Matt Van Bogart, Jake Hall and Sath Rao
By Matt Van Bogart | November 07, 2023

Industrial Automation Insider: Manufacturing Millennial Says Automation (and People) are Severely Misunderstood, and That’s Hurting Your Production Capacity

A manufacturing veteran agrees, adding that you need to start thinking about IT/OT convergence differently as well. You must create more synergies among people and machines, and that requires a new strategy.

It’s true. Many manufacturing workers have lost their jobs in the past couple decades. But don’t blame automation. There are a host of changes that have compelled manufacturers to shift their strategies and subsequently shift jobs elsewhere – whether overseas or just to other lines. There are several considerations, such as…

  • Financial feasibility (“Where can I afford to set up shop so I can sustain operations and keep my pricing as low as possible for my customers?) 

  • Proximity to demand (“Where are the majority of my customers, and how close can I set up shop to them to minimize the cost and logistics of fast delivery?”) 

  • Sourcing (“How easy will it be to source the materials I need?)

  • Labor (“Will I be able to find enough people to sustain operations if I add a plant, or even another line, in this location?”) 

I think this last one is important for everyone to understand because – despite reports – manufacturing job losses in certain countries in the last two decades have not created a widespread economic crisis. However, not being able to fill the millions of open manufacturing jobs could. 

I realize that every time a plant closes or a line shuts down (i.e., as part of a shift from combustible engine to electric vehicles), it can be devastating to the local community. People do lose their jobs. However, I also know that many of the job losses could be temporary if those impacted could more easily shift into new roles. That’s why I’m such a staunch advocate for technology and, specifically, automation. Automation can create jobs and protect people’s livelihoods. It can also make manufacturing an attractive career choice to younger generations. (Which we desperately need to do considering that machines can’t sustain production lines without people controlling them in some capacity). 

Jake Hall, best known as “The Manufacturing Millennial” agrees. Not just because he’s a digital native, but because he’s spent the past few years traveling across the U.S., meeting with manufacturing leaders and plant floor workers, talking to them about their hopes, dreams and fears – to include the potential impact of automation on people. While some are afraid they’ll be replaced by robots, there are many people who see automation as the key to keeping people gainfully employed for longer, and the key to making manufacturing jobs more accessible to people who otherwise might feel unqualified. 

Interestingly, Sath Rao, the Director of Global Manufacturing Strategy at Zebra, believes automation is misunderstood as well. 

The self-described “Manufacturing Gray Beard” spent many years analyzing the root cause of manufacturers’ performance issues as well as growth opportunities as a technologist for companies like Hitachi Vantara, PTC, and Schneider Electric and as an analyst for consulting firm Frost and Sullivan. Though enthusiastic about automation because of the speed and efficiency it introduces into production environments, Sath admits those benefits aren’t gained by replacing people with machines. They’re gained by partnering people with artificial intelligence (AI) – whether the collaborator is a robot, machine vision system with deep learning capabilities or something else.

Manufacturing is just as much a digital industry now as it is a physical industry, which means that both technology and people will be required to sustain production at the levels demanded in today’s growing economy. AI and other automation technologies will help you progress your capabilities, but they’re tools, not solutions. 

That’s why I asked Jake and Sath what you need to be doing differently to…

  • Successfully attract the next generation of manufacturing workers…

  • Make manufacturing jobs more fulfilling…

  • Ensure IT/OT systems are both compatible with and complementary to your people and processes…

  • And more!

Tune into our 30-minute conversation now to hear their expert advice (and the anecdotal stories they shared from manufacturing workers around the world).

Prefer to download and listen later? Here's the audio-only version.

They talk about why…

  • You’re probably thinking about automation’s purpose all wrong – and discounting the role of people in modern manufacturing.

  • The real-time visualization of data – and the visualization of an employee’s impact – is one of the best ways to confirm what’s working, what’s not and what changes you need to make.

  • Manufacturers who leverage digital interactions between processes and workers see huge growth in productivity and worker satisfaction.

  • Millennials really want to work (and how you can match their wants to your needs).

  • Technology is making labor recruitment a lot easier (for manufacturers who are using it the right way, which may not be the way you think).

  • You will have to use AI in the next year or two – and how you might actually end up using it. (It may not be where or how you think.)

  • You need to pay more attention to the brand your company is projecting into the market and others’ perception of your brand.  

  • You need to start making every technology decision with the three “D’s” in mind: digital factory, decision entrepreneurism, and digital entropy.

They also…

  • Explain exactly what you should be thinking about or doing when talking about automation investments in the context of onshoring, countering tightening supply chains and closing the skilled labor gap. 

  • Share real-world stories of manufacturers who followed the advice they’re offering you and reaped tremendous benefits. 

Hear what they have to say so you can share it with others in your organization who need to hear it:


Healthcare, Manufacturing, Warehouse and Distribution, Automation, Transportation and Logistics, Podcast, Retail, New Ways of Working,
Matt Van Bogart
Matt Van Bogart

Matt Van Bogart is a 20+ year veteran of the industrial imaging and machine vision market. He is currently responsible for machine vision-focused strategic business development at Zebra and previously drove the global channel strategy for industrial automation at the company.

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