Enabling Automation Podcast: S2 E6

We’re excited to bring you our first-ever podcast series, Enabling Automation. This monthly podcast series will bring together industry leaders from across ATS Automation to discuss the latest industry trends, new innovations and more!

In our sixth episode of season 2, host Simon Drexler is joined by Cameron Moyer and Vetrivel Janakiraman to discuss How automation and lean transformations complement each other.

What we discuss:

  • How do you define lean principles and automation
  • Where do you start your lean journey?
  • What happens if lean is not considered first?

Host: Simon Drexler, ATS Corporation (ATS Products Group)

Simon has been in the automation industry for approximately 15 years in a variety of roles, ranging from application engineering to business leadership, as well as serving several different industries and phases of the automation lifecycle.

Guest: Cameron Moyer, ATS Corporation

Cameron Moyer is the Vice President of ATS Business Model at ATS, known ABM, which is our business system.

Guest: Vetrivel Janakiraman, ATS Corporation

Vetrivel Janakiraman is the Director of ABM for Europe. He has been with ATS for a year and a half, and has been working with lean for the last 20 years.

——Full Transcript of Enabling Automation: S2, E6——

SD: Welcome, everyone to episode six of the second season of our Enabling Automation podcast, How Automation and Lean Transformations Complement One Another. Our Enabling Automation podcast is meant to help those who are trying to scale automation within their operations to provide transformational change. We bring experts from across the ATS group of companies to provide their opinions and insights from serving the top end of the automation market to provide lessons and observations to those that are listening to help them scale. Today, we’re fortunate to be joined by two experts, and I’ll allow them to introduce themselves and then we’ll jump into the topic of lean transformation. So Cameron, can you introduce yourself to our listeners?

CM: Yeah, my name is Cameron Moyer. I’m the Vice President for the ATS Business Model at ATS, ABM so we call it. ABM is our business system. We use to really operate our business in terms of how we run, how we do our daily work, how we achieve our annual objectives. It’s a lean business system. So we use lean principles in everything that we do.

SD: Excellent. Thank you. And we’re also joined by Vetri. Vetri, do you mind giving a quick introduction to yourself?

VJ:  Yeah, sure. My name is Vetri. I’m the director for ABM for Europe. I’m with ATS for a year and a half, and I’ve been doing what I’m trying to do for the last 20 years. That’s lean, various industries, six different industries, eight different organizations, and my first automation company.

SD: So Cameron, Vetri, thank you very much for joining us today. Obviously varied backgrounds coming from Lean Practice inside of various organizations and now driving forward for our own ATS Business Model, which is founded on Lean principles. What better two people to have a conversation about how lean and automation intertwine? So, Cameron, starting with you, how would you define the relationship between Lean principles and Lean practice and automation?

CM: So like Vetri, ATS is the first automation company that I’ve worked in in my career. A lot of it was sort of traditional product manufacturing, repeat manufacturing. Where lean principles are really apparent, right? We figure out a way to standardize a process, figure out a way to reduce waste and take it out of the process. Ultimately, the principles of Lean are applicable in any industry, though what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to maximize value for our customer. And that’s really what automation is doing. The way I’ve discovered is I’m spending more time in ATS. I’ve been in the business now ATS for about a year, so I’m still learning not an automation expert, but what I’ve really identified is that the end goal of automation is very, very similar to Lean and that we’re trying to drive value for our customers just as our automation customers or businesses that are considering automation are also trying to say, well, how do we drive the most value in our organization? So there’s a lot of parallels in terms of how lean and automation and like the end objective and what we’re trying to achieve.

SD: And so if the end objectives are aligned, Vetri, where do you normally advise those that you’re working with to start on their lean journey when they’re trying to find that, that interlinking between Lean practice and automation?

VJ: Just picking up from what Cameron just said, I mean, both of the automation and Lean, they complement each other very well. You can see them as different things. But at the end of the day, if you look at going back to what Cameron said, the end goal or the purpose of both is to create more value for the customers. That’s where they come together. But if you look at them individually, Lean emphasizes more on people development and problem solving and automation refers to machine robotics, artificial intelligence and other technologies which actually takeaway or takeaway is the wrong word. But they try to do what humans were doing before. And so this is this is where, but at the end of the day, both of them complement each other to add more value to the customer, improve productivity, remove waste from the entire system.

