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How Using Automation Increases Retention with Will Healy III
Episode 521st November 2021 • The Manufacturers' Network • Lisa Ryan
00:00:00 00:27:53

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Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturers' Network Podcast. I'm here today with Will Healy, III. Will is enthusiastic about manufacturing technology and workforce development. A Purdue University mechanical engineer who loves to share his passion for automation, Will is a leader with Baluff Worldwide and the Advanced Manufacturing Industry Partnership or AMIP. He speaks from personal experience about the industrial revolution, managing culture change, and organizations bridging the manufacturing skills gap and creating value through automation.

Be sure to follow Will on YouTube, Twitter, and Reddit with a handle #willautomate. Will, welcome to the show.

Will Healy III: So glad to be here. Thank you for having me, Lisa.

Lisa Ryan: Absolutely. Would you please share with us a bit of your background? One of the things, because people can't see you on this podcast, but you are a younger generation coming into manufacturing, so tell us a bit of your background and again as a younger person than what we're used to seeing in manufacturing how your path led here.

Will Healy III: I'm right on the border of gen X and millennials, so I have some gen X tendencies, but I have plenty of millennial tendencies like I'm looking at my phone right now. I went to military school when I was a kid and learned a lot about discipline. I was good at physics and math and chemistry in high school, and so people said, well, you should be an engineer. I didn't know any better, so I went to mechanical engineering school.

I will say about mechanical engineering school is you don't want me to design anything, and the second thing is they make minimum requirements for a reason. So, Lisa, do you know what they call someone in engineering school who gets the minimum requirements?

Lisa Ryan: I have no idea.

Will Healy III: They call them an engineer. You get an engineering degree. You just met the minimum requirements. I have a mechanical engineering degree and but I was a people person all through school. I was building groups around me and studying those kinds of things, so I knew I didn't want to design and started technical sales. So I started looking into technical sales as an option, and I think many students don't even know that that's a thing. They believe they have to be a design engineer if they go to engineering school. There are so many career paths that have nothing to do with designing. You still need to understand the technical background. 

So I went into technical sales with Baluff. I spent many years doing industries like welding and stamping, food and beverage. I've worked in the wind industry - all working on automation and how we use technology, and we use automation to improve the output of our factories and improve the lives of our workers. I spent the last 15-16 years doing automation with Baluff in a variety of roles. I have been in product management, and now I know I do marketing strategy and work on where the company should be going and what we should discuss.

Lisa Ryan: I know that you are active on YouTube, Twitter, Reddit - all of that. That's one of the things to kind of change the conversation when it comes to introducing people to manufacturing - letting people know what's out there, what kind of career paths are there. What are some of the things you're sharing, and where are you getting the most responses or questions? How's your social media journey been?

Will Healy III: I loved LinkedIn from the beginning. I thought it was a neat place to connect with people, and I call it my digital Rolodex, so getting a business card now is a reminder to find someone on LinkedIn. But I see it as such a powerful tool to connect with people uniquely. I've had a lot of success with LinkedIn, but I've also had a lot of success in person. So we can talk about the skills gap and hiring and everything that everyone's talking about, but these things are solved locally. 

You announced AMIP in my bio. This is a local industry sector partnership. That means we are manufacturers, working with local tech schools, working with local institutions, working with local nonprofits, working with second chance citizens like people coming out of prison, and working with legal immigrants coming into the country looking for work. So we're pairing manufacturers with tech schools and universities and these not-for-profit organizations to create genuine connections and solutions to the skills gap problem. For me, social media is amazing, and I've made lots of connections through that.

But what's been most worth my time investing is in the local community. I was one of the first proponents of Manufacturing Day. Many years ago, I made Baluff have a Manufacturing Day event. We were the only company in Cincinnati in that first year doing a Manufacturing Day event. We've done it for many years. We didn't do it this year and last year because of coronavirus, but we did virtual tours. Engaging with the community, real people, and real organizations has had the most value and has had the most impact. People contact me still like, hey, I went on a tour five years ago, and now I'm in school, to be in manufacturing. Those kinds of things are just amazing.

Lisa Ryan: That's such a good point because we can often use social media and all the other ways that we connect. But social media by itself is a little bit taking the lazy way out. If you're looking for people, you can post stuff on social media all day long. But until your company gets involved with local tech schools, guidance counselors, and people who can make those relationships, everybody's competing for the same people.

But suppose they have a relationship with you, with Baluff. In that case, they're more likely to come to work with you and to stay with you because they've done your tour. They know who you are, and they've already built a relationship. So the personal connection is a massive part of that as well.

