S2Ep03: Transforming Operations Through Automation with Allan Gibson of Ready Robotics


Allan Gibson, VP of Automation at Ready Robotics, discusses how Ready Robotics empowers manufacturers with automation programs. He shares his journey in the field of automation and robotics, including his work at Fortune 500 companies like Stanley Black & Decker and the Estee Lauder company. Ready Robotics serves a diverse range of industries, including food and beverage, electronics, manufacturing, aerospace and defense, and more. They offer services such as automation readiness assessments and a platform called ForgeOS that enables high mix, low volume applications. The major problem they solve is helping companies transform their operations through automation.



00:00 - Introduction and Allan Gibson's Journey
05:46 - What is Ready Robotics and ForgeOS
10:21 - The Role of ForgeOS in Automation
26:49 - Addressing the Labor Shortage through Automation


episode transcript

Andrya (00:01.112)
Hello and welcome to the Vox Verba podcast. Today we have a very special show on one of my most loved topics, robotics. And so I'm super excited to welcome Alan Gibson today to the podcast. Alan is known for his groundbreaking work in automation and robotics, including work at Fortune 500 companies like Stanley Black & Decker and the Estee Lauder company. Alan combines out of a box thinking with strategic planning.

to drive manufacturing enhancements on a global scale. Alan serves on the board of advisors for Ready Robotics, and he is the VP of Automation there. Today we're gonna talk about how Ready Robotics empowers manufacturers with automation programs that they can easily use for industrial and collaborative robotics. So that's what we're gonna talk about today. Welcome, Alan.

Allan Gibson (00:55.693)
Yeah, thank you for the nice sweet introduction and happy to be here.

Andrya (01:02.104)
Of course, yeah, I love writing these things. I really enjoyed researching you and your organization. I'm curious, can we start by sharing your journey? What sparked your path here?

Allan Gibson (01:17.517)
Sure, yeah. So really all the way back in college, obviously an engineering degree, but I started in oil and gas. And my introduction to automation was through the process industry. So I essentially was responsible for writing a lot of the software that helped pump oil and gas from the Midland, Texas area down to the coast. So mainly on the midstream side of things.

as well as the upstream side, a lot of the extraction from the ground, some of the software for pump stations and things like that I helped to write, and manage projects really at that point. So very early in my career, I was a small satellite office, so I took over a lot of the project management very early on during my time there at Prime Controls, and I still actually speak with those fellows there fairly commonly. From there,

My wife and I had our first son and we wanted to move back closer to family. So we moved to DC, uh, where we're both originally from. And I went to work at Stanley Black and Decker and I was really the first person brought into the company specifically around automating manufacturing. There had previously been advanced manufacturing engineers, uh, but they were more focused on new product introduction and things like that, where I was specifically focused on automation.

Um, so spend a good amount of time at Stanley, uh, doing work in automation. I was promoted up into a new group in Connecticut, their industry 4 .0 group, uh, under Sudhi Bangalore. Uh, so my one up boss for a period of time was the CFO of the corporation, Don Allen, who's now the CEO. Um, which helped me get a lot of very early executive leadership, um, you know, experience, right. Having to.

you know, communicated that level is substantially different. Uh, so it was this nice juxtaposition between the day -to -day operation of having quarterly reviews with Don Allen and then being able to go into a factory and identify applications and automate them. Um, so during that time, there was a major Made in USA initiative. We were on -shore and production from Asia. Uh, and I helped a lot with the automation of power tool assembly in the, uh, new flagship.

Allan Gibson (03:41.104)
power tool assembly plant in Charlotte, North Carolina. So I spent a lot of time doing that. And that was very transformational for my career, obviously, with that level of exposure, very early on and a very successful part of my career. And then I moved to the Estee Lauder companies as a director, where I was responsible for leading all of their automation programs through manufacturing and warehousing and distribution.