SD: And if we’re talking about the interlinking and the complementary nature of lean and automation, what happens if someone doesn’t take a lean approach first or ignores one half of the lean and automation merger?

VJ: That’s a very important question because Lean answers the question. The purpose. If you before you go and automate something, it should we should be very clear on the purpose of automation. We just I mean, we can automize waste, you know? We will be having the same waste, but your waste is automated and we actually not adding more value to the customer. So the biggest the starting point with Lean is that how Lean can complement automation is to get give clarity on the purpose of automation. And answering the core questions are we automating for the sake of automating or are we automating to add more value to customer?

SD: And when you say purpose, so we’re talking about value and the ability to apply technology to advance value in whichever process we were looking at, whether that’s on the shop floor or somewhere else in the organization.

VJ: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s end to end. I mean, we automize business processes and it’s not only shopfloor, we automize the automated business process and the digitalization and everything, what we’re talking about. So I think a starting point is whether you’re automating something on the shop floor or a business process, the purpose is critical. You know, are we doing it for the sake of doing it or are we doing it to add more value to the customer.

SD: Yea, and we start to get in some waste if we’re doing something for the sake of doing something. When organizations are looking to apply automation, it’s normally because they have some level of burning platform. They’re growing too quickly. They can’t keep up with automation, they can’t hire enough. What I’ve seen in in the discussions that I’ve had with those that are looking to drive at least a technological change inside of their business or driving the scale is that oftentimes their burning platform is resourcing in one way or another. We just don’t have enough time to keep up with the work. Is there an opportunity to use that as a burning platform, as a catalyst for the implementation of a lean approach inside of the business? And would you offer some guidance or an example from your background where you might have seen something like that?

VJ: Maybe if you look at the history of manufacturing, we had craft production and then we got mass production and then we got the lean production. And if you really look at the difference, the key, the biggest change between mass production and Toyota Lean production system, the biggest change is actually automation in the mass production when Ford came up with the with the concept of mass production, it was huge machines, single purpose machines doing one activity. And then when Toyota came into Ford, Taiichi Ohno And then when he studied Ford, he realized that if I copy paste what I am, what’s happening at Ford, I’ll not be successful because the culture in Japan is different. What people need is different. People, I mean, you heard this famous slogan that any color of car is okay as long as it is black from Ford. And the point was Japanese don’t accept the one color if they if they don’t accept one color, they don’t buy it. And it was not the case in the US at that time. People wanted a car irrespective of what car, even if they did not like a black color, they took it because there was no option and culturally that was not possible in Japan. And that was where they came up with the concept of automation, where they said, okay, we need to quickly adapt or change car colors, quickly change the model of the car. And they came with the very first tool. What one of the first tools, what they developed was this single minute exchange of dyes where they know you change over quickly from one part to another, one model to another. And so it started long back. I mean, if you really look at so there was there was a purpose. Yeah. The purpose was that the culture in Japan was different and they don’t accept defeat. If you copy paste what Ford is doing, it’ll not work. And that was the sense of urgency or the burning platforms. They said we need to automize and for me it’s always a classical example of we did not talk about people, it did not talk about employees in the organization, right? It talked about the value for the customer. That’s my example of automation.

SD: That’s a great example, Vetri, and a great frame up of the progression to lean overall. Both of you are very passionate practitioners of Lean methodology. If I, if I asked you in your career doesn’t have to be in in current roles, you know, what’s the proudest moment of Lean application for you?

