As robotics and industrial automation continue to be deployed across several industries, not only is a diverse workforce needed to grow within these robotics companies, but diverse messaging and a diverse workforce are needed to deploy, operate, and maintain the robots. Expanding the diversity message for robotics companies and end users is one of the key messages in a panel session at RoboBusiness 2019, titled “Moving Beyond Engineering: Why Diversity is Essential for Success.”
The panel includes a group of renowned roboticists within the robotics industry, including Tessa Lau, the CEO of Dusty Robotics; Deborah Theobald, CEO of Vecna Technologies; and Kristen Moore, the CMO of inVia Robotics. Moderating the panel is Erin Rapacki, Director of Business Development at Sense Photonics.
Robotics Business Review chatted with Rapacki about the big themes for the panel, and what she hoped attendees would take away from the session.
Many skills needed
For Rapacki, the big issue of robotics companies getting “beyond engineering” lies in the different skills that are needed in building a robot, but also in getting different people to understand how to use them. “If you are building up a robotics company or team, you need to be thinking beyond the engineering,” said Rapacki. “It takes user interface design, it takes product design, and it takes knowledge of all these different topics in order to create a usable robotic product that customers love.”
Often, roboticists and companies get bogged down in the technology and features, or trying to over-engineer something on the robot, when in reality it needs to be a tool that customers can use. “The value of robotics is that it’s a tool, and it needs to be easy to use as a tool,” said Rapacki. “You don’t have the labor force who can handle complicated machinery anymore, which is part of the reason for the erosion of the manufacturing sector. If we can train manufacturing engineers the same way we train Starbucks baristas, we’ll have a labor force. But if the robot is a difficult to use product, you can’t really have people maintain that equipment or even use it properly.”
Skills for end users
Another topic that Rapacki said she wants to address on the panel is the lack of experienced equipment managers within an end-user’s company who can approve robotics projects beyond the pilot stage. “A lot of startups get stuck in pilot purgatory, where companies will assign a pilot, but then they won’t buy anything,” said Rapacki. “This is killing a lot of startups right now.”
She added that lots of companies want to consider automation, but that they don’t have anyone internally who can approve the project. “Most of these companies have had the same thing happen with digital marketing – they have nobody internally who can assess the good marketing vendors, so they just don’t choose one. In the same way [in robotics], they don’t have anyone internally who can assess good automation vendors, so they just don’t choose one.”
The key for many of these companies looking to deploy robotics is to make sure they have a better understanding of the issues – that it won’t solve 100% of their problems – but also that they need to find the right help internally and to look towards automation consultants and integrators to help them get through the initial learning curve.
“It’s all about reducing that fear of spending a large budget amount on a new system that could possibly not function as predicted, individual employees may fear being personally blamed for a mistake, so direction needs to be supported throughout all of the organization’s leadership,” said Rapacki. “If you have a conservative approach to business, you may stay away from technology, and do the same routine thing because of the risk of getting it wrong. However, getting started is not impossible, business owners just have to want to do it, and ask questions like, ‘What’s the first step?’ It’s very easy for companies to find the automation talent they need – company leadership just needs to trust and want to grow. Automation is essential for economic growth, and it’s not a manual labor world anymore.”