiple times. So scamming is as an integral part of ourday to day operations and the traditional handheld scanner ways as much as a volkswagon. But books. I can beetle at the end of a given shift.So you can imagine the stress that it puts on the human WHO's working withthese devices compared to something that waves as much as a matchbox. So notjust the orgonomics of it, but the human first, human centered approach totechnology is so crucial when we think about things like wearable devices. Yeah,and so what, Tracy? What has sort of led you? What ledyou to programmer? Can you give a little background and sort of you knowhow you got to where you are today? Sure. So, in Graduate SchoolI've discovered just in time technology, just in time processes, Joseph Dunning, the whole the whole world, and wrote my thesis on Ice Nine Thousandand how to grow Your Business and move into quality and control and process.So my degree and my thesis was on Icenin Thousand and from there I movedin manufacturing. I worked at a hardware company called net APP, based outof Silicon Valley for about fifteen years and had a chance to meet a gentlemanname Andreas Koonig, who is a real leader and visionary and building business inthe and bringing technology to market. So after I left net APP I startedto move into the startup space and into scale up businesses. When Andreas calledand said that he had discovered pro glove, met the cofounders and thought it wasjust a phenomenal organization that was poised to really bring something new and innovativeto the market and wanted to break open those markets, specifically North America.So he taught me to join. I came about nine months ago and havereally seen the the opportunity that this company has to offer manufacturers, assembly lines, supply chain, you name it, to do something great and innovative,not just with the scanner but with the software that we have behind it.So the pro gloves sort of presidents in the United States. Is is relativelynew still and it's infancy and you're helping bring it to life. Absolutely brandnew. We we started about two years ago here and really hit the groundrunning about about eighteen months ago, and the last year we've seen explosive growthin North America. Interesting. What's your customer base look like? To starta curiosity would you who are cost? A lot of different factors. Sowe started in the assembly space, so automotive manufacturing in Germany. Some ofour be customers are every major car manufacturer that you can think of. Theyare likely using the the PROGLOB skinning solution on their assembly line, BMW,Audi, folkswagon, you name it. Then we moved into aviation, socompanies like the TONSA. Now we're going deep in the retail space. Soe commerce is exploding. So anybody who is with warehouse, distribution and logistics, they're finding great use for our technology. And we're also seeing growth in healthcare, so both of the frontline healthcare in hospitals, in universities, aswell as in the back office with the design and distribution of healthcare goods.So we're recording this in July of two...

...thousand and twenty and we're, youknow, in the thick of everything going on with the pandemic, and I'mjust kind of curious what you know. How does this fit into the mixand how Yah were able solution that sort of augments the human worker? Obviouslyhealthcare is at the forefront of all that. Just kind of curiously who you talkabout that area. So we're in a very interesting time and starting ata new company right as we headed into the Post covid world, or Iguess we're still in covid world. Has Been Really Interesting and the challenges thatwe were talking about as a company in the early part of two thousand andtwenty ha of have shifted very dramatically. At the at the beginning of theyear we were looking at scale and innovation and deployment of new technology. Nowwhat we're looking at is how can I bring in technology that will speed upmy operations, keep my employees safe, help me on board and train newemployees quickly and adeptly? How can I use technology to enhance the worker ina time where safety is absolutely at the forefront of every operation leader leader's mind. So the good news is we didn't need to pivot too terribly strong inthis whole universe because from the very beginning we were focused on the human,the human at the center of the workforce. It has net. We've never strayedfrom that and while it wasn't our intention to have a solution for theenvironment we're currently in. It naturally fit into this space because our customers areprospects. The people that we talked to day in and day out are reallychallenged with shifting the business to accommodate new requirements for health and safety for theiremployees, bringing on new employees, as their rapidly spinning up robust ECOMMERCE solutions. I mean, you think about it, as we shift to e commerce,you need more people to do the picking and the packing in the logisticsand the delivery and so forth. As we're looking at our manufacturing and assemblyteams, they're they're