Robots and AI Spell Change Not Replacement for Workers

Robots and AI Spell Change Not Replacement for Workers

Here, finally, is someone who writes sensibly about automation. Dystopian writers about a robot apocalypse get lots of clicks and attention, but reality will be far different.

Elliot Dinkin, president and CEO of Cowden Associates: What automation appears to have in store for the job market is not massive downsizing, but changes in job description and reallocation of some repetitive chores.

I don’t know how I got on the mailing list of this PR firm, but the following article is worth it.

In late 2017, the McKinsey Global Institute released a report estimating that the relentless march of automation could eliminate up to 73 million jobs in the U.S. by 2030. “Automation is certainly a factor in the future of the workforce,” says Elliot Dinkin, a nationally known expert in actuarial, compensation, and employee benefits issues. “There are indications, however that its effect on downsizing may be less than what has been predicted. The largest corporate layoffs of this century to date, for example, seem primarily to have been caused not by advanced technology, but by market changes, mergers, and plain old bad business decisions.”

This assessment was echoed by participants in a recent conference on the future of the worker held at the Stanford School of Business. In 1950, the U.S. Census Bureau listed 250 separate jobs; of these, the conference noted, only one, that being elevator operator, has been completely eliminated. (And some of the elevator operator’s tasks, like greeting visitors and guiding them to the right office, have been redistributed to receptionists and security guards.) Conferees also pointed out that automation has its limits. Elon Musk, founder and chief executive of Tesla Motors, said, “Excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated.”

One reason automation and computerization may loom so large in near-future predictions, industry experts suggest, is the spectacular increase in availability, and decrease in cost, of computer power. Given the capabilities of even an average smartphone, it is easy to forget that the underlying procedures—the algorithms that drive functions like big data and machine learning—have not changed significantly in more than 40 years.

It is also, Dinkin notes, easy to forget that under the right circumstances, automation facilitates business growth and thus stimulates employment rather than threatening it. The Ford Motor Company introduced the auto assembly line in 1913, reducing assembly time from 12 hours per car to about one and one-half hours—and enabling an enormous upsurge in production.5 Since then, the auto industry has continued to embrace automation, along with job-changing concepts like lean manufacturing. It has also continued to hire people; between 2011 and 2017, auto making and auto supplies employment increased by almost 50%, adding nearly 130,000 jobs in the U.S.

Another too often overlooked aspect of the future labor market, says Dinkin, is worker availability. Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, points out that while most popular discussions of technology center around replacing people with machines, current demographic trends point to a coming substantial drop in the supply of labor. According to Varian, the demographic effect on the labor market is 53% larger than the automation effect—meaning that when both are considered, both employment and real wages are more likely to increase than decrease.

“In the future as in the past,” says Dinkin, “workforce reductions will always be a possibility. In the future as in the past, automation will play a role in these decisions—but only as one of a number of factors, all of which need to be taken into account. What matters is to understand the situation, and to handle it in a manner fair to all parties. In our own business practice, we urge both labor representatives and corporate management to approach workforce decisions with as little passion and as much analysis as possible.”

Cowden Associates, Inc., headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA, was created in 2001 by the merger of Halliwell and Associates and MMC&P Spectrum Benefits, which was founded by Jere Cowden in 1986. Currently led by President & CEO Elliot Dinkin, Cowden Associates specializes in helping corporate clients find the best solutions, both for the enterprise and for its employees, with regard to compensation, healthcare benefits, retirement and pension issues, and Taft-Hartley fund consulting. Winning Workplaces and The Wall Street Journal have recognized Cowden Associates as a “Top Small Workplace,” a lifetime designation awarded to executives for their ability to build and lead savvy organizations. For more information, visit www.cowdenassociates.com

Sources:
McCarthy, Niall, “Automation Could Eliminate 73 Million U.S. Jobs By 2030,” Forbes, November 30, 2017.
Whiteman, Doug, “The Biggest Corporate Layoffs of the Century (So Far),” Moneywise, February 11, 2019.
Snyder, Bill, “Our Misplaced Fear of Job-Stealing Robots,” Stanford Business Insights, March 7, 2019.
Kosko, Bart, “What Do You Think About Machines That Think?,” Edge Foundation, 2019.
Boisset, Fabrice, “The History of Industrial Automation in Manufacturing,” kingstar.com, May 9, 2018.
“State of the U.S. Automotive Industry,” American Automotive Policy Council, August 2018.
“Productivity, Technology, and Demographics,” International Monetary Fund IMF Blog, May 5, 2017.

Revitalizing Manufacturing in Detroit

Revitalizing Manufacturing in Detroit

There are few things I find as exciting as exploring revitalizing manufacturing or production facility. When people and technology come together to make useful products in a clean and safe manner is art to me.

