Episode 20

Why Industrial Automation is Inevitable

with Jeff Burnstein

Jeff Burnstein

President of the Association for Advancing Automation

In this episode, Tee Ganbold sits down with Jeff Burnstein, President of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), to talk about the adoption of industrial automation and A3’s piece in that progress.

Topics in this conversation include:

  • The mission behind A3 (2:01)
  • A3’s community and what they provide for their members (3:09)
  • Why automation is being adopted more now than ever before (4:09)
  • The primary reason the adoption of automation is slowed (5:42)
  • Why there should not be a concern about automation decreasing job opportunities (6:56)
  • A message about A3’s conference, Automate Forward (9:15)


The Association for Advancing Automation (A3) is the world’s largest global vision and imaging trade group. Their members include manufacturers of vision components and systems, system integrators, distributors, OEMs, end-users, consulting firms, academic institutions, and research groups directly involved with vision and imaging. Together these companies increase the quality of everyday lives with the mission to advance the understanding and use of vision and imaging technologies to drive global expansion and growth through education and promotion.

Automating The Chain bridges the learning gap between business executives and their technical counterparts. In each episode, we learn from CTOs and experts in industrial automation as they explain their technology in an accessible way. For more information, or to subscribe, please visit https://www.automatingthechain.com/.

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Tee Ganbold  0:10  

Welcome to Automating The Chain, the weekly podcast and webinar specifically engineered to support and educate executives as they explore the potential of industrial automation. Each week we sit down with an executive leader or their technical counterpart of an international organization to discuss how they plan to leverage industrial automation to advance their business, who also have startups focused on automating the supply chain, explain the technology in an accessible way. Experts in the field will color in historical and current case studies. Without further ado, let’s get into the show.


Hi, Jeff Burnstein. Thank you very much for coming on Automating The Chain. I’m very pleased to introduce you to the Automating The Chain community as the President of the Association for Advancing Automation (also known as A3), which is the umbrella organization for RIA (Robotics Industries Association), the AIA (Advanced Vision Imaging Association), and the MCMA (Motion Control and Motor Association). I’d love you to talk a little bit more to those, given that you’ve been overseeing the movement towards automation for the last 40 years. Can you tell us a little bit about your mission at A3, which is the umbrella organization, and where all things are happening? Why are you doing this? What has led you to devote your life to this?


Jeff Burnstein  1:52  

First of all, thanks for having me, Tee Ganbold. It’s a great honor to be here with you and to be a participant in this podcast. I’ve been doing this for 40 years. I got into it when I was an English major in college at the University of Michigan, go blue, and realized that there was a need for someone to communicate to the general public, to the media, to policymakers about very technical issues like robotics, which is how our association started a long time ago, as a robotics association. Now, our mission here at the A3, which brings together that alphabet soup that you talked about,—robotics vision, motion, AI—is to be the global advocate for adopting automation. We believe it’s important for companies, if they want to be successful, to take advantage of the best technologies out there. Automating, using robotics, vision, motion, etc, is the way we believe to do it.


Tee Ganbold  2:52  

Thank you so much. In terms of your members, let’s talk a little bit about your community and your members. Who actually turns to you and says, “Jeff, we’d love to learn more about what’s happening in robotics automation”?


Jeff Burnstein  3:08  

There are our members, that’s 1,100+ member companies throughout the world. Then there’s the whole universe of users and potential users. They need a trusted resource. We provide lots of information on our websites, we have over a million visitors a year to our websites. We put on great shows and conferences, including one that’s coming up called Automate Forward, and webinars and all this information available for free to anybody who wants to learn more about how to successfully apply automation.


Tee Ganbold  3:42  

From what you’ve seen in the industry— again, to give even more context to those who are listening. You get some of the most senior executives at corporations. You get some of the cutting-edge robotics companies, executives, and founders. You get policymakers turning to you. Can you tell us a little bit about why people are starting to adopt automation now more than ever before?


