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.
Craig has over 30 years of experience in the automation industry. He began his career at General Motors, where he worked for 24 years, holding various positions including Director of Controls, Conveyors, Robotics, and Welding. Craig also worked for Amazon as their Director of Global Automation Deployment. He now works as the CEO at JR Automation, a Hitachi Group Company. With decades of experience in controls engineering, project management, and leadership, Craig has both the technical and industry knowledge to help advance automation for the future.
How are automation and digital technologies evolving to meet current economic or market demands?
In the past, most companies did not think about digital technology solutions as part of their buying process for automation. They purchased automation based on a return on investment for efficiencies they expected in quality, throughput, and labor, then later thought about adding a SCADA system and some type of MES interface. This could be for quality management, downtime reporting, automatic scheduling or any number of different digital add-ons to make improvements to the automation they purchased. More and more companies no longer see this as a two-step process and are looking to purchase their equipment with interfaces to their ERP system for automatic scheduling of parts or their current quality systems to track quality issues more efficiently. This saves them time, money and energy because they are not dealing with multiple companies. It does take more planning up front, but it certainly simplifies the digital interfaces and no longer makes them an “add-on” to the asset they purchase.
How can customers generate ROI or justify investments into automation and/or digital automation technologies?
Quality, throughput and labor are really the biggest items for generating ROI and are typically the items we discuss with our customers when they are looking at automating their processes. It can be a little tricky to understand the ROI on digital investments-- as the technology typically does not replace labor-- and to use it effectively requires someone analyzing data in order to make quality or throughput adjustments (where the real savings can be). The customer must understand that they can do Continuous Improvement on the new automation system they purchased, much like they would do Continuous Improvements on labor intensive processes. Once that realization occurs, understanding how digital solutions can help them becomes much easier.
What are some innovative technologies that JR Automation is working on?
INGENOVA360™ is our flagship software suite that can be used with any automation system we build. Depending on what the customer is looking to integrate into their system--automated scheduling, throughput monitoring, downtime monitoring, quality tracking--we can set up our automation to take care of these functions with almost any SCADA system they desire. We can integrate these functions into existing systems as well. They don’t have to be JR Automation-built systems.
From an automation perspective we launched SmartAttach™, our nut plate system, and took that on a road tour to multiple aerospace companies last year. The current manual process of installing a nut plate can take as long as 4 minutes per nut plate. Our semi-automated system reduces that time down to 30 seconds. Our customers enjoyed the experience of having our system brought to their doorstep on a trailer, rather than watching a video or needing to visit us. We expect to launch several new items in the next year and are excited for customers to see those in person as well.
Why is now a great time for customers to invest in automation technologies? How can they best get started, or enhance current systems?
With labor participation at an all-time high, finding people to do the tough jobs our customers need done is getting harder every year. We constantly hear stories of companies needing to re-balance work on the fly every morning because they don’t have enough workers showing up to get the job done. If you walk through those facilities, you quickly find several easy-to-automate processes that could help reduce the labor needs. This allows the customer some flexibility with their labor to ensure some of the intricate or difficult to automate systems are properly staffed. Currently, any process where a human picks up and sets down something can be automated very easily. We recommend that customers start there and as they get accustomed to automation, they can work with us to implement more.
How is JR Automation working to help customers in the field?
Not only is there a labor shortage to make products but that same labor shortage exists with tradesmen and technicians. 50% of our labor at JR Automation is in the skilled trades/technician fields. We really specialize in training our trades and have a first-class apprenticeship program that we offer our technical employees.
Many companies cannot afford to do this because they do not have 1,000 technicians working for them like we do. That is why we are now starting to specialize in lifecycle management of the equipment that we design, build and install. We can take advantage of that large pool of technical talent to help our customers with lifecycle management of their equipment. If they couple that with a SCADA system and MES that collects data from the automation, we can set up a program to help them maintain their equipment without hiring a large technical staff.
In your opinion, what do you expect to see in the coming 5-10 years in automation?
I see many companies starting to change their purchasing methods for automation. They can no longer buy equipment using only their manufacturing department and then add on digital solutions later with an IT department. This is very inefficient and is changing as companies start to see the benefit of purchasing automation and digital solutions together. We are starting to call these systems “OT Digital,” as we see them sitting more in the OT world rather than IT. With additional labor shortages in the future, both in manufacturing and IT, we believe this will be a big change for our customers.