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Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturers' Network Podcast. Our guest today is Gil Mayron. Gil is the founder and CEO of Cobot Nation, Architects of Automation. Before Cobot, Gil was a pioneer of the consumer 3D printing industry, as the founder and CEO of Botmill 3D, which manufactured and sold the first fully assembled desktop 3D printers. 3D Systems Corp acquired Botmill. He resides in Las Vegas, Nevada, with his wife and two children. Gil, welcome to the show.
Gil Mayron: Thank you.
Lisa Ryan: So share with us your background and what led you to everything you're doing in robotics and automation.
Gil Mayron: I started in 3D printing. 3D printing is inherently slow, so there are only so many things that you can do to speed up the printing process when usually they use lasers, plastic filament, or some other method. But most of the time, it's going either point by point or layer by layer, so the only way that you can speed up 3D printing is typically through something like automation. We recognized early on that automation was in the same phase as 3D printing.
When I sold the company back in 2011, very few companies took it on the consumer level. The industrial patents are starting to expire, and it makes sense that the adoption is coming around now, especially since you have code.
Lisa Ryan: That has changed the industrial landscape, hasn't it?
Gil Mayron: My background in 3D printing led me to do automation and robotics; it's a very similar type of process when it comes to sales and other things like that. The only difference over here is that we deal with customers directly. We're not making a product that we're selling as a commodity; we are making a highly customizable product to the customers' needs. We do something very few do.
What led me over to robotics is that 3D printing is slow. It's inherently slow, and the way that you can speed it up is through automation. So automating little tiny tasks between the more significant tasks, and in automation, especially in industrial robots. We saw the same scenario in 3D printing in 2008, 2009, and 2010 which led me to sell the company in 2011. The industrial companies, so all the large industrial robotic arms, are incredibly high priced. It isn't easy to integrate within your company, so we saw that the opportunity was virtually identical to what we saw in 3D printing.
Lisa Ryan: Oh wow. What do you think when it comes to robotics? We've been talking a lot about automation and the need for automation, but what role do you think robotics plays as far as the future of manufacturing.
Gil Mayron: The role that robotics plays in the future of manufacturing is probably upwards of 95% or more within the actual processes being done. Our engineers go out to facilities daily. It's incredible how many facilities that we go to, which are some of the largest names in the world, and they have no automation or the automation that they think they have is not automation. It's not helping up the flow of what they're doing. All of the repetitive tasks; all the things where you have humans that could be sitting on the floor sitting on a chair; they're doing something for a few hours at a time, because their safety reasons, or they physically get tired. Those are all things that are going to get replaced. Those are all things that we can easily have robots do. Those are things that are happening right now. You'll probably see a massive transition happen for the next 12 to 24 months, especially considering that our customers were saying that they're having problems hiring labor, so not only are they automating, but they're having problems hiring work.
Lisa Ryan: So what do you think has been part of the hesitation when you go into these plants, especially large companies where you think automation will be a natural fit? Why the hesitation for bringing any automation in.
Gil Mayron: In general, and manufacturing in general, just its sound and taste are typically gritty. It's a dirty business that comes with a lot of wiring, many electronics, and many things of that nature. The hesitation is a fear factor as to how I get into this. It sounds like it will be so expensive because only the largest companies on the planet have it. When they look at videos of Tesla, and they see these robots operating on things, then there is no way that somebody who has a singular plant is thinking to himself. Oh, I can do with that guy does because they're doing it because they make a lot of money. We're seeing now that the ability to get into it is it doesn't take a lot of money at all. It takes 10s of thousands, if not just a few thousand dollars, to get into automation these days, as opposed to what it would have been like just a few years ago, which is hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars to automate a singular task or a singular cell. So the hesitation is price; the hesitation has been the perceived fear of what comes with it. Not only that, let's keep in mind the owners of a lot of companies out there, whether unionized or not, the hesitation is also around the human aspect of what's happening there. We're starting to see more and more companies finally getting a grip around, "look, automation is happening. If I don't do it, somebody else is going to do it." And by the time I do it, if I'm the only one who does it, anyone else is probably somewhere in the range of about 18 to 24 months behind me.
My throughput is already increased, so that gives me a huge leg up to get customers. The hesitation will start to cancel itself out and more coming along the lines of adopting automation.
Lisa Ryan: When we talk about the human factor and the potential displacement, there are pros and cons. The pros, being that with labor being as hard to find, it eliminates some of that. It also eliminates repetitive tasks and makes for a safer environment. The cons are that people are going to lose their jobs. How do you deal with both ends of the spectrum, helping people incorporate more robotics in their facility?
