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Manufacturing Operations – Gene Hubbard

Mitch & Gene talk bearings

In this episode, we talk to Gene Hubbard, Director of Global Purchasing, for one of the nation’s largest makers of bearings. He comes with 34 years of experience in manufacturing operations management and quality. As to the company’s products, one might not give any thought to bearings, yet these particular ones help wings to extend, landing gear to roll, and so many other functions, that perform critical tasks. Gene is a Manufacturing Engineer in a world-renowned manufacturing plant. Listen in as we discuss a wide range of topics from Daily Gemba, quality control “tricks” and how to meet and retain engineering talent.

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Show Notes

EPISODE TITLE: 13 – Manufacturing Operations – Gene Hubbard


In this episode, we talk with Gene Hubbard, Operations Manager for RBC Bearings in Torrington. Founded in 1919, RBC Bearings Incorporated is an international manufacturer and marketer of highly engineered precision bearings and products, which are integral to the operation of most machines, aircraft, and mechanical systems. Bearings are load and wear distribution devices that reduce wear to moving parts, facilitate power transmission, and reduce damage and energy loss caused by friction.

“ I’m no political expert, but I think we’ve hit the bottom where manufacturing a few years back was really in a lull. I think there’s been concentrated efforts to reverse that. And I think it’s heading in the right direction.” – Gene H.

“When your customer comes into the building and sees a bright, clean facility. Not that they may be right, but by default, they’re going to think that the employees are taking pride in what they’re doing.” -Gene H.

About RBC:

About our Guest Gene Hubbard: 

Gene is currently Director of Global Sourcing at RBC Bearings, bringing his almost 34 years of manufacturing experience to bear on RBC’s production floor and Quality department. Gene graduated from the University of Connecticut with his Bachelors in Electrical Engineering, then went on to get an MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Fresh out of UCONN he started at The Torrington Company (in Torrington, CT), and also spent some time at Timken Bearing Co. He also has his Six Sigma certification and runs daily Gemba’s with all the teams on the shop floor. We are pleased to have someone with his depth of experience spending time in the Factory of the Future®.


Gene Hubbard – RBC, Inc.

[00:00:00] Mitch: welcome to another episode of Factory of the future®.org podcast. My name is Mitch Kennedy. I am the host and a co-founder of Factory of the Future®.org. And with me in the studio, today is Mr. Gene Hubbard. And he’s going to talk to us about his origin story of technology implementation in his company and other great things about what he likes about manufacturing.

[00:00:22] Gene: Thank you, Mitch. I started in high school, I went to a technical high school, actually an electrical technician tech school. 

[00:00:29] Mitch: Can you tell for people listening that may not know what a technical high school is versus a regular high school?

[00:00:35] Gene: And so a technical high school would be offering skilled trades like plumbing, machine tooling, electrician, even hairdressing and that type of thing. Okay. Versus a conventional high school, you would take and most likely take entry-level college courses in preparation for going to a university after four years of high school.

[00:00:55] Gene: And that’s the main difference. I chose that over a regular high school. I’m not really sure why. I just thought it was a better fit for me at the time. Didn’t have any family members that went to a technical. Everybody is close parents. And my family went to conventional high schools.

[00:01:13] Gene: So I was the first one. So it was I didn’t have a data point to say, my dad did it, so I’m going to do it as well. It’s just a thought it was had that go over. Went over one. My grandfather on my father’s side didn’t really like it at first though, he was an Amherst, a university Amherst graduate.

[00:01:28] Gene: Conventional thinking. I should have been going to a conventional high school in preparation for, some type of college degree. So he wasn’t thrilled with it. 

[00:01:35] Gene: Got out of technical and then graduated high school, went to college was planning on a four-year degree right away. My, parents got divorced. I dropped out.

[00:01:41] Gene: At the time, went into the work environment as a field technician for a laser inspection gauge company where we made laser inspection gauges that could do various things, measure attributes to tolerance and measurements, holes, diameters, lengths, that type of thing. And started going to school nights and finished my bachelor’s degree in engineering, electrical, engineering, believe it or not.

[00:02:03] Gene: While I was working full time which was not something that’s something I would recommend people to do. And after that first, the inspection gauge job I went into took a new job. Manufacturing engineer in the bearing industry aerospace, bearings, automotive bearings, and industrial bearings.

[00:02:22] Gene: And it was basically a process development engineer where you would develop a process to actually make the parts. How do you get it from print to material, honey? How do you get it? And that was basically my first job in manufacturing, as a developer. 