Spent a lot of time really focusing on agility and modularity because they have obviously as, as most people know, there is an amazing amount of products and skews associated with those brands. And they need to be able to make them on the same lines. They can't have a dedicated line for every single one of the thousands and thousands of products they make. So they need to have agility on lines and the ability to rapidly change over equipment so that they can.

you know, make this transition from one product to the next. And they're, you know, cosmetics specifically is in this little bit of a unique space where they, the way that they make and package products is very similar to like a food and beverage type of company, but they don't have the volume or the simplicity of those. So it's not really great to repurpose food and beverage equipment into cosmetics, but other.

but that's generally where people start, but you have to drive a lot more agility into it. So it has its own unique challenges. But really during my time there, I spent a lot of time working on the new plant that was being built in Japan that is now online for the APAC market. And five ASRS systems in there as well as some major automation, new automation lines.

Andrya (05:32.888)
That's incredible. And so then from there, that led you to your journey at Ready Robotics. I think this is a great time to talk about what is Ready Robotics and what's your role there.

Allan Gibson (05:46.096)
Right. So at Ready Robotics, I'm the vice president of manufacturing technologies and automation. And sort of in a snippet, what I do is what I did in those previous roles, but now I do it for other companies. So I'm helping on the enterprise customer side of things. I lead essentially everything that is customer facing other than sales. So, you know,

All everything engineering related that has to do with applications that we encounter in the field, the identification of applications, helping companies build business cases around automation and developing a program and a strategy for automation. I do all of that, which is essentially what I did at the Estee Lauder companies and at Stanley Black and Decker. Now I just get to do it for different industries, different companies that all have their own sort of unique challenges that I need to mold together into a strategy.

And then for Joe S, which is ready robotics product, right? Our software product. Um, we essentially are helping to deploy that as part of that automation strategy. Um, so, you know, help develop the strategy, help justify it, build the business case for it. And then really I'm also responsible for the full execution of the strategy, uh, implementation of all those automation projects, as well as the after, after deployment success of them.

You know, the way that ready makes, the way that ready makes money is on the reoccurring revenue aspect of things. Obviously services, you know, you know, consulting time upfront, right? But we, it's really around, you know, the services and then those licenses pieces that reoccurring revenue. So we're not incentivized to deploy the most expensive capital equipment that you can possibly do because it's the most, you know, reliable or.

whiz bangy thing, we're actually most, you know, aligned with the end user is trying to be the most cost effective while also being the most, you know, reliable. Because what we want to do is we want to make sure that the project can justify themselves, right? We need to, you know, find the right system integrators, the right machine builders for that application, but not overspend so that it makes the project unjustifiable.

Allan Gibson (08:10.32)
or too technically complex for what's needed. So we're trying to really thread that needle and make sure that their business goals align with our business goals as well. And that's why we really set up our business model in that way.

Andrya (08:23.384)
fascinating. Thank you for sharing that with me. As you're sharing, I was thinking, you know, who are some of the people that Ready Robotics serves? The types of organizations, perhaps the verticals. The two you mentioned from your background are consumer product brands, and so I'm curious, do you guys work with consumer product brands or also other types of organizations?

Allan Gibson (08:27.12)

Allan Gibson (08:48.432)
Yes. So in terms of verticals, it's very diverse. So food and beverage, electronics, manufacturing, aerospace and defense is a big industry for us. General industry is probably the largest. We do do a little bit of cosmetics work. We do a little bit of CPG, you know, as well. So it's very diverse in that regard. I think where we're focused most from a business size perspective.

is on the corporate enterprise side of things. And the reason why is because we're really helping to deploy a holistic automation strategy. And although we do work with mid -sized businesses, I would say most of our business is on the large corporate enterprise side. We do still like to work with mid -sized businesses and we get scale through those businesses in different ways, opposed to scaling to 50 sites and, you know,

200 applications, we're focusing on when we're working in those mid -sized businesses on common applications that are relevant not just to them, but to other similar mid -sized businesses where we can create and productize a solution that then can be transferred to others in the space.

Andrya (10:08.792)
Okay, yeah, that's really helpful. So along with that, what are some of the key services, products that people come to you for or offerings?