CM: I was actually not in a Lean practitioner or I guess a lean specific role in the past when this when this occurred. But I was a practitioner of Kaizen right?And so the company I was in previously we used Kaizen events, these rapid improvement events, right, to accomplish a goal, to make a quick change in our in our process. And so at the time I was actually in an R&D roles leading R&D group and we had new product development we were working on. This was our sort of flagship program on this in our strategy, and we had a roadmap that we developed for how are we going to implement this product into the business. So first it was, you know, are we building the right product? Do we have do we capture the customer’s requirements? Do we understand the design? Are we designing it in a product that customers actually need that will solve a problem for them? Then we had a how are we actually going to build this product? You know, how do we make sure it’s manufacturable that we can build it at the right rate, the right cost? You know, that that’s going to meet our demand or forecasted demand and, you know, be a profitable product for the business. And then it was, well, how do we sell this product? How do we go to market with it? How do we commercialize it? What we did is we created a roadmap of continuous improvement events, Kaizen events, each one of those things. First, we held a Kaizen event where team came together. We were a cross-functional team too. It wasn’t just the sales folks or the marketing folks in the room. Cross-functional team came together to understand what primary solving, what design should this product have? How are we going to build? Are we going design this? What’s the what’s the technology risk? You know, amongst other things. And we came out of that event with a great path forward. We held another event in the future that was how do we actually manufacturers, what’s the standard work that we’re going to create? And in that week, you know, a single week, we tore down walls, we painted the floors, we completely built a new production sell for this this product and figure out what’s the most efficient way. We as Vetri mentioned earlier, we brought in the front line operators to make sure that they were comfortable building it, that they could actually do this.It wasn’t just the mandate from above that here’s how you’re going to build your new product. And then finally, we held an event with the commercial stakeholders, and we even brought a customer into this just to get their perspective. But where would you see this product? How should we set up our, you know, processes for monetizing it? Because we were actually looking at some, you know, IOT types of solutions data as a service kind of a model there as well. So those things, that whole roadmap of activity, it showed me where Lean could be applied along the entire lifecycle of a product development project. It kind of opened my eyes because I had previously only worked in sort of Kaizen events and lean work in an operations environment. So it’s sort of like showed, like, wow, this stuff can be applied anywhere in the business. It really is powerful these core principles, and apply them. So that that was something we were incredibly proud of it, and we saw great results from that.

SD: I’m really happy that you touched on that because learning more about Lean myself and the application of Lean inside of our business, that’s probably the biggest learning for me is ten years ago I probably would have thought of Lean as operations only. And it really isn’t that. It’s driving efficiency, effectiveness. The removal of wasted effort in all aspects of the business. Vetri, same question to you based on your background is what comes to mind as the highlight of Lean application for you?

VJ:  In one of my previous organizations where we were trying to figure out the sense of urgency, you know, where I had the opportunity to talk with the customer and we had a competitor who was market share was more than triple than what we had. And we went to this customer and then I had this discussion with them on what we should do different. And he came up with three things, sarcastic, but very friendly. He said your lead time is three months, 90 days. Your competitors lead time is 45 days. Exactly the half, you take more time and your more costly. Of course you take more time, you’re more costly. So your cost is higher than your competitors. And on third on top of all your service is poor, he said just improved these three and you get more market share. And so we used I used this information to create that burning platform. And most importantly, what we said was we want to double our market share in three years with the same number of people whom we have and be, I under the underlined it very hard in bold that we want to we don’t it’s not about reducing people. It’s about improving our processes and doubling our market share with the same number of people. And this was so simply formulated that for me, the rule is always if an operator is reading it once and has understood it, then it’s a simple one. If he’s reading it twice, then we haven’t simplified it to the level required. And so this played a very important role in the transformation, that very simple statement, but played a very important role in getting by in the whole organization. Yeah, and going back to Cameron’s journey. I mean, I had a similar one. So once we once we created this and then this organization, we always started with the value stream map for one key product group. And the focus was for the first one year only on this product group. So there was three product groups and we were not allowed to improve the other two product groups. Okay, it sounds weird, but my role was to put all my resources into this particular value stream so that we improve, focused, improve this one before we go to the next one. And we were allowed to do it based on what improvements we showed here to move forward with the other one. And we had a we create after we do the value stream, we create a 12 month plan of all the Kaizen events. So we used to do like 30 to 40 Kaizen events, rapid improvement events, which was a five day event. So it was and it was actually a nine week cycle, four weeks of preparation, one week of Kaizen or improvement event and then four weeks of post work, so every, every event was a nine day cycle. And we did 40 of them, 40 9 week cycles, and that was transformational.

