Strategic Planning Without Pre-Conceived Notions

March 27, 2009

By Jeff Burnstein, RIA President

During the current economic crisis, I imagine just about every company is going through the process of strategic planning.  I know that our associations are (RIA, AIA, and MCA) in order to make sure that our activities line-up with the current and future needs of the membership and the industries we serve.

One of the most difficult problems right now is that we’re in uncharted waters.  As one of our members pointed out, we have no forecasting tools to model the present situation.  How long will the downturn last?  What will the situation be “on the other side” of the crisis?  How much manufacturing will disappear?  What new opportunities will be created?

Is the past truly prologue in the current situation?  Can we look back at previous downturns and make accurate guesses about the future?  Are the solutions we came up with in the past to survive and ultimately thrive relevant this time around?

As we begin our strategic planning process, we have no pre-conceived notions.  We won’t say that “we tried that in the past and it didn’t work” or conversely, “we did this in the past and know that it will work.”    Everything is on the table – every activity, every event, everything!

One of the benefits of this approach is that every new idea is being looked at very closely.  So, I urge each one of you reading this blog to send me your thoughts:  what would you like to see from RIA in the future?  What activities would most benefit your organization?

Now is the time to offer your ideas.  I can assure you they will be fully considered by our strategic planning committee.


Uptick in Robotics and Job News from Robotic Industries Association

March 23, 2009

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & Public Relations, Robotic Industries Association


Some good news in the global economy is spreading from Japan to the U.S. and it involves robot company FANUC. According to a Reuters report dated March 23, 2009, FANUC, which is an elite Platinum member of Robotic Industries Association, is one of two top “positive contributors to the Nikkei 225.” (The other company cited as a top contributor for this period is Kyocera.)


A weaker yen that helps exports is part of the equation for Japanese companies, but markets also got a boost this week from new details by U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner about how the Obama administration will remove troubled assets from the banking system.


Certainly the auto industry, which needs a healthy lending market, perked up when Geithner spoke about details to bolster the troubled banking market. The robotics industry is as international as it gets, and no doubt the stories from Tokyo and Washington D.C. are connected.


Anything that pushes the needle to the positive side is good for a quick post on Robots in America, the blog site of Robotic Industries Association. RIA also publishes Robotics Online, the most concentrated source of news in the robotics industry. News and information is posted by members of Robotic Industries Association and that gives the site and its members an inside track on important developments in the industry.


Ford Workers Get Reprieve in Cleveland

Sometimes, RIA staff gets unique bits and pieces of news to share online as well. It has been said that Ford (a longtime member of RIA but not the source of this tip) is preparing to reopen its Cleveland Engine Plant where it will begin production of its new EcoBoost engines. (Postings from AOL give this report credence.) This is great news for the Buckeye state where jobs are so closely tied to the automotive industry.


RIA Career Center Welcomes Résumés

Any time people go back to work it merits a spot in a good news column. For those looking for work, RIA provides a Career Center in Robotics Online where resumes can be posted free. RIA’s Career Center is especially good for connecting workers with specialized skills in the robotics industry.


RIA has a special place for companies with a stake in the North American robotics industry. Membership comes with sales and marketing benefits, great public relations opportunities and unmatched networking advantages. Add Robotics Online to your favorites and leave comments on Robots in America when you have something to share.


Spring is here – a time for renewed hope for a stronger economy and we want to help you spread your good news. Give us a try and thanks for reading..!


Brian Huse can be reached at 734/994-6088.

Notes from Barcelona

March 17, 2009

By Jeff Burnstein, RIA President

I recently returned from the 40th ISR in Barcelona where RIA presented its annual Engelberger Robotics Awards.

Shoppers crowd Barcelona's beautiful pedestrian-friendly streets.

Shoppers crowd Barcelona's beautiful pedestrian-friendly streets.

 It was a very interesting few days.  Here is some of what I learned:

*The International Symposium on Robotics continues to attract devoted followers, a good sign for all of us in robotics.  More than 250 people attended this year’s event, a remarkable accomplishment considering the present global financial situation.  Professor Luis Basanez of the Technical University of Catalonia and everyone else involved with the event should be congratulated.

