The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode · 2 years 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 is technology, and I think the insightful, innovative executive is going to be the one that can look at both and and put them together in a way that is meaningful. Welcome to the manufacturing executive podcast, where we explore the strategies and experiences that are driving midsize 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 cofounder of the Industrial Marketing Agency guerrilla seventy six. So if you've been listening to the first handful of episodes or so of the show, you've probably noticed 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, and one of those angles is technology. So our guests today is at the forefront of 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 maker of wearable digital interfaces and operations analytics for industry. Tracy brings more than two decades of strategic brand building experience at's, start up, scale up and fortune five hundred firms to the role. She's a student of disruptive innovation, championing ideas that stretch boundaries, mobilized teams and deliver business breakthroughs. Tracy, welcome to 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, back in May, I think it was, that covered some ideas about how manufacturers need to pivot as they look at how to emerge from this pandemic at one piece, and since then I've connected with you and your team at pro glove and had a chance to see your thinking behind some of the things that are going on in this industry four point o world we're now living in, and in particular, were caught my attention were some of your thoughts about this misconception that automation can replace Human Labor and the argument I've seen from you, and supported by high profile business figures like Elon Musk and some of the biggest technology companies in the world, including Apple, is that human labor is still very essential and the key is not to replace Human Labor but instead to augment the workforce by equipping humans with technology they need to be more effective and more efficient and safer. So I'm excited to unpack all the stuff with you today and sort of drawing your insights and experience for our listeners. Yeah, wonderful, glad to talk about all of this stuff. Great. Yeah, I know it's your world. So, before we get into the thick of it, though, I was wondered if you could just kind of give us a little bit of a quick background on pro glove and also tell us a bit about your 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 are headquartered in Chicago. So we are four or five year old company. We were founded after our cofounders one that Intel make it wearable contest. It was an idea that they had germinating around how to make people and the assembly line and 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 around your hands, and now I'll show your case, use video. They put it on your hand and very quickly have a scamer that is as light as a 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 these tools all around me into one wearable device...

...that you can put on the back of 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 product on the manufacturing and Supply Cheam Universe. Wow, super interesting and such a unique advancement. I've seen pictures of it. I haven't seen or heard you talk about it yet, though, and think it's that light and it's I mean, it makes a ton of sense. One of my favorite analogies is when you think about scanners and anybody who's assembling anything that has multiple parts is likely scanning and the the supply chain. Everything we touch, each drink where has been scanned multiple times. So scamming is as an integral part of our day 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 with these devices compared to something that waves as much as a matchbox. So not just the orgonomics of it, but the human first, human centered approach to technology is so crucial when we think about things like wearable devices. Yeah, and so what, Tracy? What has sort of led you? What led you to programmer? Can you give a little background and sort of you know how you got to where you are today? Sure. So, in Graduate School I've discovered just in time technology, just in time processes, Joseph Dunning, the whole the whole world, and wrote my thesis on Ice Nine Thousand and 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 moved in manufacturing. I worked at a hardware company called net APP, based out of Silicon Valley for about fifteen years and had a chance to meet a gentleman name Andreas Koonig, who is a real leader and visionary and building business in the and bringing technology to market. So after I left net APP I started to move into the startup space and into scale up businesses. When Andreas called and said that he had discovered pro glove, met the cofounders and thought it was just a phenomenal organization that was poised to really bring something new and innovative to 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 have really 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 relatively new still and it's infancy and you're helping bring it to life. Absolutely brand new. We we started about two years ago here and really hit the ground running about about eighteen months ago, and the last year we've seen explosive growth in North America. Interesting. What's your customer base look like? To start a curiosity would you who are cost? A lot of different factors. So we started in the assembly space, so automotive manufacturing in Germany. Some of our be customers are every major car manufacturer that you can think of. They are likely using the the PROGLOB skinning solution on their assembly line, BMW, Audi, folkswagon, you name it. Then we moved into aviation, so companies like the TONSA. Now we're going deep in the retail space. So e 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, as well 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, you know, in the thick of everything going on with the pandemic, and I'm just kind of curious what you know. How does this fit into the mix and how Yah were able solution that sort of augments the human worker? Obviously healthcare is at the forefront of all that. Just kind of curiously who you talk about that area. So we're in a very interesting time and starting at a new company right as we headed into the Post covid world, or I guess we're still in covid world. Has Been Really Interesting and the challenges that we were talking about as a company in the early part of two thousand and twenty ha of have shifted very dramatically. At the at the beginning of the year we were looking at scale and innovation and deployment of new technology. Now what we're looking at is how can I bring in technology that will speed up my operations, keep my employees safe, help me on board and train new employees quickly and adeptly? How can I use technology to enhance the worker in a 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 in this 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 strayed from that and while it wasn't our intention to have a solution for the environment we're currently in. It naturally fit into this space because our customers are prospects. The people that we talked to day in and day out are really challenged with shifting the business to accommodate new requirements for health and safety for their employees, 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 logistics and the delivery and so forth. As we're looking at our manufacturing and assembly teams, they're they're looking at how can I have saved social distance? How can 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 it with three other employees, is that safer? So our human centered design, our focus on keeping employees safe, has always been a core part of our vision and our culture and that's what people are talking to us about now and that'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 how the 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 to where 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 to implement, it became evident that the human first approach lent itself to the challenges that they were facing. It's so important to our customers and the people that we see in the field to care about their employees, to focus on what will make them efficient, yes, of course, but safe in the environment that they're working in. The second part is is really around speed of adoption and speed of operation. So efficient, absolutely still at crucial but, as so many of us have had to pivot and do something different or or faster than than we had prior that that the idea of complete digital transformation, complete overhaul of operations was put to the side...