SD: Wow. Absolutely. It’s an interesting guidance to have three product lines and not ignore two, but focus on one. It sounds like almost the famous Steve Jobs quote of focus is actually saying no to something that, you know, in every part of your being you should do, but you have to say no to it because you’re focused on something else. And so it sounds like the leadership kind of drove focus on the one most, in fact, impactful place, the one product line. That’s really interesting.

VJ: We use this famous quote where we said are my inch wide, mile deep and are we going inch wide, mile deep or a mile wide, inch deep. And so most of the lean organizations, as they start of their journey, they go inch wide, mile deep and then spread out.

SD: And that’s where you can be most impactful. You pick the one piece and dive as deep as you can. Vetri, you mentioned a key lean tool, which is a value stream map for someone listening to us chat today, who Have never done a value stream map before,  how would you describe one?

VJ: I mean, it’s when we talk about lean thinking, you know, there are there these five steps. And it’s common to any industries and irrespective of whether it’s a automation industry or a non automation industry, and it all starts with defining the value through the eyes of the customer. And the second important step as well, when we know what is value through the eyes of the customer. It’s about identifying the value stream. And when we talk about value stream, it’s about what are all the steps we need to do in order to create this value. What we have defined in this in step one and this is this is end to end. So very often it’s about I know extreme cases where you get the first call from this, from the customer just inquiring about are you able to provide something or what their problem is until money the cash in the bank. So this entire value stream, entire set of actions which takes place from the customer call in until the cash is in the bank, mapping out this on how information flows and material flows in order to convert this you know achieved this value is it’s a simple definition of a value stream just to close the loop on the 5 steps. So you define value through the eyes of the customer, you define the value stream how we’re going to do it. And the third step is about creating flow. How do we make value flow? We define value. We define the value stream. How do we make this value flow through the process? And then the fourth step is once we have a comfortable flow in our consistent flow and stable flow, how do we make value be pulled by the customer? That means we we have so, so consistent and so stable that the customer we do activities when the customer asks for it. So it’s like just pulling customers, pulling value out of it. And, and then of course the fifth one is perfection. How do we continuously improve these five steps.

SD: It’s what we all strive for. Cameron, does the value stream map apply to the process of investigating automation?

CM: Yeah, absolutely. I think you can take this concept and you could even use this as a tool, right? I mean, what Vetri described is we use this consistently in the business we’ll take build advice from a 30,000 foot view map out the different material where the materials flowing, map out the information flow. Somebody considering automation could be a great first step in understanding 30,000 foot where’s my material flow, the material that adds value to the customer? How’s my information flowing in my process today? And generally this, you know, in a lot of these businesses, it’s the manual process. You’ll see all the different points or inventories building up, you see all the different points where you might have quality defects. You’re going to understand, you know, what contributes to the lead time of my product within my operation, within my value stream. And oftentimes the goal is to shorten that, right? We want to make sure the lead time comes as close as possible to what are actually our tack time or the, you know, the time that we need to have a product rolling off the line to meet customer demand is and I think automation is one solution to rapidly decrease that you know that that lead time right because then there’s no or it’s controlled build up of inventory between steps. I mean that’s what’s one of the elements I think of a lean processes is either you have that flow, you don’t have the inventory or it’s controlled, right? You have controlled working process between steps and, you know, automation is a way to enable that. And that’s a way for customers to really control those things and make sure that the material is flowing the way it should in their in their value stream.

SD: I like how you frame that up because once you have the value stream map, you can see where your bottlenecks are. You can see where you have breaks in flow and the application of automation can be a solution for solving that problem. Driving an ROI, driving more value creation for the customer.