[00:02:38] Mitch: So you are, you’re the person who took it from paper and made it physical, correct? That’s right. That’s right. 

[00:02:44] Gene: Yup. Yup. All the process steps ended up giving you an end item. So my initial career was in manufacturing. Then I had a few years. Two or three stints in facility engineering, or I did a building design, facility, HVDC, power distribution, all that then got into new product development research into new processes, new devices.

[00:03:06] Gene: Product. I transferred into the Quality Department and I was a quality manager for seven or eight years. It was a temporary position that when somebody left the company that turned permanent. And I’m currently in plant manager, I’m an operations manager on the outside.

[00:03:23] Gene: So I’ve basically seen all the disciplines and then manufacturing for the most part. 

[00:03:27] Mitch: That’s one of the things I like to remind people about is say, you can come in at the door of a manufacturing facility at any position and opportunities are abundant within that facility.

[00:03:39] Mitch: Especially if you’re in a large corporation like yourself. So multinational company, right?

[00:03:44] Gene: Correct. Yep. Multinational. We’ve got over 35 facilities worldwide. Wow. But you’re right. If you come in with the impression, that you’re just going to stay to the discipline, you went to college and you won’t have as many opportunities.

[00:03:57] Gene: So you keep an open mind. You can go anywhere and that’s true. 

[00:04:00] Mitch: And what is it you like about manufacturing? What you’re doing, even what you’re doing now 

[00:04:06] Gene: in my career manufacturing from day to day, it’s never the same day. There’s always something new, in any business, but manufacturing, especially.

[00:04:15] Gene: So it’s a very fast-paced environment. There’s always something new. And it’s not boring by no means that the day goes by very quickly. And there’s always a lot of action, a lot of activity. 

[00:04:25] Mitch: I’m wondering if you would be willing to. Tell us a little bit about your day. 

[00:04:30] Gene: Yeah you come in you do a, you do a check of the previous day’s performance. How did we do? Do our plan, we’re currently this facility somewhere in the $80 million a year neighborhood. You can’t get too far behind and get it out of hand or you’re not going to make your budget see where the gaps were the day before. We have a daily morning debrief from the day before. Here’s where we are. Here’s what we need to do today. Any issues we talked about? We do a morning, what we call a Gemba walk, which is basically a walk through the factory to just check on key operations. Are we working to standard?

[00:05:04] Gene: Any personnel issues, anybody ops anybody on vacation, that type. That usually takes the first couple of hours in the morning. For the next remainder of the morning, there may be various status meetings. If there are project updates, if there’s a production planning, updates which usually in golf the day, and then the rest of the day is in my role now is more of a mentor and a communicator to the staff.

[00:05:28] Gene: Hey, what are you doing over here? How’s it going? You need my help. Are you on task with this, this is a lot of what I try to do, and I think more people will like that type of acknowledgment to say, Hey, he knows what I’m doing, or he’s at least interested in what I’m doing? And I found a few. Do enough of that.

[00:05:47] Gene: And that’s not a good thing, especially when you have, we have a fairly, a good portion of our staff is younger than I say, younger 30 or under. So they need, some mentoring and some, somebody who has guidance. 

[00:05:58] Mitch: That’s right. That’s right. Great. Cool. And that’s what fills your day? 

[00:06:03] Gene: That pretty much shows Monday.

[00:06:04] Gene: I do travel occasionally to see customers seeing suppliers. So there’s some out-of-office travel 

[00:06:09] Mitch: that I do even in your current position as a.

[00:06:14] Gene: Yeah, because one thing I’ve learned is when you have previous hats, you never really get rid of them. So the engineering that has never really been taken off. The quality has never been taken off. So that’s, what comes with the territory. That’s true. 

[00:06:28] Mitch: That’s great. No. I know we were talking earlier about some of the changes that are coming in for your organization and possible expansions and things.

[00:06:36] Mitch: When you do that what kind of technology do you think you’ll be bringing into the plant? 

[00:06:41] Gene: One of the big technology changes in the past five to six years have been in robotics. We’ve gotten into a lot of robotic operations for redundant processes instead of having a person in front of a machine loading and unloading all day long.

[00:06:56] Gene: You can replace that with a very low-cost robotic handling. The new business we’re looking at will be more of that because it’ll probably be a little relatively high volume on some of the operators. But it’ll also be we’ll use the resources on more of the precision inspection that we have to document and confirm on the product versus the redundancy pick and place operations use the use, your labor, a little smarter, so better areas.

