In Person: Jim Lawton of Zebra Technologies

In Particular person: Jim Lawton of Zebra Applied sciences

Jim Lawton is vice chairman and common supervisor for robotics automation at Zebra Applied sciences. He works with clients to implement clever automation and superior robotics to rework their operations with better effectivity, larger productiveness, and decrease prices. He has expertise in e-commerce, provide chain optimization, and collaborative robotics—expertise that has formed his ardour for serving to manufacturing, provide chain, and logistics organizations leverage expertise to boost enterprise efficiency. 

Lawton holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from Tufts College, an M.S. in electrical engineering and laptop science from the Massachusetts Institute of Expertise (MIT), and an MBA from MIT’s Sloan College of Administration. He not too long ago shared his insights with DC Velocity Group Editorial Director David Maloney.

Q. How would you describe the present state of robotics automation?

A: That is undoubtedly one of the crucial thrilling instances I’ve seen within the 10-plus years I’ve been out there. For warehouse and success operations groups, three tendencies are creating actual urgency for deploying robotics and automation now.

First, there are the pressures of labor—each hiring and holding workers at this time and recruiting workers sooner or later. Second is the transformation of the warehouse into an on-demand operation the place there’s a a lot nearer connection to the tip buyer, with all of the expectations that entails. Third, it has by no means been tougher to forecast with any confidence what the enterprise and financial setting will appear like. For these of us engaged on creating options, improvements like collaborative robotics and cloud computing mix to create limitless alternatives to assist clients clear up actual issues.

Q. Zebra, which has lengthy been identified for data-collection units, cellular computing, and printing merchandise, acquired Fetch Robotics in July 2021. Why did the corporate determine to increase its portfolio into autonomous cellular robots?

A: For the final couple of years, we’ve seen clients battle to determine the most effective methods for them to drive higher productiveness, throughput, and accuracy of their warehouses. They’re asking good questions like: “How do I deploy automation?” “What are the most effective workflows to make use of it?” “What sort of outcomes can I get by leveraging automation?”

Our clients have actually pulled us into the journey they’re on to get extra from the options they have already got with robotics and automation. So, we’re asking ourselves how we may help them do this. With improvements in our units, equivalent to wearables, heads-up shows, cellular computer systems, and autonomous cellular robots (AMRs), operations groups can actually obtain that subsequent degree of productiveness they’re wanting from robotics and automation.

Q. You’ve gotten a background in electrical engineering and laptop science. How does that background assist you to establish potential functions for robotics automation?

A: Rising up, I liked to construct issues with an Erector set and Lego bricks, taking a pile of items and constructing one thing with them. It was that feeling, I believe, that finally obtained me a profession in manufacturing and, extra particularly, operations, the place I’m centered on serving to operations groups flip what’s basically a pile of items into one thing better than the sum of these components.

About 10 years in the past, I got interested within the methods during which software program was on the coronary heart of the innovation we’ve got now come to count on from our units—and what that meant for machines on a broader scale. We’ve seen advances in machine imaginative and prescient, notion, and synthetic intelligence (AI) that permit us to do issues with robots that weren’t attainable 5 or 10 years in the past. So, it’s opening up new alternatives to deploy robots in locations that may add a lot, far more worth than ever earlier than.

Q. What are the important thing advantages of autonomous cellular robots in distribution amenities?

A: First, AMRs free individuals up from strolling miles and miles to be able to full orders. Which means extra orders could be fulfilled and shipped each single day. Second, AMRs take the burden of tedious duties off individuals, and, in doing so, contribute to a greater working setting—one the place [people] usually tend to keep. Third, AMRs are straightforward to deploy and could be configured for greater than a single job, making the innovation accessible to operations of any measurement and basically democratizing the flexibility to learn from automation.

Q. What’s being executed to assist human employees really feel extra comfy working alongside collaborative robots?

A: Probably the most profitable implementations I’ve seen have been at firms that make one basic selection on the outset of a deployment—they embrace individuals who work on these processes each single day. These employees perceive the processes and the workflow, and they’re in the most effective place to determine the way to bridge these two in order that what in the end will get deployed will work within the setting. That engagement goes a really good distance towards dispelling fears of job loss and creates alternatives for employees to discover and suggest different locations the place robots can ship worth.

Q. One benefit of autonomous cellular robots is their scalability. How does that profit clients in managing peak seasons?

A: Traditionally, success operations met seasonal spikes by hiring non permanent employees. However that is not a sustainable technique. Even exterior of seasonal spikes, it doesn’t work. For instance, we’ve got a buyer that hires non permanent employees to make up for the hole they’ve in full-time workers. They carry in new non permanent employees each Monday morning, and the shopper has shared that, on common, by lunchtime, 50% of these employees have stop.

AMRs make it attainable to keep away from that “gotcha,” as a result of they’ll rapidly be configured to finish essentially the most pressing job at hand, equivalent to choosing and transporting to packaging when demand spikes, after which redeployed to a different job when demand ranges stabilize.

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