looking at how can I have saved social distance? Howcan I make sure that I'm using a solution that is personal to me?So if I have a wrap, that's my wrap and I'm not sharing itwith three other employees, is that safer? So our human centered design, ourfocus on keeping employees safe, has always been a core part of ourvision and our culture and that's what people are talking to us about now andthat's what's attracting them to these types of devices. So a shift more,would you say, to the the safety focus then the increasing efficiency focus,or is it is it a lot of both? In just given the howthe business world has changed in a few months. It's a lot of both. Safety is is first and foremost. We actually, and I'll transparence,we had a few deals that we are customers, that we were talking towhere they were they're like, Hey, we got to pump the brakes here, and then as we started to talk to them about the safety component,or they came to us talking about the safety component of what they're trying toimplement, it became evident that the human first approach lent itself to the challengesthat they were facing. It's so important to our customers and the people thatwe see in the field to care about their employees, to focus on whatwill make them efficient, yes, of course, but safe in the environmentthat they're working in. The second part is is really around speed of adoptionand speed of operation. So efficient, absolutely still at crucial but, asso many of us have had to pivot and do something different or or fasterthan than we had prior that that the idea of complete digital transformation, completeoverhaul of operations was put to the side...

...and they wanted to look at whatcan I do to enhance the workforce I have and bring things up quickly,without a lot of training, without a lot of complexity. So ease ofuse was crucial because speed was paramount and I'm sure, like you, I'msure like me, you probably experienced a lot of because of Covid, thingsare delayed, because of Covid, things are slow. That that resulted ina lot of re reimagining of what needed to happen in assembly, in insupply chain, across the board. So it's pretty pervasive. Those two things, speed and and safety, are recurring conversation that we have with almost everybodywe speak with. So could you get kind of dangible for listeners here andmaybe talk about a few, you know, specific examples where wearable solutions that augmentthe human worker, you know, can help with either efficiency or safetyor, you know, just helping productivity. Would love to hear some real,tangible examples. You make this concrete where? So there's a couple.So let's start with the the the sharing of tools and assets. So makingit wearable with the instead of sharing a handheld gla scanner. Right, soevery time I put it down and one of my co workers fix it up, I have the potential to spread germs or to create an environment that isunsafe, and then the time it would take to clean everything between every singlescan would become quite a slowing technique. When I have a wearable device,something that I'm putting on my my body and it's mine, I am nowless room for contamination, less less likely to unintentionally share some a germ thatI know want to with a with a coworker because it's mine and it's it'son me. Then the second thing that I would say is from a wearablesafety standpoint, we introduced in our own floor, where Manufacturing Company and Assemblycompany as well. We create the devices on our own premises. We neededa mechanism to allow our assembly team to know when they were too close tosomebody, so we created and innovative a proximity sensor. So I have thewearable device and, through our mechanisms of communication, can either through optics,through site, through audio or through haptic so, feeling, let somebody knowif they're too close to another coworker. We rolled it out on our floorand then we realized our customers might eat it too, so we made itfree and available to all of our customers. They could download it right from ourwebsite at no additional charge, and then we extended that out to anybodywho wanted to download our PG connect, our progo connect solution, who maybedidn't have our wearable device, so they could have it on a cell phone, something on their body, but not our scanner, so that they couldkeep their employee safe. So that's the second thing. And then the thirdthing around speeding things up. And how does wearable speed things up? Weintroduce marked display which has on the back of your hands and eat ink readerthat allows you to as a wearer of our device, to see instantly whatyou need to do next, what's the job to get done, so Idon't have to go back to a terminal somewhere on the picking floor or goback to an office to get a print out to know what the next jobto get done. Is Saving vitals minutes and sometimes seconds every time I'm doingthe job on the the shop floor. So those are just three examples ofhow wearables can keep you safe and and keep you moving faster. That's great. Now, along the lines of augmenting...

