Milton Guerry heads the customer and industry focused SCHUNK USA team and is responsible for market-driven input to the global SCHUNK organization. He is active in industry advancements in both automation and machining component design, development, marketing and sales. Milton was recently nominated and elected to the Robotic Industries Association (RIA) Board of Directors as well as the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) Executive Board. He joined SCHUNK in 2000 and has held several leadership roles assuming his current role as President in 2007. Prior to joining SCHUNK, Milton began his career in the automotive industry in various engineering and technical roles.
You have been in the robotics industry for many 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 end-effectors?
Thanks for the reminder that I have been in the industry for many years …?? Most days I feel like I have just started, the excitement in the robotics industry is awesome and the future is ever brighter. In the past decade, robotics and automation have helped companies and industries thrive. Companies that have adopted this type of technology have not only succeeded, they have grown; they are competitive; and they are providing opportunity for their employees. Looking closer to our area, end effectors, the wide adoption of robotics has supported product development and availability. There are so many off-the-shelf products, with options to monitor and enhance the function. The success of the industry makes this possible and these products drive robotic implementation quickly and more cost-effectively than ever before.
Looking to the next decade, the story is just starting. I expect to see this trend continue. We will see more and more gripping technology and current and future technologies will be combined with other advancements like sensing and vision. The most compelling part of working with end effectors is the fact that this is where robotics connects to the tasks. They are the link between machine and part. As we continue to innovate within this space, it is so exciting to see its evolution present more and more opportunities to our users through quick and easy deployment and redeployments. As the technology in this space advances, the end result can be as ambitious as the engineer.
During your time in robotics, you have been very active in industry organizations such as Robotic Industries Association and the International Federation of Robotics. What is the primary reason for your involvement, and how have you and your company benefited?
For those of us working in the robotics industry or working with robotic technology in our own factories, we know the positives of the technology to our companies. The RIA, or A3, and the IFR are the voices of our industry, representing suppliers and the user community. The messages that we have about robotics are very important for companies to hear and understand. Together the message is much stronger. As a company, we feel very fortunate to have had opportunities to support the industry through these associations and be part of the bigger voice.
SCHUNK has benefited in so many ways. We are involved through the associations with so many leading companies that are bringing technology to market or taking technology and doing truly amazing things to advance manufacturing. The dedication from the associations and the members has been and will be the difference-maker for robotics adoption worldwide. It is satisfying, fun, and very beneficial to participate in these groups. I would like to take this chance to encourage all our peer companies and companies thinking about robotics to get involved with the A3.
SCHUNK has been active in attempting to develop the next generation workforce. Can you share some of the efforts you’ve made in North Carolina, and what skills are most important to you?
The future is so bright for the next generation. Sometimes they are unaware of what SCHUNK or other manufacturing companies have to offer. Worldwide at SCHUNK, we have established programs including internships and apprenticeships to attract young people into manufacturing and to show them that the jobs we have to offer are truly technology careers. Years ago, it seemed week in and week out, talking to my peers, the conversation always centered around finding enough employees with the right skill set. Although we had a highly skilled team, as the industry grew and our company expanded, we needed to be able to quickly add knowledgeable employees to our organization. We reached a point where we were convinced the only way to address this problem was to start a youth apprentice program in our facility. We came together with 10 like-minded companies in the area and formed the group NCTAP. Pooling our resources and our students, we approached our community college to partner on the education side. Today, our member companies have a thriving program that graduates highly skilled individuals with degrees and certifications.
The best part about this model is that it’s not just the companies that benefit from having a highly-skilled workforce. Those who graduate from our apprenticeship programs are ready to take on the challenges presented by the technology that makes our parts. Every machine in our facility has a computer control, connects to other systems, and is considered high technology. These are very knowledge-driven careers, and students who participate in the apprenticeship program are bolstered by the on-the-job experience that it provides.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed many vulnerabilities in areas such as supply chain, business operations, manufacturing processes, etc. What are the most important lessons you’ve learned that will help your company be better prepared for future pandemics?
First, we have to recognize the human toll that this pandemic has taken. Yes, we have to look forward at how to recover economically, but in order to do that, we must acknowledge what our employees and partners have faced in the last few months.
Our team was amazing when the crisis started. Like all companies, overnight we were faced with questions that had never been asked before, and a situation that seemed to continually change overnight. We organized our activity in 4 areas; team safety, customers, supply-processes and financial. Focusing on these initiatives clarified our priorities, structured our plan, and created clear direction on who would take on what.
Our customers quickly informed us that we were part of their essential supply. That meant two things for us: we had to ensure our supply, and we had to protect our employees as they came to work every day. We wrote safety protocols, reorganized work areas, bought toilet paper, and cleaning supplies. We went to work securing our supply together with our manufacturing facilities and our shipping companies. It was really impressive to watch our team find ways around every obstacle. At that point, we looked to the future and determined that our team will come through this together. We are far from “back to normal” but I’m confident that we will find our way through this and emerge as a stronger company than when we started.
Robotics, Machine Vision, Industry 4.0, Artificial Intelligence, 5G, Blockchain, Quantum Computing – the number of technological advancements and “buzz words” that companies have to know about and be able to take advantage of seems dizzying these days. What is your advice to users on how to get started with automation and how to make sure they are staying abreast of all the latest developments?
That is a dizzying list. At times all of this may seem overwhelming. In reality, these technologies represent an opportunity. If we take robotics as a basis for machine vision, connectivity, AI, these advancements widen applications far beyond today. They will enhance everything from implementation to capability, to process analytics.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For that to happen, all other things, including human support, must come together. Undoubtedly, roles within the manufacturing organizations that are adopting these technologies will change as the advancements take shape. There is no point in history that this was not the case. In this scenario, while there may be anxiety over what these changes mean for manufacturing jobs, there is plenty of evidence to show that companies that adopt automation see an increase in productivity as robots automate tasks, augment jobs, and create new ones.
Where to start? Decide where the technology fits into your processes, determine when the time is right for implementation, and establish how to roll out any changes amongst your employees. This approach will set expectations with your team and help you see the contributions of such changes within your company. Change is often uncomfortable and bringing the team along with the technology adoption will bring first-time success. When we look at what manufacturing will be in the post-pandemic world, the time to introduce technology is now.
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?
What a great subject. It’s probably safe to say that there have been a few times in modern history that were more stressful. I hope everyone can find the time to balance work and play. For me, I like to get out and ride my bike. This is really enjoyable lately because my 12-year-old son has been joining me. It’s a great time to catch up with him and hear about his latest 3D printing project or his video game conquest. The video game environment is really intriguing to me. The advancements in the player experience and the connectivity amongst players, the sensing are really progressing. It is great to see and learn through his perspective. These experiences show the creativity of the next generation, solidifying our bright future.