Will Healy III: You're not the only manufacturer in your community struggling to hire people. You may see them as competitors, but working together to get a program started at the local tech school, you both need machinists. Still, the local tech school doesn't know machines. So the program works together with other manufacturers, talks about common problems, and then engages with organizations around you that want to provide that support. I had an Aha moment about two two and a half years ago that they're not my competitors. They're my colleagues. We have to work together to solve this. It's much too big a problem for me to solve. 

Lisa Ryan: Going back to those trade and technical schools where you can get together with your "competitors" to see what skills we need for machinists coming in. What kind of curriculum do you need? I work with a lot of workforce development departments of JVS's and community colleges. They will design a program for you. So you can have ready-made students coming out. It's just it's paying attention and some time investment. As you know, you're not just competing with other manufacturers now; you're competing with Amazon. You're competing with every other big-box distribution center that's coming in who's looking for the same people.

Will Healy III: Really, the only market that has a bigger labor problem than manufacturing is the retail, hospitality, and food service space. They're struggling for workers as bad as we are, so we have to provide an experience. Then we have to engage at a different level if we want to have the workers we want, so we're going to have the highest quality workers.

Lisa Ryan: Providing an environment where it's just fantastic to work. If you have people from another setting, we pretty much know what a waiter or waitress does at a restaurant. The job is fast-paced, so if those people are looking for the next step in their career, and they come into your manufacturing company, and it's all equipment from the 70s, and there isn't a robot or automation to be found, you're going to be like I can't do this.

What are some of the things you're seeing with technology and how it's impacting the strategy? Not only for attracting employees, but retaining the ones that you have?

Will Healy III: The biggest thing is your technology strategy is impacting your HR strategy. That's the heart of the question to me. If you want to hire and retain and attract the best workers, you have to be investing in your company. You have to show them that you care about the company and that you're investing in technology.

How are you investing in the workers? How are you investing in technology to make the workers' lives better? How are you making a lot of workers' life safer? How are you making the workers' lives easier to do the jobs? How are you having them do more - using their brains instead of their brawn. 

I like to talk about discovering your technology strategy and how it is positively or negatively impacting the HR strategy. For example, some ideas are faster onboarding. For example, if you have a position that's churning all the time, why is it churning? It's not because you have bad workers. If you have a good job, they're gonna want that job. So if you're having a lot of churn, you may have bad training. We need to work on the training. Do we have a bad process? When you work on the process, it helps us invest in and make that job better. Let's make it less dull, less dirty, less dangerous. Let's make it a job that will work or wants to do so. We have a place where we have a lot of churn. We have to look at ourselves, not at the workers. We're fine, but we're not finding the right workers.

Do you have the right job is a question we have to look at. Do we have the right technology to support the job? If it's training, I've seen some awesome things like augmented reality. I know that sounds crazy, but real people are implementing this real right now. I've seen some great applications of glasses, where the work instructions are projected right at the person's eye so they can see a video of the steps while they're working. I was at a trade show where I put on one of these glasses and put together an assembly I'd never done before with 20 seconds of training on how the headset works. After that, I was able to do an assembly.

Other companies use projection so they can predict what happens on the workbench. For example, they show videos on where the parts go and how the parts assemble. While you're working, they're turning on and off the cameras and ensuring you're doing all the proper steps. Someone can walk into the work cell and do the task even if they've never done it before. There are onboarding technologies where automation is guiding the technology and making it easier to onboard people. It adds flexibility. If suddenly, you need to create a new product and you're going to go and spend weeks training the operator on changing all the fixtures, and you have a new program for it or a new display for the headset, the operator can do the new assembly. So it gives you more flexibility when you involve technology in the processes.

Lisa Ryan: You're also coming in from a gamification standpoint. You have so many kids coming in who are playing video games, and they're used to having that for entertainment purposes. So if you could bring that level of entertainment to show them how to do their job and that's implemented, number one will make training them a lot easier because they're used to playing their video games. But it's also a super cool way to learn something new that will make them money and give them a career.

Will Healy III: Whenever we can invest in technology to make it more engaging for the worker, we're using our brains, making it more interesting and less repetitive. Those are good opportunities. How do we make the work easier for people? I've seen exoskeletons - that sounds crazy and like science fiction - but I'm not talking about Avatar battling robots. I'm talking about assisted lifting. If someone's job is lifting stuff all day, every day, or their job is to use a drill above their head every day. There are exoskeletons that they can wear so that it isn't holding up the way to their arms all day the arm. The tool is holding their arms, so they're able to do the job better. 

You have better outcomes. You don't have as many workman's comp claims that come from repetitive injuries. There are so many different technology options to make the work-life of that worker better. Think about if you're lifting all day you get home. You're going to be cranky and tired. Your family's going to get tired of you yelling at them, and you're not going to want to do anything at home or exercise or anything. But if you've got technology assisting you with your work, your work is better, and your home life is better because you're way less exhausted at the end of the day. Investments like that are what attract people. This is how technology choices impact our HR strategy, our hiring, retention, and attraction.

