Interview with Steven Eakins, manufacturing engineer, Subaru of Indiana Automotive
In advance of the Next-Generation Collabrative Robots & Automation Technologies 2016 conference (August 17-18, Detroit MI), we spoke to Steven Eakins about his perspective as a manufacturing engineer and where Subaru stands when it comes to robotics and automation technologies.
Q: In short, Steven, what are you looking to takeaway from the conference? What are the main needs and wants for manufacturing engineers today?
Steven Eakins: My intent in attending this conference is to gain a better understanding of how other companies are implementing new technologies to safely increase productivity and quality in the workplace, as well as to better determine which technologies have best proven their worth in the workplace.
Maximum uptime and process efficiency are always desired, but these must also be balanced with the need to work within industry safety standards without compromising quality standards.
As a manufacturing engineer for Subaru, what are the factors you are taking into consideration as it relates to adopting and integrating Next-Gen collaborative robots and automation technologies on your factory floors?
Steven Eakins: We at Subaru of Indiana Automotive (SIA) work closely with our Fuji Heavy Industry (FHI) counterparts to integrate new technologies into our manufacturing facility in Lafayette. As a smaller company in the auto industry, it’s important that any new technology is carefully vetted before any capital investment is made.
This has historically been done in the parent company facility in Japan, but with our year over year expanded growth, more of the onus has fallen on us to take charge of new technology developments.
Adoption of new technologies is largely dependent on how well this technology can be integrated while limiting total overall risk we are willing to assume during any given time period or model launch.
How involved is Subaru in trying to discover and adopt the very latest automation technologies?
Steven Eakins: Subaru has taken a more conservative stance in the adoption of new automation technologies, with our focus on new technologies reflecting our core fundamentals of reliability and safety that have created a recipe for success. When pursuing new technologies, the focus is primarily on technologies that can be applied to be most beneficial to our core market, such as weight reduction and safety.
How has Subaru compared execution strategies to benchmark what works best as a low-cost and effective solution?
Steven Eakins: Subaru and Toyota partnered to produce the Camry within our facility. As a result, Toyota has served as a benchmark for nearly ten years. Our mother company FHI has also played a key role in our bench marking, as there is a high degree of collaboration between SIA and FHI.
FHI and SIA work closely to trial and pursue new technologies, as well as utilizing resources such as A2Mac1 for investigative purposes.
In your opinion, is it possible to collectively improve effciency, speed and safety without exponentially increasing costs?
Steven Eakins: I absolutely believe this is a possibility, but framing a period for return on investment is key in recognizing overall cost reduction. The value of initial capital investment may not be realized until later in the product life cycle.
Who are you most looking forward to hearing from at the conference?
Steven Eakins: I’m most looking forward to Joseph Falco’s discussion reviewing collaborative robots and their role within the modern manufacturing environment.
What are your top reasons for attending the Next-Generation Collaborative Robots & Automation Technologies Automotive Manufacturing 2016 yourself and why the industry should be there?
Steven Eakins: Gathering new ideas and learning more about available technologies are my primary reasons for attendance. I feel that collaboration is very important – particularly to smaller auto manufacturers and suppliers – to advance the industry as a whole.
It’s very easy within any organization to become stagnant in terms of thought processes and methodology, without realizing strengths and weaknesses internal to the company. Events such as this can provide glimpses into alternate means of thinking and technologies that might otherwise remain unknown.