Gil Mayron: If you know that automation is coming, you should have the ability to prepare at least to a slight degree. As far as trying to train yourself with more management within the company you're operating. Not just the cell, but now, you're running multiple cells at the same time for the companies themselves who are automating. We have yet to see a company where the only reason they're automating is safety. Maybe they may start that way but, it's also throughput. It's how much can make it done in a given period.
It's always going to be more with a robot. It's always going to be more consistent with the robot. A robot ultimately pays itself off, so you have no cost associated with it over time, except for a small support cost to keep it up and running throughout the years.
But then, of course, you have the cons. The cons are really on the human side of things, but for humans for people. Some things can be done. First, when companies are automating, they should compensate the people remaining at the company. They should be giving good packages for the people leaving the company. They should be raising the wages, so we shouldn't hear from a lot of these companies that Oh, we can't find labor. If you're automating, and you know precisely what your margins will be, you know exactly what you're going to make.
Most of the companies we deal with are publicly traded, so they know what the effect is on what they do. So there should be no reason why they can't incorporate a program to raise wages, give good benefits packages, give good retirement packages, and ultimately offer more training to the employees who may need that training, especially the younger ones coming in.
Lisa Ryan: How do you start that conversation with the employees getting their feedback taking a look at the tasks that could be automated. How do you get their feeling for where they want to go in the company if they stay with the company? Is there a process that you have seen your clients go through at that from your starting point?
Gil Mayron: Two years ago, when we would go to a facility visit, we often would disguise ourselves. We wouldn't wear a Cobot Nation hat or a shirt. Now, when our engineers show up, we're fully branded. The employees know what's going on. Many of them got excited because they were helping out their job to a very good degree. Most companies that start in automation are the process. They usually don't just automate an entire facility in one shot. Usually, it's a process so that they might automate one line, then two lines, then the majority of the facility, and then ultimately all of the facility at the end of the day.
Lisa Ryan: When you're talking about robots, talk a bit of that. There's the term itself - how that's playing out. How can cobots augment the capabilities of the humans that you still have working there?
Gil Mayron: The definition of a cobot is a collaborative robot. This could be a robot that can work with or without a human. Most of the robots that we make at my company are collaborative, so we intend to have them work next to a human. Even though we put all the safety precautions, the intention is that it could work next to a human. For example, it'll have perimeter sensing so that it won't go beyond a certain point. We can add other sensors so that the robot may slow down when a human enters a room. If the robot is to hit somebody, it stops immediately. There are other things that we can't stop. If you were to run into the robot, that's your fault, but that's pretty much where we see how it's able to work with humans. I also want to point out collaborative robots are lead generators. It's an entry point in getting to full automation. Every time we gain a new customer, every time somebody takes it on, within a month, they call us back, and they say, "hey can we do this again over here?' Many times they have to repeat things that they're doing. We have some customers where one robot will replace 21 people on one line in a day, so that's seven people per shift; three shifts - one robot replacing them. It is also quadrupling their throughput. That's an excellent example of what these robots can do. Whether they work with or without a human, it is of the collaborative nature. We do that with every customer, but it usually leads up to full automation.
Lisa Ryan: So what do you think are some of the myths about automation? What are some things that people don't tell you about automation that happens in the real world?
Gil Mayron: Many people think that they can't do automation, for whatever reason. Maybe it's because they're not an engineer. Perhaps it's because they're just not adept at certain things, or they're just set in their ways. There is a warning for those who have a contract type of business. Let's say a contract manufacturer who has a machine tending process. They deal with the CNC machine, and they're doing the same process, day in and day out. That same customer needs to start to embrace automation because if their neighbor gets automation, they will lose that business immediately. There goes their entire livelihood, and I can tell you the amount of smaller companies that rely on one, two, or three main customers, and if they lose them, they lose their livelihood. So the perceived nature of automation needs to change. People need to embrace automation. It's going to happen, whether they like it or not.
I might be a catalyst in my own right, but it doesn't mean that somebody else will be. It needs to be embraced, and the gritty nature needs to be perceived a little differently. We're doing the branding of our company in much more of a Willy Wonka type of style. If you walked into our office, you wouldn't see any robots until you walked into one of our collaborations, also played on the word collaborative laboratory. You open the door, and suddenly you see overhead conveyors, different types of robots, vision systems, and things like that. We try to take that automation and break it down into something that makes sense for the customer. Most of our customers have no engineering talent at their company, so we do these things from scratch.
We train them on what to do, and we move on from there, so that's one way to deal with having people adopt automation.
Lisa Ryan: One of the things we've seen in the last couple of years with COVID is the speeding up of technology. How much more user-friendly things have become because we've been forced into technology adoption. From your standpoint, what are some of the coolest things that you've seen as making the software more user-friendly or getting people involved; getting people trained? I'm sure it's easier today than it was just a couple of years ago to get involved with robotics.