*Trade shows in Europe, like those in the U.S, are likely to be smaller this year than in the past.  The MAQUITEC 2009 show that accompanied the ISR conference was reportedly down by more than half this year over previous years.  It was mostly a machine tool show, though some major robot vendors participated.  

*Everyone I spoke to is worried about 2009.  Yet, there was widespread optimism about the future of the robotics industry once we emerge from this crisis.  Enormous opportunities still exist!

*Tourism, shopping, eating out – these things are not dead!  Barcelona looked very busy to me as I walked around the tourist areas near my hotel.  Consumer spending is a key element in turning the global economy around, so this was a hopeful sign.

*For those of you who haven’t been to Barcelona, it’s one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities I’ve ever had the privilege to visit.  I definitely hope to return when I have more free time to explore the city and other areas in Spain.

*Sometimes it’s better if you don’t speak the local language.  I speak no Spanish, so always had to find someone who spoke English to help me out.  I would often just ask these people to pick something for me from the menu – each time I did this, the results were superb!

*Sometimes not speaking the local language can be a real problem.  Our cab driver, despite having the address of the location for the Engelberger Award Ceremony, tried to drop us off blocks away.  Fortunately, Don Vincent and I had been to the site earlier and knew this was the wrong place.  We finally convinced the driver, who ultimately took us to the right location, saving us many blocks of walking and anxious moments!

*The importance of the Engelberger Awards to the recipients cannot be overstated.  Dr. Robin Felder, this year’s winner for Leadership, shared with me at dinner how long he has hoped to win this award and what it means to him.  I know Professor Hirose, this year’s other recipient, also shares that view.  It’s great to see the high regard in which this award is held throughout the world.

A special thanks to Rich Litt, RIA Chairman, and Don Vincent, RIA’s Executive Vice President Emeritus, for the outstanding job they did in presenting this year’s awards.

Harley-Davidson Rides Robots for Growing Demand on New Tri Glide

March 5, 2009
Harley-Davidson leads the way at President Barack Obama's inauguration parade with new Tri Glide Ultra Classic

Harley-Davidson leads the way at President Barack Obama's inauguration parade with new Tri Glide Ultra Classic

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

RIA member Harley-Davidson has a good news story with their new Tri Glide Ultra Classic, a three-wheel motorcycle just launched in June of 2008 and enjoying growing demand today. If you watched President Barack Obama’s inauguration you would have seen a formation of Harley-Davidson police motorcycles with side-cars (on robotically welded frames) led by the new Tri Glide Ultra Classic police version of its new trike.


Demand for the Tri Glide is up and Harley-Davidson is increasing capacity. Their company took steps last year to control costs and appear to be coping with the economic downturn far better than their automotive counterparts. Robots help Harley-Davidson meet quality goals and help them control costs.


Mike Kunkle, a Senior Manufacturing Engineer with Harley-Davidson, has contributed his time and talent to Robotic Industries Association on the R15.06 Standards Committee and as a member of its Board of Directors for more than seven years. RIA is proud to have Harley-Davidson as a member and Mike as a guiding influence for Association activities.


RIA salutes this great American company and its commitment to robots and robot safety. It is truly good news to hear their company is experiencing a smoother ride than most in today’s bumpy economy.

The Tough Choices on Promoting Your Company

March 5, 2009

By Jeff Burnstein, RIA President

Trade shows.  Magazine ads.  Online ads. Public Relations. Direct sales.  How do companies determine where to spend their promotional dollars?

At RIA, we know our members are wrestling with these issues more than ever today as each dollar becomes more precious. What we don’t know is how they make their choices.  How carefully do they measure the results of current or past efforts?  What measurement tools do they use?  What statistics would convince them to go in one direction vs. another?