Allan Gibson (10:21.878)
Yeah, so most people enter the sales funnel in two different ways. They either are bringing, are coming from a technology focus, right? Where they've seen ForgeOS, they've seen the ease of use and the capabilities of the platform, right? It's robot agnostic so that we can handle, you know, collaborative or industrial robots. But it is also, you know, a very key entry point.

You know, people see that as a way to solve their challenges that they see in their marketplace, whether it's we have multiple different robot brands within their factory and they want them all to speak the same language. The other major entry point is what we call an ARA, which is an automation readiness assessment. And that's where my team and myself physically go on site and look to identify and help customers and users identify.

And not just to do the technical evaluation and say, oh, this is feasible. Technically, we're also really focused on financial justifiability because. Including myself, no one likes to spend time doing something really cool technology related, but it's not justifiable and it doesn't end up going anywhere. Um, so we spend a good deal of time making sure that projects are justifiable at those early stages and technically feasible.

So we aren't trying to technically solve the challenge at that point with all this minute detail, right? We're trying to make sure that that's an application that I myself or my team has seen done in other applications in relevant industries. And then making sure that from a financial justification point of view, it's a justifiable project coming out of those ARAs. We're generating reports, right? A really comprehensive report.

as well as doing an executive presentation, you know, with all of this built into it. And we're really helping to develop that automation strategy. Most of these ARAs are not a single site. We do do single site ones, but for the most part, we're doing multiple sites at a time. And the reason for that is because that's how you build an automation strategy more holistically.

Allan Gibson (12:36.695)
Right. We need to see the commonality and the scalability between sites to understand what projects should be prioritized. Because in a lot of cases, there's projects that might not be your most financially beneficial, right? They might be second or third on that list, but they might have 10 times the scale. So, and the long run, not when you're not looking at just the individual project, when you're looking at them as a whole, as a, as a company, as a whole.

That is your most impactful project. So I like to marry up in us, you know, is that we develop their strategies. I like to marry up two different pieces, really. What we call low hanging fruit, which is going to be your, your lower cost, lower effort type of projects that generally don't have as good of a savings, right? But they're good projects. They're quick wins. They get a, they help to build adoption within an organization. And I like to couple those with.

what we call those longer lead time or strategic projects, more transformational projects, which is oftentimes where a lot of your value comes from. But those are also typically much more challenging projects, right? So they take a little bit longer to develop. So as you're executing your quick wins and getting your quick wins, you're developing the other ones so they can quickly follow your quick win projects from a strategy point of view.

Andrya (14:03.64)
I love that approach, taking the two different pieces, both with different strategic outcomes, but they still work together.

Allan Gibson (14:13.719)
Yeah, it's a lot of fun breaking them up in that way.

Andrya (14:16.664)
Yeah, what would you say is the major problem that you're solving for people that you work with? You did mention your readiness assessment. So are they looking to solve like a facility transformation that they're looking for or are they solving five year plans?

Allan Gibson (14:40.696)
No, so usually it is an executive level for the most part nowadays from the C suite. That is we need to transform our operation. You know, what is that? What is that going to look like? And automation is always part of that. Ready robotics is a lot more than just sort of robotic automation. I know that's our, that's our name. That's how we started. But we're really an automation platform. So we.

control not just robot arms, but also mobile robotics, platforms, AGVs, AMRs, and we also do IoT applications. So the way that I like to think about this is anything on the factory floor that has some logical control, process control associated with it can be done on our platform in a agnostic ease of use way. And we've really helped to the other big thing that you see, you know,

coming strategically from executive levels is on business transformation overall and industry 4 .0. And what we're really doing in that space, you know, Nvidia is an investor in us and we have deeply integrated Forge OS into the Nvidia Omniverse platform. Right, they have a simulation tool called IsaacSim and we essentially can fully program.

automation cells to de -risk them for our end user customers in that virtual environment and then export that same exact software code into the physical asset that lives in the factory when you get to that point. So we essentially write the software way in advance now where traditionally you wouldn't get the software aspect of an automated piece of equipment until the last...

three quarters of a project, right? So, you know, that last 25 % of a project is around, you know, software and implementation, like built, putting it into the factory. Uh, but now we're really starting that upfront, which de -risks a lot of investment, right? Because you're not spending, you're not spending capital at that point, right? You're that services work. So if an application can't meet the cycle time, or there's some weird challenge to it, not only are you de -risking it from a technical perspective,

Allan Gibson (17:04.345)
but you're also financially de -risking it for the business.