Lisa Ryan: Looking at it from a cost standpoint. I'm sure that people who are listening to this podcast are thinking, "exoskeletons, do you know how crazy expensive those things are?" Number one, they're probably not nearly as expensive as you think. But number two, if you look at the cost of one worker's comp claim, look at the expense of turnover of that one employee because he's not happy at work, then he goes home, and he's miserable at home. So we look at that employee holistically - not only the person who shows up at the plant every day, but who that person is for the rest of their life. So you can make that a little bit easier for employees to know that, hey, this is an employer that cares about me and is investing in me to make my life my job a little bit easier. Then you're going to retain them.

The other thing that we talked about before the show is getting extended career life out of our baby boomers. We know that the silver tsunami is happening - it was happening before the pandemic, and now you just had 19 months of people at home playing with their grandkids, and they're thinking, I don't want to work anymore. So what are some of the ways that you can use automation as a retention tool?

Will Healy III: Definitely. We think about boomers. Most of the boomers I know still want to work. They don't want to retire, maybe there are some, but they're tired. Or they want to quit because there are a lot of physical demands in the job they have. When we look at the physical demands, how can we use automation to eliminate the physical demands but keep the mental parts. They have so much knowledge. These are people, maybe who have been at their company for 25 years. How do we keep that tribal knowledge in our company for a few more years?

How can we get rid of the negative parts of the job, like the physical demands that they can't do anymore? Things like collaborative robots - or cobots. One of the most extensive applications for cobots is machine tending. That means the loading and unloading of the machine. Someone still has to put that in that CNC machine. What is the program or what is the project we're working on? Someone still has to put that in there. But the robot does the loading and unloading - the terrible part, the heavy part, the dirty part of the job.

We're solving not only our skills gap problem, but I also can't find any machinists. You keep that machine guy around, but instead of him just running one machine, they can be running three or four or five machines. The robots are doing the tending, and they're just doing the setup and the changeover.

They're more valuable to you because now not they're not just making one part. They're making five parts. They're making you more productive. They're making you more money. So you invest in technology, and it makes the work more valuable to you.

Lisa Ryan: So, when you say cobots or collaborative robots, please explain what you mean by that if somebody listening has never heard of a cobot.

Will Healy III: A collaborative robot is a little bit different. This is a six-axis robot - the one that looks like a big arm is what I'm talking about. It looks like an arm mounted on a pedestal. The reason it's called a six-axis because there are six degrees of motion, but that doesn't matter. It looks like a big arm. Typically, a traditional robot has to be inside a cage because it's hazardous, strong, and fast-moving. Recent developments have allowed what's called collaborative robots. They operate a little bit differently. They usually have less payload. They move slower, but they allow humans to work very closely and interactively with them, so there's still safety.

Lisa Ryan: It allows for much closer robot and human collaboration.

Will Healy III: This reduces the idle time of the human and the robot's idle time by allowing both of them to work together in this way. So, a cobot is nothing more than a six-axis robot that can work closely with people. It allows people to be more efficient and effective and the robot honestly to be more efficient and effective.

Lisa Ryan: If somebody was thinking about adding automation, maybe they have an older plant, and they're starting to think about adding that, or they have some automation they wanted to take to the next step, what is a good place to start? How should you determine what kind of automation you're bringing into your facility?

Will Healy III: If you have older equipment and no automation, you probably should go and rent a bulldozer and bulldoze the whole factory. No, that's not realistic. It would be great to buy all brand new automated IoT smart factories. Let me think of twelve more buzzwords. It'd be great to buy all those, but it would be great, but that's not realistic for the vast majority of small to mid-sized manufacturers. That's not a realistic expectation. It's not a realistic expectation for large manufacturers either. What we can do is solve problems. To spend money, we need to know where the issues are so what are causing us the most significant pains. Is it machine downtime? Many people have machine utilization under 25%, which means your machine is not running 75% of the time. Right or wrong, that's just the state of the way it is. So, machine uptime is a lot of times the biggest problem that I encounter. When people are trying to automate, they want to know things like how we get more uptime; how do we get more productivity.

It depends on the goals. What are your roadblocks? Where are your blockages? I see machine uptime putting automation around it. Either automation or monitoring of the machine to better understand the machine's condition and prevent unplanned downtime. Do maintenance during lunch breaks if you can. If you can say, hey, something's vibrating too much, let's take a look at it while the machines are on a break. Or we can look at automation. We have a lot of quality defects. Let's add some automated checkpoints so the operators are manually putting things together. Let's use automation to validate that they do it properly, so we're not sending out bad quality products. 

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