...the worker, what other innovations areyou seeing out there that executives should know about? wearable technology is pretty exciting. We're so used to it as humans and consumers, whether it's the Fitbit, the watch that you're wearing, the the phone that you're carrying, wehave it in integrated into our daily lives. So if you bring that to theshop floor, you bring it to the manufacturing plant and you start torealize that that wearable technology, when used in combination together, can create suchaffected streamline processes. You can start to envision having a human digital twin thatthat creates a set of data that you can now, as an operations manager, see what's happening on your floor every step of the way. The thevisual I like to use is when I have a truck come into to myplant and I'm UN unloading the truck, I'm scanning things, I'm bending,I'm looking, I'm hearing different things and if I have wearable technology that ishelping me, as the worker, know where to put the Palette, whereto put the box and then, as the peer comes, where to takethe box to how to assemble and all of the wearable technology that I haveon is feeding real time in Fort Nation, giving me haptic feedback on if I'mgoing in the right direction or picking up the right box. It givesme the intelligence right there within my body to do the the right thing,the next job that needs to get done in the right order. From aworker standpoint it's much more efficient. It's less less stress and trying to figurethings out. From an operations manager perspective, it gives me the intelligence I needto know how to improve my production line, how to improve my operations, how to keep my workers, again, very healthy and safe, remove obstaclesthat get in their way or eliminate challenges that are placed in front ofthem that are are unnecessary obstacles. As a executive looking to figure out whatto do next, I'm really hone in on the human and understanding what arethe steps the human needs to take next to be more effective, to bemore efficient. Years ago, years ago, I read a book called the mythicalman month. Are you familiar with it? I'm not known. It'sa book by friend Fred Brooks, and it is this whole concept around addingmore people to a some people think, Oh, if I have a softwareproject and I need to deliver against I can add more people and that softwareproject will get done faster. Right, more people means faster. Well,when I look at what I say, what's happening in this assembly floor,and then the supply chain. I sometimes here are similar things like, Oh, if I add an automation, things will get faster, things will movefaster. My kind of feel like we need to have a simple, mythicalman month concept, the mythical automation month, if you will, because really,at the end of the day, it's the human in our ability torespond and to think and to move the the product forward, that creates themomentum and efficiency. And when you think about automation and bringing automation into theassembly line, the manufacturing floor, the supply chain, you sometimes displace theefficiency because the thinking is automation is going to solve all the problems. Butreally automation can create more challenges, different challenges. So our thinking is let'sfocus on the human, let's focus on what the processes are that they doand use wearable technology to move the needle faster. And that's what I thinkexecutives need to really hone in on, is using the assets they have andenriching that experience versus displacing those assets with...

