Blog Post

Industry Insight: Q&A With Machine Design and Hydraulics & Pneumatics — Industry 4.0, sustainability and more

Publish date: Jun 28, 2021 | Reading time: minutes
Q&A bio heading for machine design

Bob Vavra, senior content director of Machine Design and Hydraulics & Pneumatics, talks with us about the impact of trends like Industry 4.0, workforce challenges and sustainability.

From hiring challenges to digital adoption, manufacturers must navigate numerous challenges. Bob Vavra, senior content director of Machine Design and Hydraulics & Pneumatics, shares how some of these top trends are impacting industrial manufacturing. Read what Bob had to say:

1. How has COVID-19 had an impact on recent industry trends like, for example, digital transformation?

Because of COVID, a lot of the digital transformation has occurred more quickly than it might have under normal circumstances. That said, there still isn’t enough widespread adoption of digital solutions. Some of that is budget-driven, some is talent-driven and some is a reluctance to change. Regardless, other countries and economies are embracing change and adopting digital manufacturing. The need is there for strong use cases to explain the value of digital transformation as an economic imperative, as a jobs preserver and as a competitive advantage in a global, competitive manufacturing landscape.

2. How do you view the future of manufacturing? What does it look like? How does a connected operation drive success in manufacturing?

The key is to automate and use other technologies, such as robotics, where it makes sense and free the human worker for higher value and a more analytic approach to process improvements. Data and artificial intelligence can only point the way toward potential solutions; the human decisions are the ones that will most directly affect outcomes, and they still have great value. 

3. Considering the workforce for a minute: in a recent Machine Design Insights review, you highlighted making manufacturing more “local” — not just from the perspective of increased factories but providing new skills to the next generation entering the market. And you have written an incredible amount about the importance of engaging the next generation of design engineers. To that end, we’ve been involved in more marketing campaigns around recruitment. What are some of the most innovative ways companies have been engaging in engineering education and recruitment?

I view this as three related issues: recruitment, training and retention. If you focus on recruiting, you get someone a job. If you focus on training, skills development and a sense that there is room for growth, you help someone build a sustainable career. We need more people as a whole, but we need more people who are ready to embrace the challenge of modern manufacturing — and finding those people will require a different conversation than a “Help Wanted” sign.

4. Two-part question:
a. What do you view as the greatest challenge for manufacturing?

Moving to a true adoption of Industry 4.0 — a real new generation of manufacturing and of manufacturers. It can be assisted by governments in many ways, but I think these are business imperatives, and more manufacturing leaders need to seize the opportunity.

b. What do you view as the greatest opportunity? (What excites you most about the future of manufacturing?)

A global, interdependent and interconnected design and manufacturing infrastructure that allows a company to design, manufacture and deliver products anywhere in the world with local hubs of manufacturing.

5. Brands increasingly align themselves with sustainability as a core value and are making it a top priority to help their customers achieve their sustainability goals. What have you seen in terms of shifts in focus/prioritization of sustainability, and what does this mean for manufacturing?

Sustainability has to be profitable, or at least cost-neutral, for manufacturers to fully embrace it. Most manufacturers understand the larger issues of sustainability but worry about the increased cost, which can only be passed along to the end users of their products. I like to talk about energy and safety as profit centers rather than cost centers, and I think viewing energy as a cost that can be managed rather than a bill that needs to be paid goes a long way to greater understanding of the true costs and benefits of sustainability.

6. Is there anything else you see as an emerging trend or key industry consideration that hasn't been covered?

I think the silos are coming down within manufacturing, however slowly. The idea of an interconnected process of product design and manufacturing is really important. The more we write about integrating design and operations as a connected process, the closer we get to that ideal.

7. We would love to learn something about you that we wouldn’t read in your bio — is there anything you are really proud of or anything unique you could share?

The coolest thing I’ve ever done was appear on “Jeopardy!” about 20 years ago. It was the culmination of a lifelong dream, and I had to completely realign my life goals after that. Fortunately, I met my wife about six months after appearing on the show, so she’s been a huge help in realigning my life goals. We’ve been able to travel the world together, and that changes your perspective on a lot of things.

About Bob

• I’ve been covering the manufacturing sector for almost 20 years now;

• I’ve been in content delivery long enough to remember when we used to call it “editorial” — but not long enough that I knew Gutenberg personally;

• I play a reasonable game of golf, and you definitely want me on your trivia team;

• My wife and I love to travel, and we’ve been all over the world, which is odd because every time I fly is an act of faith;

• My title is pronounced CON-tent manager, but it just as easily could be pronounced con-TENT manager.

Thank you, Bob, for sharing your expertise!

To read more about trends in manufacturing, check out 5 Industrial Manufacturing Trends Impacting Your Operations from our Director of Strategy, Alison Fetterman.


Bo Vavra - Senior Content Director of Machine Design and Hydraulics & Pneumatics

Bob’s background in media, including the last 20 years covering safety and plant operations, has given him a unique perspective on the challenges and opportunities in this sector. His role is to provide clear and useful knowledge across multiple content platforms and ensure his readers have the knowledge they need to develop new solutions.