Therefore, I was happy that my Siemens contacts talked me into driving up to Detroit earlier than I planned to tour the Ford Livonia Transmission plant on March 19. I planned to come up for the noon tour at FlexNGate, but the changed plans worked wonderfully.

Ford Powertrain was a customer of mine in the 80s when I worked for a company that designed and built automated machines and then through the 90s when I was a sales engineer solving problems and selling automation and electrical equipment. So, I witnessed the beginnings of the evolution of these manufacturing plants from dark, dirty, smelly, oily, dangerous, loud environments to today’s clean, efficient, professional facilities.

Ford Livonia Transmission Plant

Mike Bastian, Advanced Engineering Manager Ford Powertrain, explained Ford’s journey from 2000 to present to increase use of digital in manufacturing—The Digital Manufacturing Strategy. He told me that since beginning the present system journey in 2008, they were doing IIoT before there was an IIoT.

Ford Livonia Tranmissions

Bob Groden, plant manager, described the journey that began with removing several obsolete lines, gutting the facility, painting and cleaning, and preparing for additional transmission assembly lines. This plant is huge. And he walks it three times a day greeting people and asking how things are going. As he told me, “I get my steps in.”

The three themes include people working together, safety, and quality. An important note: The plant continuously added people over the rebuild time all the while increasing automation. three themes; added people continuously all the while automating the plant. Groden and UAW Local President Keith Miller talk to every new employee class and then follow up with each later on the line.

Jon Guske, manufacturing engineering manager-feasibility, described a system the team built beyond the computer-aided engineering system—discrete event throughput simulation. It can connect to VR to help OEMs understand the process and product before beginning machine design. It even models chip removal in machining processes to improve manufacturing process.

  • Following are pieces of the Digital Manufacturing Strategy as bullet points:
  • Standard Hardware Architecture
  • IP65–removed all the large enclosures in the plant (aside, using Siemens because it could do it; one company went to management and flat out told them that Bastian was wrong, management said don’t ever say he’s wrong; another company gets to the spec via a work-around he didn’t like)
  • Common PLC/CNC
  • Common configuration and programming software
  • Integrated safety
  • Virtual commissioning
  • Obsolescence management (upgrade path)

Network Standard

Ethernet, specifically Profinet—called Control Production Network

  • Software Standard—Ford Automation Software Template
  • Standard function blocks
  • Standard HMI Screens
  • Standard linkages
  • OEMs are trained and must adhere
  • Lean Manufacturing Assistant
  • Process Configuration Management System
  • Condition Monitoring
  • Part Tracking System, extensive use of RFID

I had an opportunity during the tour to talk with Scott King, IT Lead, Advanced Manufacturing Powertrain, Solutions Development. I asked about the mythic IT/OT split and convergence. He basically said, “What split?” He sits with engineering advanced manufacturing lead and they discuss projects and problems daily. Plant projects teams include these roles—IT Solutions, Engineering, Product Lead, Operations. They’ve been working together for six years.

FlexNGate

FlexNGate is a Tier One supplier of stamped metal and injection molded plastic parts. The company has $6.5 B sales, 70 plants, and presence in many countries. It just built a 454,000 sq. ft. plant in burned-out Detroit neighborhood manufacturing parts for Ford Ranger. It is the largest investment in the city of Detroit in 20 years.

There were a couple of determining factors in the plant location. Ford wanted supplier to be local. The city wanted plants to locate in distressed areas that would also hire locally to provide jobs and hope to the area. They pledged 250 jobs, have 350 full time and 250 temporary and the plant is just a year old and still stabilizing processes after the significant production ramp up.

They run the new hires through training from such things as showing up on time every day, following work instructions, safety, and quality.

Two impressive facilities in one day. That’s a pretty good day.

Collaborative Robot Advances in the News

Collaborative Robot Advances in the News

The trade shows are piling up one atop the other, and I’ve decided that I can’t possibly make them all. So, I’m going on vacation for the first time in a while. I missed ATX in February (same time as ARC). I will miss Hannover next week and Automate the week after.

However, Universal Robots has supplied me with news from ATX and then in two weeks at Automate. The collaborative robot, or cobot, is cool. The genre is dinged for being slow, but many other capabilities and features make up for that. Check out these news items.

Universal Robots and VersaBuilt to launch new direct interface for cobots and CNC machines

Manufacturers struggling to get CNC machines to communicate directly with their collaborative robot now have a solution: VersaBuilt’s CNC Communication URCap is a simple yet powerful interface for machine tending applications with Universal Robots. URCap allows a UR cobot to easily execute any machining program stored on the CNC directly through the cobot’s own teach pendant. Initially launching for Haas CNC machines, VersaBuilt will develop UR interfaces for other popular CNC makes later this year.

The Haas CNC Communication URCap will soon be available through the UR+ platform, a showroom of products all certified to integrate seamlessly with UR cobots. The URCap maintains all Haas safety interlock features and works with Haas, VersaBuilt, and other third-party automatic door openers.