...things that will just introduce an entirelydifferent set of complexity and challenges that might result in that mythical man month thatthat doesn't yield the results are looking for. Yeah, I love that. Somany things related to automation, I imagine, sound perfect in theory andthen when you get into actually implementing them, you realize that, you know,creates a new new hurdles and obstacles and what you're saying is makes alot of sense. You know. It's a good sort of segue into thenext, next few questions I have here. You know, it's one thing toaugment a worker in another to attempt to fully automate or attempt to fullyautomated process and and my understanding from what I've seen from you is that alot of companies tend to run into these obstacles. And so what is excessiveautomation look like from your perspective and how can executives avoided? Each each businessis different, right, so some where, some companies need automation and it couldbe excessive for different business so I think we need to look at thesein unique uniquely, if I were to say, Hey, I have anopportunity to go in and fully automate the entire environment and there will be nohumans involved. I think that would give you great pause because even automation requireshumanity technicians, you need process engineers, you need a different and tire differentskills set. Certainly when you have automation, it's just different. So when Ithink about what's excessive, I think if it's totally rotating over to we'regoing to automate everything, where I've seen successes. Now had an opportunity togo to a number of different warehouses and assembly of floors now and I've seenthe balance of automation. Where automation makes sense, we're using systems in roboticsto move the process forward. Makes Sense. Is heartnered with where to humans makesense? Where is critical thinking required? Where is more dexterity required? Thosetwo things, when balanced out, create an incredibly efficient and elegant solution. So my recommendation for executives would be to find the balance. Anytime yousay all or a hundred percent or everything, you're probably leaning towards excessive. Ifyou're looking at collaborative automation and human collaboration, you're probably on the rightpath. That's a good answer and I read an interesting article the other dayabout apples manufacturing. Process. And here you have the most profitable technology companyin the world and one of the most technologically advanced companies probably in history,and they've repeatedly failed to automate their production lines. Is Sort of what Igathered from the article, and it's it's led them to turn back to humanlabor time and time again. And so what do you think that failed attemptsfrom even the biggest companies in the world like apple can teach manufacturing executives aboutefficiencies, automation, the role of Human Labor, etc. Yeah, thethe article you're referring to is really insightful and they've been trying the effer closeto a decade. I think they started in like two thousand and twelve withtheir partner in China to bring automation to life and they they were going toreplace all the human workers with a million robots. What I love about thatexample and I think we can learn from is the that it's okay to failright. It's absolutely okay to fail and to attempt different ways to bring automationto life. It's okay to experiment and and I encourage it. I thinkit's really important. It's how we discovered the the wearable solution right, prototyping, risk and attempting where what I think the best thing we can learn fromthe apple example and from others I've seen is bringing humans in to the designstage, bringing humans into the the process.

So they overrotated to my previous answer. They overrood it, stated to we're going to do all robotics.As we've seen that they're moving forward and net and others like them, asthere's realizing humans aren't going away. Humans are part of the solution. Howcan we bring humans together with technology to create a solution that is efficient andeffective? So I think the apple example is perfect. I think their experimentationhas shown us that humans are essentially and you mentioned Elon Musk earlier same thing. I think they were trying to replace humans in all of their their assemblylines for Tesla. Humans are essential. We cannot underestimate the role that humansplay in assembly and manufacturing. I think that's a great message to send.You know, what I'm gathering from you here today cut to kind of wrapthis up, is that you know there's all the technology out there that ismaybe feared by some as a replacement for human labor. Is it's really whenused properly, it's there to make people more effective and more efficient, tokeep them safer. You know, is there anything, any last things you'dsay here to a manufacturing executive about, you know, just the importance ofputting technology alongside workers rather than using it to replace them, and just thatit's technology is beautiful. Robotics are great. Iot Internet of things is absolutely away of the future. Artificial intelligence can be so powerful when implemented theright way. Humans aren't going away, nor is technology, and I thinkthe insightful, innovative executive is going to be the one that can look atboth and put them together in a way that is meaningful for whatever problem they'retrying to solve, so that that balance and the understanding that we need bothis going to be the thing that will set the leading executive apart from therest. Love that well, Tracy. This is a super interesting and valuableconversation. I really love what you're doing a pro glove and the mindset you'rebringing to the industrial sector, especially during a super challenging time in the worldfor for everybody out there. Really can you tell us the best place tofind you online, in case listeners would like to get in touch or learnmore about pro glove and what it might be able to do for them.Sure the best place to find problem is on our website, problemcom. Youcan also find us on Linkedin. We're very active and love having conversations withour our industry peers in on Linkedin, and you can find me on linkedin as well. Tracy hands and beautiful. Well, tracy, thank you somuch for taking the time to join us on the manufacturing executive. Itwas pleasure having you on here. Thanks Joe's delightful great and to the restof you, we hope to see you next time. You've been listening tothe manufacturing executive podcast to ensure that you never missed an episode. Subscribe tothe 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 B Tob Manufacturers at Gorilla Seventy sixcom learnthank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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