...and they wanted to look at what can 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 of use was crucial because speed was paramount and I'm sure, like you, I'm sure like me, you probably experienced a lot of because of Covid, things are delayed, because of Covid, things are slow. That that resulted in a lot of re reimagining of what needed to happen in assembly, in in supply chain, across the board. So it's pretty pervasive. Those two things, speed and and safety, are recurring conversation that we have with almost everybody we speak with. So could you get kind of dangible for listeners here and maybe talk about a few, you know, specific examples where wearable solutions that augment the human worker, you know, can help with either efficiency or safety or, 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 making it wearable with the instead of sharing a handheld gla scanner. Right, so every 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 is unsafe, and then the time it would take to clean everything between every single scan 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 now less room for contamination, less less likely to unintentionally share some a germ that I know want to with a with a coworker because it's mine and it's it's on me. Then the second thing that I would say is from a wearable safety standpoint, we introduced in our own floor, where Manufacturing Company and Assembly company as well. We create the devices on our own premises. We needed a mechanism to allow our assembly team to know when they were too close to somebody, so we created and innovative a proximity sensor. So I have the wearable device and, through our mechanisms of communication, can either through optics, through site, through audio or through haptic so, feeling, let somebody know if they're too close to another coworker. We rolled it out on our floor and then we realized our customers might eat it too, so we made it free and available to all of our customers. They could download it right from our website at no additional charge, and then we extended that out to anybody who wanted to download our PG connect, our progo connect solution, who maybe didn'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 could keep their employee safe. So that's the second thing. And then the third thing around speeding things up. And how does wearable speed things up? We introduce marked display which has on the back of your hands and eat ink reader that allows you to as a wearer of our device, to see instantly what you need to do next, what's the job to get done, so I don't have to go back to a terminal somewhere on the picking floor or go back to an office to get a print out to know what the next job to get done. Is Saving vitals minutes and sometimes seconds every time I'm doing the job on the the shop floor. So those are just three examples of how 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 are you 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, we have it in integrated into our daily lives. So if you bring that to the shop floor, you bring it to the manufacturing plant and you start to realize that that wearable technology, when used in combination together, can create such affected streamline processes. You can start to envision having a human digital twin that that 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 the visual I like to use is when I have a truck come into to my plant 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 is helping me, as the worker, know where to put the Palette, where to put the box and then, as the peer comes, where to take the box to how to assemble and all of the wearable technology that I have on is feeding real time in Fort Nation, giving me haptic feedback on if I'm going in the right direction or picking up the right box. It gives me 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 a worker standpoint it's much more efficient. It's less less stress and trying to figure things out. From an operations manager perspective, it gives me the intelligence I need to know how to improve my production line, how to improve my operations, how to keep my workers, again, very healthy and safe, remove obstacles that get in their way or eliminate challenges that are placed in front of them that are are unnecessary obstacles. As a executive looking to figure out what to do next, I'm really hone in on the human and understanding what are the steps the human needs to take next to be more effective, to be more efficient. Years ago, years ago, I read a book called the mythical man month. Are you familiar with it? I'm not known. It's a book by friend Fred Brooks, and it is this whole concept around adding more people to a some people think, Oh, if I have a software project and I need to deliver against I can add more people and that software project 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 move faster. My kind of feel like we need to have a simple, mythical man month concept, the mythical automation month, if you will, because really, at the end of the day, it's the human in our ability to respond and to think and to move the the product forward, that creates the momentum and efficiency. And when you think about automation and bringing automation into the assembly line, the manufacturing floor, the supply chain, you sometimes displace the efficiency because the thinking is automation is going to solve all the problems. But really automation can create more challenges, different challenges. So our thinking is let's focus on the human, let's focus on what the processes are that they do and use wearable technology to move the needle faster. And that's what I think executives need to really hone in on, is using the assets they have and enriching that experience versus displacing those assets with...