RIA provides members with ways to utilize dollars or free opportunities in each one of these areas.  We sponsor shows like the International Robots, Vision & Motion Control Show (June 9-11 in Chicago), we print annual magazine directories, we have a wide variety of online advertising options, we offer many free PR opportunities, and we provide sales leads that members can follow-up with directly.

We want to help our members take advantge of the opportunities that are best for their own specific situation, but we struggle with how to help them reach the best decision.  For instance, a company that wants to position itself as an industry leader probably ought to have a presence at the industry’s leading trade show where their competitors are participating.  But, what do you do when the company says they are cancelling their participation in all trade shows?  Did they really measure past results, or are they just looking at cost reduction and not considering the bigger picture?

A company that wants to quickly expose its brand new product to a highly targeted audience of potential customers probably should be buying ads on the industry’s leading website.  But, how do you convince that company to do so if they say they are cutting all ad programs?

Cost-cutting is relatively easy, the hard part is strategically using resources to generate new business.  By the way, this is just as true for RIA as it is for our members.  If we drastically cut our own promotional efforts, what impact will that have on attracting attendees to our events, readers for our directory, traffic to our website, and ultimately, new members for our association?

I’m curious about how your company makes these decisons.  Is it across the board cutting, or cutting in some areas and greater investment in others?  What measures do you use to make your decisions?

It’s Time to Discuss Good News!

March 3, 2009

By Jeff Burnstein, RIA President

I’ve lived in the metro-Detroit area my entire life.  Years ago I stopped watching local television news.  Why?  Because it seemed that for the first ten minutes every night the only news was bad news (murders, drugs, fires, etc.). I”m not suggesting that  news coverage is to blame for all of Detroit’s ills or its poor national reputation, but it certainly hasn’t helped.  Most people would never know that there are tons of great things about Detroit (it’s one of the most chairtable cities, the metro area has some of the nicest suburbs in the country, it has great dining and entertainment options, etc.)

What makes bad news “news”?  Can’t good news be news, too? 

Look at the way we currently cover financial news in America.  Declining stock prices, rising unemployment, collapsing home prices, cratering consumer confidence.  Day after day, the drumbeat continues.  Is this the whole story?  What about the good news?

For instance:
*Housing affordability is at the highest level since the National Association of Realtors began tracking this in 1970.
*Inflation is at a 50+ year low
*Automakers are increasing their efforts to build more fuel-efficient cars and American consumers now view this as a top priortiy when choosing a new vehicle (which has all sorts of positive ramifications for the enviornment).
*Money from the huge U.S. stimulus package is just now being released to the states.  It is intended to create or save at least 3.5 million jobs through 2010.
*Some skills are still in high demand, such as computer code writers, health care providers, chemical engineers, and research scientists.

Can some of these positive statistics be turned around into negative news?  Of course.  But, focusing only on the negative seems to be leading to a never-ending cycle of bad news.  I’m not suggesting we ignore bad news, but I am suggesting that we try to at least consider the long-term implications of the good news.

Eventually, the U.S. economy will recover.  People will start buying homes, cars, and consumer goods again.  Companies will start hiring.  The stock market will turn upward. 

Will we be ready?  Will our young people have the training necessary to serve the needs of industries that will be successful in the future?  Will our companies be ready with the products that users want to buy?  Will companies develop new technologies and apply existing technologies in ways that allow them to take advantage of future opportunities?

Thanks to the members of our associations, I was able to share some good news with our staff yesterday.  Despite the economic meltdown in the fourth quarter of last year and the first quarter of this year, our final membership retention rates for the year 2008 topped 85%, nearly two percentage points better than in 2007!  By every measure 2008 was a record membership year for RIA and its sister trade groups (AIA and MCA).

Can we continue this isn 2009?  It will be tough, but if we continue to provide members with the benefits they want, we believe they will stay involved in their trade association. 

What benefits does your company want from a trade association?  Whether you’re a member of RIA or not, please weigh in on this discussion.  What three things would you like to see RIA provide your company to help you become more successful?  Feel free to leave a comment here or contact me directly at

I look forward to your input and to helping you create “good news” in the future!