“VersaBuilt is excited to partner with Universal Robots to provide machine shops with automation solutions designed for high mix CNC manufacturers,” says Albert Youngwerth, CEO of VersaBuilt Robotics, a company helping machine shops automate thousands of part numbers of all shapes and sizes in turning and milling applications.

VersaBuilt’s patented MultiGrip workholding system will soon be available through the UR+ platform. MultiGrip includes an automatic vise, machinable jaws and an end-of-arm tool for the UR robot. MultiGrip was developed to address the frustration experienced when working with traditional robot grippers and CNC vises.

Regional Sales Director for Universal Robots’ Americas Division, Stuart Shepherd, emphasizes the importance of better integration tools for cobots and CNCs. “CNC machine tending is one of the most popular tasks to automate with collaborative robots,” he says. “But there’s still hurdles to overcome in achieving seamless integration. VersaBuilt’s two new products are important tools in addressing this. We’re excited to welcome them to the UR ecosystem and share their solutions with the ATX audience.”

Visumatic’s showcases cobot-controlled screw driving

Joining VersaBuilt in the UR+ pipeline is Visumatic’s VCM-3X.2 Collaborative Screw Driving Package delivering repeatable joining operations handled directly through the UR cobot’s teach pendant. The system communicates to a screw driver control that handles a wide range of different screw driving feeds and routines. The VCM is bundled with pre-programmed fault recovery logic and Visumatic’s field-proven power bit advance, bit position sensors and fastener delivery confirmation.

XPAK ROBOX – first solution for random case erecting

The XPAK ROBOX box erector, powered by a UR10e cobot arm allows packagers to randomly erect any box in their suite on-demand without changeover. The collaborative design not only enables the operator to safely and intuitively interface with the machine, ROBOX also realizes approximately 60% reduction in terms of the footprint required for a similar machine using more conventional robotic technology requiring fencing.

Solutions for Fast-Growing Applications in Industries Facing Labor Shortages

When U.S. manufacturers were asked to describe their primary business challenge, it wasn’t the increase of raw materials cost, trade uncertainties, or rising health insurance expenses that topped their lists. Close to 70 percent of manufacturers in the National Association of Manufacturers’ 2018 fourth-quarter outlook survey responded that attracting and retaining a quality workforce was their number one concern while the Society of Manufacturing Engineers reported that 89 percent of manufacturers have difficulty finding workers.

The labor shortage is especially prevalent in jobs with many repetitive and ergonomically unfavorable tasks. “These are jobs that we like to refer to as the ‘3D jobs’ – the Dirty, the Dull and the Dangerous,” says Stuart Shepherd, Regional Sales Director of Universal Robots’ Americas Region. “Collaborative robots are now increasingly handling these types of tasks in manufacturing settings. Our booth at Automate will showcase how we work with our rapidly expanding partner network to develop solutions tailored to address the industries and applications hardest hit by labor shortages.”

Universal Robots’ booth #7154 at Automate 2019, the largest automation solutions event in North America held in Chicago April 8-11, features four different application clusters for machine tending, packaging, assembly and processing.

UR+ is a platform that connects UR cobot users to an ecosystem of partners providing UR-certified, ready-to-use cobot accessories such as grippers, vision systems and software. Debuting in the packaging application area as UR+ products are Dorner’s 2200 Series Conveyor and SKF Motion Technologies’ LIFTKIT.

The Dorner conveyors are designed to be the infeed and discharge to Universal Robots and feature the first plug-and-play conveyor-tracking solution for collaborative robots.

The LIFTKIT is a vertical positioning system, adding a 7th axis to the UR10e cobot that will be palletizing with the Schmalz FXB vacuum gripper. The liftkit comes ready to install including a telescopic pillar, controller, and UR+ software plugin.

Dispelling cobot myths The screw-driving applications cover the full range of UR cobot capabilities, from the UR3e table-top cobot assembling PCB boards, UR5e cobots equipped with Robotiq’s 2F-140 grippers performing screw insertion in electrical cabinets, to the UR10e utilizing an Atlas Copco Nutrunner to install bolts into a six-cylinder engine block provided by an active UR customer.

Another myth UR is seeking to dispel is the notion that cobots are not suited for processing applications such as spraying, polishing, dispensing, and sanding. A recent example is Dynabrade’s robotic sanders that come in a UR+ kit including vacuum-ready pneumatic sanders, robot mount, and a solenoid enabling robotic operation.

186 Women In Engineering Careers – a Podcast Conversation

186 Women In Engineering Careers – a Podcast Conversation

As march into Women’s History Month, I welcome Isabel Yang, CTO at Advanced Energy Industries. As a minority woman in a C suite position at a publicly traded manufacturing company, Isabel has a plethora of unique insight on her path to success as well as advice for all women looking to spearhead their careers.

