Thought Leaders in Automation
LEADING THE WAY IN INNOVATION
Learn from expert industry professionals and read their insight into the growth and opportunities in automation.
KUKA Robotics USA
Steve Green is the President of KUKA Robotics USA, where he utilizes over 25 years of leadership experience to oversee the company’s sales, operations, team development and strategy throughout the country. With a passion for creating successful business cultures and operational infrastructure, he loves to build teams, identify talented employees and help them find their path to success. Steve holds a degree in Applied Science from Queen’s University in Canada and is committed to pursuing industry-education collaborations as part of his business and personal ambitions. He is an active sponsor and volunteer with First Robotics and has proactively developed several college-level partnerships in support of the future manufacturing leaders in North America.
You’ve been with KUKA for over ten years – in your opinion, what have been the most significant overall developments over the past decade, and what do you expect to see in the coming decade, particularly in terms of advances in industrial robots?
I think anyone who has been working in the industrial automation space over the past 10 years would be compelled to comment on the impact of collaborative robotic technology. The emergence of cobot technology has dramatically changed the perceptions and usage of robotics in a variety of industries. While traditional arrangements with safety fencing and safety devices remain standard with high speed and high payload robotics applications, we have also seen an exciting shift in the low speed, low payload applications that extend well beyond traditional industrial automation applications. In the past, the idea of a robot functioning in a space shared with a human would have been considered dangerous and only attempted by an expert with a high level of knowledge and experience in space sharing safety technologies, such as zone scanners and “live-man” switches. Today, we see collaborative robot technology working in environments that are openly accessible by humans, but more amazing is seeing them in applications where they are intended to work with and for humans. This is the most significant shift. Look at all the new applications in medical surgery, patient assist, patient rehabilitation, and videography to name a few.
The potential for new adaptive assembly applications, interactive assembly operations, and assisting humans with cobot technologies are vast and only skimming their potential for the future.
There’s been a shift in how robotics are used, and we’d love to hear your take on how robots have moved from primarily a tool for big companies in automotive and electronics to products that are used by companies of all sizes and virtually every industry?
Here, I would comment on the advancements we’ve seen with ease of use. The larger automotive companies, auto parts companies and large electronics manufacturers are constantly evolving and looking for new technologies to improve their operations. But they already have highly refined business models which tend to change more slowly compared to the small and medium-sized manufacturers. With the small to medium sizes companies, we’ve seen a significant increase in the adoption of robotics technology thanks to the “ease-of-use” product strategies. With this, I’m referring to the full array of technologies that lower the barriers to entry, including simulation tools, hand guiding, graphical interfaces, vision guidance, and artificial intelligence. Thanks to these ease-of-use tools, we’ve seen manufacturers deploy robots into more applications requiring flexibility such as random bin picking, sorting, and mixed packing.
Of course, let’s not forget about the widespread adoption of mobile robots (aka mobile platforms), which have made their way into almost every market segment and changed the game for logistics and distribution companies permanently.
With economists forecasting larger uses of robotics and automation, especially coming out of the COVID-19 landscape, this potentially means a lot of new customers – what would you tell business leaders about getting started with automation?
I expect the most significant increase in the use of robotics and automation to be outside of our traditional markets. Yes, this could mean we’ll see a lot of newbies trying to figure out how robots work. If you’re one of those people, and you’re reading these words, then you’ve already found your way to the RIA website, and you’re doing some research. Way to go! My advice to anyone getting started with automation is to do lots of research to ensure you’re making informed decisions. Build up your network, ask lots of questions and definitely reach out to experts, like my team at KUKA, to help guide you on your journey.
How can customers quickly generate ROI from using robotic applications?
I have never liked this question! Lol. The traditional view of return on investment is based on direct labor savings and other immediate benefits. This strategy is just one of many ways that robotics and automation can benefit a business.
Of course, if you have applications that are difficult or dangerous for people, please take care of those first. Here, you would focus on the elimination of physical hazards and the associated cost of injuries and lost time. But this topic is obvious and well understood by most businesses.
For my advice, if going to make an investment in your business, I encourage manufacturers to adopt a strategy to grow your business instead of just save costs. This perspective will open up many more opportunities for manufacturers.
Robotics can provide a huge improvement in the consistency of production. This may translate into quality improvements, which will reduce scrap but may also make your product more reliable and therefore appealing to new markets. Alternatively, robotics may provide an opportunity to increase your production capacity. In which case, you could pursue some new or larger customers and increase your top line. Lastly, don’t forget about the potential flexibility of robotics and automation as a way of reducing changeover times or providing for small batch production concepts. This could improve your delivery times and bring more of your customers’ purchases to your business.
During the last 20 years, manufacturing companies have seen a 25 percent improvement in productivity as a result of automation. This has caused a recalibration in the tasks of the workforce. How does this benefit not only the company but also the worker? Also, what other changes do you see coming into the workforce?
For as long as I’ve been working in the industrial automation sector (longer than the 20 years described in your question), manufacturers have been consistently reporting a shortage of skilled trades. Automation has provided part of the competitive solution to this challenge. This has allowed new generations of workers to pursue more technical careers in automation, programming, product design and production planning, instead of some of the more dull, dirty and dangerous manufacturing roles. I expect that we will continue to see technology development to facilitate the realization of highly connected devices and big data in the factory environment. This ongoing change will provide interesting opportunities for a new breed of programmers and network specialists.
While we all know downtime can help relieve stress, several science-backed studies confirm you actually improve productivity when you take time to enjoy life outside of the office. What are some of your favorite things to do in your free time?
Although I work for a fun and exciting robotics technology leader, my day job is all about business leadership. So, when I find moments to pursue my own interest, there tend to be various creative ways to awaken the occasionally forgotten engineer inside. I do a lot of gardening, but it’s never just about pulling weeds and planting flowers. I find myself designing the entire landscape in consultation with my family, friends, neighbours, and doing drawings, mock-ups, and planning the dig like a rookie project manager. Does that sound too intense? My lighter moments are spent with my daughters reading books together or playing with them outdoors to remind myself why we all work so hard in this country.