...things that will just introduce an entirely different set of complexity and challenges that might result in that mythical man month that that doesn't yield the results are looking for. Yeah, I love that. So many things related to automation, I imagine, sound perfect in theory and then 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 a lot of sense. You know. It's a good sort of segue into the next, next few questions I have here. You know, it's one thing to augment a worker in another to attempt to fully automate or attempt to fully automated process and and my understanding from what I've seen from you is that a lot of companies tend to run into these obstacles. And so what is excessive automation look like from your perspective and how can executives avoided? Each each business is different, right, so some where, some companies need automation and it could be excessive for different business so I think we need to look at these in unique uniquely, if I were to say, Hey, I have an opportunity to go in and fully automate the entire environment and there will be no humans involved. I think that would give you great pause because even automation requires humanity technicians, you need process engineers, you need a different and tire different skills set. Certainly when you have automation, it's just different. So when I think about what's excessive, I think if it's totally rotating over to we're going to automate everything, where I've seen successes. Now had an opportunity to go to a number of different warehouses and assembly of floors now and I've seen the balance of automation. Where automation makes sense, we're using systems in robotics to move the process forward. Makes Sense. Is heartnered with where to humans make sense? Where is critical thinking required? Where is more dexterity required? Those two things, when balanced out, create an incredibly efficient and elegant solution. So my recommendation for executives would be to find the balance. Anytime you say all or a hundred percent or everything, you're probably leaning towards excessive. If you're looking at collaborative automation and human collaboration, you're probably on the right path. That's a good answer and I read an interesting article the other day about apples manufacturing. Process. And here you have the most profitable technology company in 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 I gathered from the article, and it's it's led them to turn back to human labor time and time again. And so what do you think that failed attempts from even the biggest companies in the world like apple can teach manufacturing executives about efficiencies, automation, the role of Human Labor, etc. Yeah, the the article you're referring to is really insightful and they've been trying the effer close to a decade. I think they started in like two thousand and twelve with their partner in China to bring automation to life and they they were going to replace all the human workers with a million robots. What I love about that example and I think we can learn from is the that it's okay to fail right. It's absolutely okay to fail and to attempt different ways to bring automation to life. It's okay to experiment and and I encourage it. I think it'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 from the apple example and from others I've seen is bringing humans in to the design stage, 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, as there's realizing humans aren't going away. Humans are part of the solution. How can we bring humans together with technology to create a solution that is efficient and effective? So I think the apple example is perfect. I think their experimentation has 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 assembly lines for Tesla. Humans are essential. We cannot underestimate the role that humans play 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 wrap this up, is that you know there's all the technology out there that is maybe feared by some as a replacement for human labor. Is it's really when used properly, it's there to make people more effective and more efficient, to keep them safer. You know, is there anything, any last things you'd say here to a manufacturing executive about, you know, just the importance of putting technology alongside workers rather than using it to replace them, and just that it's technology is beautiful. Robotics are great. Iot Internet of things is absolutely a way of the future. Artificial intelligence can be so powerful when implemented the right way. Humans aren't going away, nor is technology, and I think the insightful, innovative executive is going to be the one that can look at both and put them together in a way that is meaningful for whatever problem they're trying to solve, so that that balance and the understanding that we need both is going to be the thing that will set the leading executive apart from the rest. Love that well, Tracy. This is a super interesting and valuable conversation. I really love what you're doing a pro glove and the mindset you're bringing to the industrial sector, especially during a super challenging time in the world for for everybody out there. Really can you tell us the best place to find you online, in case listeners would like to get in touch or learn more 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. You can also find us on Linkedin. We're very active and love having conversations with our our industry peers in on Linkedin, and you can find me on linked in as well. Tracy hands and beautiful. Well, tracy, thank you so much for taking the time to join us on the manufacturing executive. It was pleasure having you on here. Thanks Joe's delightful great and to the rest of you, we hope to see you next time. You've been listening to the manufacturing executive podcast to ensure that you never missed 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 B Tob Manufacturers at Gorilla Seventy sixcom learn thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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