Gil Mayron: All of our competitors tried to sell their collaborative robots as robots that are easy to program. That you can do by yourself if you buy the robots. We get many calls from those customers that say, "Hey, I still have the robot in the box. I have no idea what to do with it." We handle things at my company because we do not have the customer do any programming whatsoever. The interface that we give them is custom to their company. It could be branded to their company and be as simple as they wanted to be. If they only wanted to adjust a cycle time, that's all the robot will do. This way, it makes it a lot easier to train the people who are getting into automation on dealing with all of these robots.
Some of the cool things that we're seeing are integrating all of the machines on the machine floor very easily. Because of that, we're seeing that it's very easy for automation to start to take place. We're seeing that people are getting a little more excited about automation rather than scared of automation.
That's going to play a big part in unionized companies. They need to think about what they're going to do. Some of the cool things on top of just those regular scenarios are the type of things that we're working on. For example, the ability to go into a bin of a whole bunch of different objects, and for the robot to be able to identify precisely what it's looking for - whether by shape, color, texture, whatever the case may be, it can pick it up. It can do something with it. It can have multiple tools on that. It can go directly over to a welding cell. It can then go directly over to a painting cell. It can go directly over to the truck. We're seeing all these things start to happen, and people are excited about it.
Lisa Ryan: You take away that fear with a done-for-you system. When you have that robot sitting in a box, I'm sure that you're like, "I have no idea what to do." You've spent enough money that you don't want to break it the first time you take it out. So having somebody that you can lean on to get the system going for you sounds like an excellent plan for getting started.
Gil Mayron: It also allows companies to manage their employees. The ones that can stay on board - it's very easy for them to stay on board; it's very easy to be trained. The ones who are not staying on board should be offered a greater incentive for leaving or more training.
Lisa Ryan: Is there a success story or two that comes to mind when you think about the difference that cobots have made for one of your clients?
Gil Mayron: We have a case study that's coming out in about a month with one of our customers. They are a billion-dollar company that deals with corrugated pipes. One of their processes involves 17 different humans. Think of an entire line - you have 17 people across this line, and at the end of the process, you have somebody sitting on the floor who's taking a pipe and is putting a pipe into a machine that's banging the end the pipe. We call that a swaging machine. It has a bunch of dyes inside, and it just bangs the end of that pipe to shape it into whatever it is that they want. This person is sitting on the floor, and they're taking these pipes, which are extremely sharp. They have to wear gloves, and they have to put one in, take it out, switch it over, put it in, take it out, move on to the next one. They have to do it within a specific time because the machine itself is timed, not the person. The person doesn't have a way to press a foot pedal every time. They need to keep up with the machine. The only way to make that consistent, safe, something worthwhile that immediately brings a profit to the company is to replace it with a robot. That's one of the case studies that we have coming out. We think it's going to be a very formidable one.
This is the kind of company where they saw the improvement within the first day, and then they decided to do it across all of their other facilities.
Lisa Ryan: So it sounds from that that it's taking a walk around the plant, and seeing those repetitive tasks; seeing those people sitting on the floor, putting themselves in some danger that may be the best place to start to see how it works.
Gil Mayron: That's correct. If somebody has a notion of their company being automated, they can certainly come to my company. We will send an engineer out immediately; we have engineers all over the place. The engineer's job is to go and look at every application, then walk through the facility. They identify every application and rank every application on what's the most important thing to the customer.
We can then come back to them with a return on investment. We can show them which application will make them the most money, which one is good for them to do now, what they should be phasing out later on, and so on. We give a good starting point. We don't know about the rest of the companies. We don't think that they operate in much of the same way. For us, it's essential to hold their hand as we go through the process.
Lisa Ryan: So is there anything that we should know about the processes of how you work with your customers?
Gil Mayron: One thing to know is that any customer that has anything to do with manufacturing, that's something that they should be looking at the automation for and if they don't. They should certainly be wary of their competitors and when their competitors are looking at automation. Other than that, I think we covered most of it. We try to simplify the process as much as possible, and we believe we are doing a pretty good job at it. My background dictates that. We're going to continue on this path, and simplify, and try to have as many people as possible adopt it.
Lisa Ryan: Wonderful. If somebody did want to get a hold of you to continue the conversation, what would be the best way for them to do that?
Gil Mayron: I can be reached via LinkedIn or my company. Other than that, there's no other way to contact me. So I'm completely dislocated from any other social network. The company, however, is on every single social network - Cobot nation.
Lisa Ryan: All right, and I will put your contact information there in the show notes too. Gil, it has been a pleasure...