A Lens on New Technology in Manufacturing (Video Transcript)

Voiceover: Are human manufacturing jobs on the way out as ever more intelligent machines come into wider use? For some manufacturing workers, these technologies are actually a greater boon than threat, and the bigger issue is managing constant change in their work environments and responsibilities. To better understand how such manufacturers are being affected by changes in technology, Invested visited Optimax, an optical component manufacturer in Ontario, NY with 400 employees…and growing.

Alejandro Mendoza, Human Resource Manager: Anything that needs light needs some type of optical component. So whether we’re talking about the aerospace industry, medical industry, semiconductor industry, research and development, institutions, as technology continues to change and grow and evolve in all of these industries, we get the opportunity to play in that space.

Matt Rider, Department Team Leader: I’ve really seen it go from a very analog, hands-on, very worker-based operation to a much more digitally demanding kind of manufacturing method. We use technology to support all the big decisions we’re trying to make and to really push us forward. But the human worker and the interactions that they have are critical to our process.

Voiceover: At Optimax, collaborative teams balance the strengths of human workers with the strengths of supporting machines to make processes most effective and efficient, and to develop new solutions.

Matt Rider: Before, a human would really be tied to a machine and have to guide it through its process, where now they can start a very intricate operation with just very little of their input and now they can go focus on other things that are much more important—things that require some sort of human-only interactions.

Matt Brunelle, Research and Development Engineer: On lenses, you can’t have scratches on them, obviously. But it turns out that it’s really hard to write software or find cameras that can actually pick up and detect those scratches, and then quantify their size and shape and depth. So that’s all still done by humans.

Voiceover: At the same time, the research and development team has worked with skilled technicians to design and develop robots that lend a hand on the shop floor.

Matt Brunelle: They’re actually polishing parts. That was a technology that came right out of our R&D. A lot of how this works is that someone on the floor will identify a need and say, wow I wish I had something that did this. And then they’ll usually walk over and talk to one of us and we’ll go, well, we can’t really do that, or, we might be able to do this—would this help? And eventually we kind of build that into an entire machine platform that’s out making parts.

Voiceover: Constantly changing specs and processes require agile and integrated data systems to equip skilled technicians with all the information they need right at their fingertips.

Alejandro Mendoza: In manufacturing, it’s changing too quickly, and the ability for organizations to sense and respond to that requires a different way of doing things. You can no longer have one person who knows all of the answers. So the information systems that you have in place have to be able to cascade information out and people have to be able to get the information that they need.

Basit Qaderi, Data Engineer: It is definitely making the process work more smoothly. It’s allowing them to make better decisions, being able to be as transparent as possible, to have the data that they’re the ones inputting in and being able to collect that and just displaying it right in front of them.

Voiceover: The humans working at every step of the manufacturing process have to become more agile as well, and hone new skills on and off the job, with the company’s support.

Matt Rider: Fifteen years ago if you could work with a machine—you know, do basic data entry but you know, you’re good with your hands—you had a really good chance at being successful in the field. And with everything becoming a lot more digital, the need for computer skills or the understanding of different software, experience with those things, greatly help your chances of being successful.

Alejandro Mendoza: Lifelong learning is an expectation in this industry and in this organization. We offer full tuition assistance in advance for anybody who wants to continue to learn, and the amount of on-the-job training programs and opportunities that we have for our workforce is vital.

Voiceover: As it continues to grow, Optimax sees people remaining central to decision-making around their processes and products, with technology playing an increasingly important supporting role.

Basit Qaderi: If we can use AR or VR to help our employees train better before they are even out on the shop floor, why not? Before they’re actually testing real optics, why not create some augmented reality for them to be able to pull databases together or use measurements, all in this virtual reality world? I look at this technology as a tool—something that we shouldn’t be 100% reliant on but to make the employee make the best optic that they can.

Matt Rider: When it comes to robots taking over in the manufacturing world, I have no concern really at all. From my experience working with the robots and the other technologies similar to that, it’s just an enabling technology. In the end, you still need human interaction—you still have to have somebody to tell it what to do.

Basit Qaderi: No matter how perfect the technology may be, there’s something about humans that we’ll always need—you know, emotion and judgement. You can program a computer to think logically and mathematically which will never make mistakes, but sometimes you need to go with your gut feeling, and sometimes you need that human being to make that decision.