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Building your Advanced Manufacturing Team: An interview with Brandon Bond

February 26, 2024 | Sophie Bisson

As more small and medium manufacturers adopt automation technology, Vention is dedicated to ensuring they have the knowledge, support, and resources to be successful. To this end, we recently launched a 3-part webinar series, ‘Scaling Up with Automation: A Guide for Small to Medium Manufacturers.’

Throughout this series, executives from Vention and industry experts explore the compelling need for automation in today’s manufacturing landscape, guide you in identifying your first automation project, and help you build the Advanced Manufacturing Team necessary for success.

This article provides an overview of the third episode, ‘Building Your Advanced Manufacturing Team,’ hosted by Etienne Lacroix, CEO and Co-Founder of Vention, and Brandon Bond, Senior Project Engineer at Actemium USA.

About Brandon & Actemium

Actemium USA specializes in solutions for industrial and manufacturing processes, including controls integration, project management, and engineering services for clients in a wide variety of industries. Their industry-proven solutions are designed, manufactured, and implemented for clients with the help of an experienced team of engineers.

Brandon is a Senior Project Engineer at Actemium, specializing in industrial automation CAD modelling, PLCs, and robotics for process improvement. With over 10 years of experience, Brandon has had great success creating and leading Advanced Manufacturing Teams.

The rise of ‘DIY Automation’ and the ‘Advanced Manufacturing Team’

DIY Automation or ‘do it yourself’ automation refers to internal automation and manufacturing professionals undertaking industrial automation projects within their companies. This approach relies on plug-and-play hardware components and intuitive software. The democratization of automation technologies has made this shift possible, enabling internal employees to take on these projects with lower risks.

Embracing the completion of automation projects in-house has resulted in the creation of the Advanced Manufacturing Team (AMT) for many manufacturers. This team leads all automation activities to drive the automation agenda across the company. AMTs still utilize integrators to take on complex and specialized process problems, but with the rise of democratized automation, we are seeing more and more companies develop an internal AMT.

That’s the power of the team. If I don’t know it, someone does. Someone else has already fought that battle and has a good place to start from.” - Brandon Bond, Senior Project Engineer at Actemium USA

Advice for small and medium-sized businesses kickstarting their automation journey

Within industrial automation, one of the hardest things to do is to start small. The possibilities are endless, but if small and medium-sized businesses take on too much, too fast, the results can be negatively impacted. Brandon recommends before starting an automation project to take the time to fully understand the technology and automate one piece of the larger process. After you do this and reach a successful deployment, you can then build upon that. Remember, you don’t have to solve everything at once.

The benefit of upskilling machine operators 

Operators are one of the most valuable resources on a manufacturing floor because they possess firsthand knowledge about the processes and machinery. They will give you the truth and make recommendations for which aspects to improve through automation. Brandon emphasizes the significance of empowering operators by teaching them to implement desired changes, thereby fostering engagement and encouraging their input for process improvement.

The most important people, especially in welding, are the welders themselves. They welded this piece 500 times, and they know how to do it, and they just want to help. Let those guys get engaged.” - Brandon Bond, Senior Project Engineer at Actemium USA

In recent years with the democratization of industrial automation, collaborative robots or ‘cobots’ have quickly grown in popularity because of their ease of use. One of the main features, ‘free drive,’ is a major benefit to Brandon and his team. It allows operators to easily program robots to perform their desired tasks without needing a specialized third party.

Building an Advanced Manufacturing Team

Throughout his 10+ years in the industry, Brandon has gained firsthand experience building and leading AMTs. Over time, he has learned some best practices for building an AMT:

  1. Your team doesn’t need to be made up of the company’s most educated or senior employees. Instead, start building your AMT with the people already performing the day-to-day operations. Collectively, they have the best understanding of processes. From there, you can always add new expertise as needed.
  2. Engineers are not always skilled at managing people. To lead your AMT, you need one person who has the appropriate people and managerial skills to be the guiding force behind the team. This person sets the pace, determines individual and team priorities, and decides the deadline.
  3. The full team needs to understand who your end customer is. At the end of the day, you are building a product for somebody else, so you have to prioritize their needs.

Building a business case

When presenting a new project to management, Brandon believes that your biggest win is in fully understanding the technology and processes involved. Having a strong grasp of this information will build trust, allowing you to gain the necessary resources and support.

In Brandon’s projects, he has found that one of the most important metrics is throughput. Demonstrating that you can automate a manual task or process to increase both productivity and consistency is a huge differentiator.

Yes, the payback and all that is important, but if you are able to show the ripple effect beyond the economic metric, you’re more likely to have buy-in from management.” - Etienne Lacroix, CEO and Co-Founder of Vention

Leaning on one of the most supportive communities

In reflecting on his career in automation and manufacturing thus far, Brandon has two pieces of advice for anyone entering the industry:

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Vention is a great partner in teaching and guiding practitioners through new technologies. There are also distributors whose job is to fix niche problems. Vention and distributors have most likely already seen your problem, solved it, and now can assist you in doing the same.
  2. You are never alone. There is a whole community of experienced and passionate automation and manufacturing professionals who want to help solve your problem. Leverage communities such as The Vention Community to ask questions and receive advice for successful projects.

Interested in learning more? Watch the full webinar on-demand for even more insights from Etienne Lacroix and Brandon Bond:

Building Your Advanced Manufacturing Team is the third and final webinar in a three-part series. Tune in on-demand to the other episodes: Episode 1: Market Pressures and the Need for Automation with Joe Wykes and Juan Martinez & Episode 2: How to Identify Your Automation Project with Mathieu Desmarais and Kurt Gunnell.

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