Andrya (17:09.368)
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And it, um, when you talk about your platform, that is forge OS, right? Yes. Perfect. Okay, great. So ready robotics owns and operates this platform. And it's part of how you're able to really deliver on your services and what you're able to do for companies because this platform, um, is able to help them in this business transformation.

Allan Gibson (17:17.401)
That's correct. Yes.

Allan Gibson (17:36.89)
Exactly. There's a lot of ways where you could take my services and put them in a company and we could do some of the stuff without ready. But there is a unique benefit of using ForgeOS that unlocks a lot of capability. For instance, high mix, low volume applications that historically have just been too cumbersome to do.

whether when through a traditional sort of programming environment where you have to have, you know, the ability to add new recipes, you know, rapidly in the future, right? Because a new product is introduced or because a business just changes and needs more agility within their manufacturing operation. Um, or even, you know, the initial time a cell is deployed, if there's too many different types of products that run down that line, just the initial creation of all of those recipes.

would historically make projects unjustifiable because the amount of software engineering hours just to set up and write all of that software for all of those different recipes. We've really focused on making that piece not only quicker and easier upfront, but also for you as an end user to be able to maintain and support and do that type of addition in your factories.

after the fact, opposed to being so reliant on an SI and an outside party to basically do that for you whenever you need it.

Andrya (19:11.96)
Okay, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And when I have these conversations, you know, so this is the Voxper podcast we're on, been talking to different manufacturers over the past several months, and in general, been working with the manufacturing and industrial industries, their distributors and partners for several years. Specifically in the podcast, we talk about, you know, what are you guys focused on? What are your services or some things that you're...

committed in your business transformation journey. And one of the topics that nearly always comes up is business transformation through automation. So I think that our listeners will find this topic quite fascinating. So I've been really looking forward to this. And when you reflect on your time at Ready, what stands out to you as a peak moment, a time where you just felt really excited and engaged?

Allan Gibson (20:10.267)
Yeah. So I think the launch of ready cells, palatizing, uh, was.

Allan Gibson (20:19.452)
because it is the culmination of all of the things as a company that make us special. So there is a, you know, an Omniverse simulation component to it. There's a Ready Academy training component to it. There's the uniqueness of being able to handle multiple different recipes in a really easy fashion that's sort of inherently part of palletizing.

There's the fact that we're PC based, which is pretty rare in this space as well, that enables a lot of these features to be possible. You know, so all of those pieces coming together, you know, the mechanical design, the electrical design, the software design in this case, you know, really driving a lot of modularity into that so that we can have a solution that doesn't have to constantly be updated mechanically and electrically, and it can become a really a software product.

was very very important to us and it's gone really well. It's been a great product launch and it's a really neat product on the market.

Andrya (21:23.864)
That sounds awesome. And thank you for sharing that with me. It's one of my favorite questions to ask. I find that when people reflect on this, you get to hear about some of the coolest innovations over time. So thank you. OK, OK, so I have a question. Let's say that you're in the early stages of exploring working with someone. They're interested in what you guys have to do, and they think it can help their organization. They think some of their facilities and sites across the globe or in a

particular region can benefit from this. But they are concerned for some reason, or they have a big question. What are some of the major concerns or questions people have in the early stages of considering working with?