CM: Absolutely. You know, these lean tools, I think I think oftentimes you’re going to they’re going to help you see a problem, you know, whether it’s of a value stream map or some other means of making problems visible, you know, it could be just measuring KPIs or measuring performance in your, you know, hour by hour to how much how much product you producing in your plant. And it’s going to make those problems visible. And then you need to know, do I need to do something different or not? Do I need to change the paradigm and do something different? Because oftentimes what we’ll do these Kaizen events internally do is we will set a target. We’ll sort of stretch chart where we know a breakthrough is needed to get there. So we can’t just say to people, work a little harder, you’ll get to that, that incremental step forward. It’s we need to dramatically change the way we’re doing things today. It has to be a change in our process and the way we operate. I can see that very similar with an automation solution. We know we have to do something different today to be able to achieve our objectives and goals in the future. So let’s consider a whole new paradigm in how we’re producing our product.

SD: Cameron, based on your background, have you seen an example where automation is applied to a process that hasn’t applied Lean Tools first? And what was the result of that?

CM: Yeah, so it’s really interesting because we often talk internally at ATS about we can’t improve a process that is not stable, right? So we have to have a process under control before we can start improving it and apply the principles of Kaizen Right. Kaizen is Change for the better. And you know, we want to drive in a mindset of continuous improvement within our ATS Business Model. So one of the first things we do before we went on through the process, which to understand how it should work, how do we measure success and the way I see automation in very similar terms is you can’t automate a process that we don’t or that doesn’t exist already, right? So a business that’s considering automation should already have some way of accomplishing that work. So they have some kind of process. If that process is out of control, if it’s not stable, if they don’t know exactly how they’re accomplishing or delivering their product, if there’s not some predictability in it, I would say that would be very hard to automate. And it’s going to take several steps before you’re ready to get to that point. So it’s just like a lean transformation. I mean, we have to have processes under control first before we try to improve it. Right. Because if you apply that improvement to something that isn’t consistent, you might be causing different issues upstream, downstream, or within the process in and of itself.

SD: I’ve seen a few times in my past and it’s always the robot that’s sitting in the corner and it really generally comes back to the fact that we tried to apply automation to a process we didn’t understand, wasn’t stable, and it just it wasn’t doing the job because you have a bad process, you apply something to do it faster or more repeatedly. You’re just doing it faster and more repeatedly wrong.


CM: Yeah, and I’m sure I think I’ve seen I’ve heard from people in operations before, like they said, well, we tried lean. It didn’t work. We couldn’t get it to work. You know, we’re hearing from the machine in the corner, but we tried the automation approach it. We just couldn’t get work for us. So there’s a lot of similarities in sort of taking a lean methodology, and approach to making your business more efficient and applying automation and automation technology with it to achieve that same purpose. So, you know, if you don’t have a stable process, if you don’t really come in with the right mindset, it’s an understanding of what you need to be successful. It’s going to it’s going to be your struggle to be successful.

SD: Cameron, you touched on something that I think is really important to those listening, and it’s that I tried Lean and it didn’t work. And I would try it again. But I have other priorities. Our team is really busy. We’re trying to scale, We’re trying to add this. We’re trying to add that What piece of advice would you give them?

CM: So it takes leadership, right? And we need the leaders to really understand the journey they’re going down before they start taking those first steps. It’s not a fad. It can’t be a flavor of month at a company. Within ATS, we have constant discussion with the leadership team of how do we make this our way of life, How do we drive it as part of our culture, always looking for improvement opportunities, always looking for ways to drive better process. If that’s not part of the culture in the business, if Lean seems like something that’s getting in the way of executing your work versus the vehicle to accomplish your work, then you’re not ready for it yet in your journey. And so it really does take a leadership, a change in the mindset for leadership to get there.

SD: I really like that statement. The vehicle to accomplish your work, a statement that I think a lot of those who are listening today could take back and really help to understand where Lean can help them. Cameron, Vetri, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your expertise on a lean approach and how automation and lean transformations can complement each other. We’re very fortunate to have you.

CM: Thank you, Simon. It’s been a pleasure.

VJ: Thanks, Simon. Thank you for the opportunity.

SD: To our listeners, as always, thank you so much for joining us for episode six. We sincerely hope that this helps you on your path towards automation transformation. We look forward to having you join our seventh episode of the second season, which focuses in on IP transformation driven by automation solutions. Thank you so much.