Jeff Burnstein  4:09  

There’s a lot of reasons for that. One, there have been improvements in technology. Again, you’re looking at a 40 year period. It used to be you had to put robots behind cages. Now you can work side by side with them safely. There’s been a lot of improvement there. Also, the prices have come down. That’s significant. It used to be that small and medium-sized companies thought, “Oh, robotics and automation, that’s for big companies like automakers.” Now it’s available to everybody. The third most important thing, maybe the most important thing, is the ease of use. Technologies are a lot easier to use, set up, program. You can have some of the newer robots up and running very quickly. What’s also different from 40 years ago is that the competition is global. You might be used to competing with somebody who was in the same region as you, but now you have to have the best quality, most impressive pricing structure (so that the customer can afford it), you have to be fast, and these technologies—robotics and vision and AI and motion and all the rest—allow you to do that. It’s a competitive edge. If you don’t do it, you fall behind.


Tee Ganbold  5:25  

In terms of the problems you keep hearing— Clearly, there’s a product-market fit in the sense that members are turning to you and saying, “We have this problem.” What is the reoccurring problem you keep hearing from your members?


Jeff Burnstein  5:42  

The biggest problem that our members—who primarily are suppliers of technology, but we’re unique as a trade association in that we have a lot of major user members as well (FedEx, UPS, Procter and Gamble, and the rest)—but the real problem that is slowing the adoption of automation is the lack of trained people. That is the stumbling block right now. Nobody can find people. We talk about how, in the United States alone, there could be a shortfall of 2.5 million jobs just in manufacturing by 2028 because we don’t have a system of training people in place so that we can fill these open jobs. As the population ages, it’s only going to get worse, so we really need to use automation. It’s augmenting people, it’s not replacing people. In fact, it’s creating all sorts of new opportunities for people.


Tee Ganbold  6:36  

Let’s talk a little bit about the people piece of this, which is that the majority of people who are concerned about the automation movement are because it might reduce the number of jobs out there. What are you saying to that particular notion, and to those who are concerned about that?


Jeff Burnstein  6:56  

We looked at this issue over about a 25 year period and it was really interesting to see that in the United States for instance, in every period where robot sales went up, unemployment went down. When robot sales went down, unemployment went up, just the opposite of what you would expect or what you sometimes hear in the media or high profile studies with headlines that everybody’s going to be put out of work. If you go back pre-pandemic, 2010 to 2018 was the biggest explosion of the use of robotics and automation in US history. During that period, unemployment fell from around 10% to 3.5%. What we see across the globe is that, in countries that automate and take advantage of these technologies, unemployment goes down. The jobs that are created are better and safer and higher-paying jobs, not the dull, dirty, dangerous, repetitive jobs that people don’t want to do and really shouldn’t be doing anyway. It’s just the opposite, these technologies are saving and creating jobs.


Tee Ganbold  8:45  

We can look at a lot of trends in history where, if you do adopt technology, you’re much more likely to keep up, so there’s alignment there. A last message for anyone who’s listening is you have Automate Forward coming up, which is starting on the 22nd of March. Do you have a message for anyone who might want to participate to end the conversation?


Jeff Burnstein  9:15  

Yes, March 22-26. It’s a whole week of free presentations by the top industry experts in all these fields that we’re talking about: robotics, vision, motion, AI. We have the senior people who are speaking at this conference. At the same time, there’s a trade show going on. 250 or more leading companies are showing demos of the latest products. You can talk with them one-on-one. It’s going to be like a trade show, except it’s virtual. It’s the closest thing we’ve found to creating an environment that’s going to be like being there. Of course, nothing is the same as being there, but the learning that takes place at Automate Forward is going to be unlike anything that happens this year for somebody who’s interested in automation. We think that’s a lot of people right now based on our pre-registration, which is very strong. This gets so much interest. Again, not just big companies, small and medium-sized companies. Not just a few industries like automotive or electronics. There will be agriculture, retail, food processing, Life Sciences, medical, it doesn’t matter. Everybody’s looking to automate and we believe that Automate Forward is a great resource for them and, throughout the year, the Association for Advancing Automation can help them get the information they need.


Tee Ganbold  10:36  

I’m so grateful, Jeff Burnstein, on behalf of the community for having you talk a little bit about how you’re helping everyone who’s trying to understand industrial automation. Thank you so much for coming on Automating The Chain and I’m sure we’ll have you on very soon.


Jeff Burnstein  10:52  

Thank you. I’d love to come back.


Tee Ganbold  10:55  

Thanks so much for listening! If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review and let us know what you liked. To follow along with future episodes, be sure to subscribe on the podcast platform of your choice, or head over to AutomatingTheChain.Com for the latest updates. Until next time!