Allan Gibson (22:09.532)
Yeah, I think that the concerns generally aren't about us particularly, but more about automation in general. Um, there is still a, so the way that the industry is now, there is a very strong strategic push for automation and that is really top down. And there's oftentimes also a bottoms up push for, from people in factories.

especially young, you know, people out of school who know that automation is very important. They know they can automate a process, but they just don't know where to begin. So most of the time we get concerns, it's really around, is this possible? I haven't seen it before, but it seems like something that's reasonable to do. It's, it's that type of getting over the, the sort of emotional and mental hurdle of.

Is this going to be successful or am I sticking my neck out doing a project that could potentially get me fired? Right. And, um, you know, that's part of the reason why, you know, trusting experts in the space is so important because it not only gives you the ability to relax a little bit and provide the value that you need to as an end user, right. End users in this are incredibly valuable because they know the process and.

We will never know the process as well as an end user does, right? It's there, they live that every day. The nuance of the little tiny things that someone is doing, those are hard to pick up on when you just come in and you see something once or twice. So we need them from a process perspective. And I don't want to say that we don't need them from a technical automation perspective because we do, right? We want their advice. It's a collaborative process.

Andrya (23:51.864)
Thank you.

Allan Gibson (24:09.663)
But I could very quickly tell you if something is actually doable or if it's not from a technical automation perspective. Now, if I don't have that process knowledge and they don't have it to give to me that, you know, increases the risk, right? Of a project, if there being some little thing that's not being captured, then is a technical challenge. Um, but that's generally the hurdle, right? The hurdle is just getting started. Um,

You know, there's a massive labor shortage in the country everywhere, particularly in manufacturing, especially because most of the jobs in manufacturing, no matter what type of industry or vertical they're in, are not as...

Allan Gibson (24:59.296)
They are either dull, dirty or dangerous, right? I mean, for the most part, that is what manufacturing is. You know, for the ones that are still so automating those is a massive improvement. You know, from a from a personality point of view, like for what the benefit for the human within those opportunities. But the other piece is the compensation from a lot of manufacturing companies is not any better than the compensation that you would get at a.

uh, entry level, you know, position or a role within a, you know, food service type of role. So, I mean, that's a really challenging, you're asking people to do these, you know, these type of jobs where they're, you know, working long hours, they're on their feet all the time. You know, they're, you know, wearing smocks. It might not be as comfortable from a, you know, temperature controlled perspective, right. And you're, and you're asking them to work for that.

in the same way that someone in a food service role would. So there's just an overall massive labor challenge within the industry. And the only way to solve that is to automate. And any company to me who's at this point still pondering over automating is already dramatically behind. You know, I almost,

I'm concerned about our ability as a country to continue to develop and evolve at the rate that we're automating at this point. I still don't think it's even remotely close to enough to sustain the growth of the company and the human resources that we have as a country.

Andrya (26:49.592)
man, this is just so fascinating to hear. I can't tell you how many times this has been a topic and it's really something everyone is looking at in their plans or already executing or somehow talking about that along with sustainability. Those are two big topics in almost every single conversation and so I know that there are.

quite a lot of our listeners out there who have heard this topic before but never as in depth. So what a treasure. Thank you so much. Is there anything that we have missed? Yeah. Is there anything we missed today?

Allan Gibson (27:25.312)

Allan Gibson (27:32.64)
No, I don't think so. It's been a great conversation and it's always fun to share my thoughts on things and how I see the world evolving and how I see this industry growing.

Andrya (27:44.312)
Yeah, I am just so appreciative and thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule. I know, you know, whenever people listen to this, it's kind of asynchronous, but we happen to be in the middle of conference season for the manufacturing and industrial areas, the first season of the year. And so I just appreciate you taking the time. And for anyone that's listening, if you're listening today and ready robotics or for Joe has solved a problem that you have, or you're interested to know more.

Allan Gibson (27:57.633)
He he.

Andrya (28:11.928)
please get in touch at ready -robotics .com. Thank you for listening today and thank you for joining us out.

Allan Gibson (28:20.962)
Absolutely, and you can feel free to reach out to me directly as well via.

Andrya (28:33.656)
Okay, thank you. That's the show today.