Yang says, “I believe women need to shape their own destiny in their careers and lives. Now more than ever, we must work to establish a set of core skills early in our careers and gradually grow ourselves into experts, then progressively branch out to learn about adjacent areas or new areas to acquire new skills.”

Encouraging Women To Pursue Technical Work

Encouraging Women To Pursue Technical Work

I meant to post this Friday on the actual International Women’s Day, but since it is not an actual anniversary day, I guess missing by the weekend is OK.

Back in the 60s in my freshman engineering class, there were 700 total students. Seven were women. Plus, almost all the faces were white.

Today when I go to a technical conference the proportion of women is large. Perhaps 40% or so. And the cultural mix is similarly large. In many ways we have progressed. In other ways, there are still people, processes, and systems that prevent many people, especially women, from pursuing a technical career.

Several media relations people reached out to propose interviews with women in technology in order to tease out their career path as an example to others. Now, the junior and senior high girls who would be the target do not read this blog. I know, that is shocking! However, you are reading, and you could be encouraged to pass the thoughts along to those who might benefit from encouragement.

One such interview was with Isabel Yang, CTO at Advanced Energy Industries She is both (as described by the PR person) woman and minority, an MIT PhD in engineering, who now holds a C-suite position at a publicly traded manufacturing company. We actually recorded the conversation which will appear as Episode 186 on my long-running podcast series Gary on Manufacturing.

She told me, “I believe women need to shape their own destiny in their careers and lives. Now more than ever, we must work to establish a set of core skills early in our careers and gradually grow ourselves into experts, then progressively branch out to learn about adjacent areas or new areas to acquire new skills.” She lived this out as an engineer honing one expertise, then as a business strategy analyst, then finally putting it all together as chief technology officer.

Last week I attended the ABB Customer World conference in Houston. Here, my media contact set up an interview with Susan Peterson Sturm, Digital Lead for Oil & Gas at ABB, and a cybersecurity expert.

She told me that people may not get a degree in cyber security. What happens is perhaps a woman earns a technical degree. As she becomes involved on an engineering team, she sees problems involving cyber security. Perhaps she becomes curious and dives deeper into the field. She reads articles and books, goes to conferences, makes contacts in the field. Then she becomes recognized in the field and earns an assignment. At this point (if not before), she learns that just being technical isn’t enough. She must learn how to influence people. Her effectiveness rises. It’s a virtuous cycle.

Empowering Frontline Workforce

Empowering Frontline Workforce

My thesis holds that the proper development and deployment of technology empowers workers to better perform their tasks. The keywords from my interview with Webalo at the ARC Industry Forum in Orlando were “empower” and “tool”.

The conversations centered on the company’s launch of Webalo 5.0, the latest version of its no-code, frontline workforce app generation platform. Its User First approach automatically generates and personalizes apps from enterprise data sources, such those from IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP as well as industrial data sources such as AVEVA, GE, Rockwell, and Siemens.

Webalo enables frontline workers through real-time access to actionable analytics, alerts, and notifications, as well as desktop and native mobile bi-directional interaction through intelligently managed workflows.

“Though the overwhelming majority of companies understand that frontline worker autonomy would boost their competitiveness, less than 30% of companies have been able to launch frontline workforce digital transformation projects because of the time, cost and complexity of traditional software development approaches,”said Webalo CEO Peter Price. “Webalo 5.0 automates the digital transformation of the frontline workforce at a fraction of the time, cost and effort of these traditional approaches, providing frontline workerswithreal-time, actionable,personalizedvisibility into their daily tasks and activities.”

Webalo 5.0’s specific features include:

  • Tighter integration with industrial data sources such as Historian databases and Manufacturing Execution Systems(MES).
  • Powerful “Connect & Deploy”–a no-code app delivery capabilitythat providesend users with the ability to easily generate new applications in an ad hoc, drag and drop manner, directly from their Webalo Desktop Client.
  • Actionable visualizations are now defined at the individual user level, providing frontline workers with the flexibility to create their own custom views of apps and share them with their co-workers.
  • Enhanced workflow management empowersfrontline workers in a more intelligent way,with multiple visualizations of the same task using different parameters.
  • Automatically-generated tasks and actionable visualizations to operate over MES asset hierarchies and Historian tags that makes the data more actionable and visible to all stakeholders.
  • Contextualized dashboards that provide embedded asset hierarchy, selectable timeframes and custom user inputs.
  • User-managed editors to create and modify trend charts,with out-of-the-box Historian services, allowing frontline workers to modify the way they request and display Historian tag values by selecting a Historian sampling mode from a drop-down menu, and then configuring the options that appear for that node.
  • PDF report generation providing a new way of sharing data interactively with co-workers.Webalo 5.0 is now available.