[00:07:22] Mitch: So yeah, I like to touch on that cause, this has been a, it’s been a very positive theme among several people that have been on the podcast is that robots are not replacing people. 

[00:07:33] Gene: We’re repositioning the resources. Absolutely. So it’s not replacing people. That’s a good way of putting it though. The one thing in this area that the good news is the last couple of years, the manufacturing economy regarding manufacturing has increased.

[00:07:45] Gene: It’s shown a very good rebound and we’re having trouble finding skilled people. We can find people, but not the right skill that we’re looking for. So if we can replace the redundant, basically very the lowest labor on the labor chain day-to-day redundant operations with a robot. We can better utilize and train our resources.

[00:08:08] Gene: To add more value on the more important, because of steps,

[00:08:10] Mitch: you can take the people and say, Hey we’ll train you up. 

[00:08:12] Gene: That’s right, exactly right. That’s exactly what we try to do. That’s right. And there’s never enough training you can do, but we’re always trying to do more, the best we can. 

[00:08:21] Mitch: Excellent. That’s awesome. Aside from robots. Is there anything else that is getting high-tech around? 

[00:08:28] Gene: Our testing, we have a corporate testing facility, which we have 15 engineers, I think is the number, all kinds of state-of-the-art testing equipment to validate our product, to make sure our product meets the customer’s requirements.

[00:08:41] Gene: And meets the specifications. So we know what areas to improve the design of the product. That’s one area we’ve invested a lot in. The other area we’ve invested a lot in is our, we have sister facility that feeds other facilities, like in strengths, like on first machining, turning blanks, we’ve invested a lot of capital into those. So we try to keep, as many of the operations within the corporation as we can versus outsourcing to a third [00:09:10] Mitch: party. Yeah. I know from the field you’re in, that you have very strict and tight quality controls and specs to meet.

[00:09:17] Gene: The aerospace business is very strict on what we can do. That’s correct. 

[00:09:20] Mitch: Outsourcing is just another variable that you can’t really afford. That’s correct. That’s great. If you were to put on the magic wizard hat and peer into the future, where would you, where do you see the technology on the factory shop floor in say five to 10 years?

[00:09:40] Gene: I would say as I mentioned, the robotic trend will continue on the repetitive low, skilled operations. We’ve probably got today, that a third of our equipment has PC computer front ends on them. I would say in the future, that probably would be more like 75% and the third thing is more accurate and state-of-the-art measuring equipment. That’s always an improving area where there’s always a better way, more accurate way to, to confirm compliance for the product you’re making.

[00:10:14] Mitch: Do you have any pilot tests of measuring as it’s being built, 

[00:10:19] Gene: we have somewhere we’re measuring parts right off the machine. Sometimes we can’t always do that depending on the operation, but we do that where we can, and we’re adding more of that,

[00:10:29] Gene: so we can feed directly back to the machine as the product is coming off the machine real-time data. That’s correct. 

[00:10:34] Mitch: Very cool. If you were to talk to someone who is interested in getting into manufacturing in quotes and again because there’s a. Okay. There’s that misperception usually from the parents that it’s dark, dirty, and dangerous.

[00:10:48] Mitch: What would you say is different about your company or most companies you go into today, specifically aerospace industries? 

[00:10:56] Gene: I think in the business we are, which is aerospace. And even if it wasn’t aerospace, any manufacturing business in today’s landscape is different than it probably was when our fathers or grandfathers were in manufacturing. The expectations are higher. The competition is broader than it used to be and to do it right.

[00:11:17] Gene: The first impression that I’ve learned or we’ve seen in manufacturing is appearance. When your customer comes into the building, your customer comes into the building and sees a bright, clean facility. Not that they may be right, but by default, they’re going to think that the employees taking pride in what they’re doing.

[00:11:34] Mitch: . And then as far as education or training if someone wanted to get into manufacturing how would they do it from your perspective? What avenues would they have open to them? 

[00:11:43] Gene: I think. If they want to pursue a technical high school that gives them the mechanical background aptitude where, you know, whether it be toolmaking, whether it be even automotive, whatever it gives you a hands-on understanding of how to take something apart, put it together, how to make something there’s even after high school, there are secondary certification programs where you could go to whether you want to be certified to be an apprentice mechanic and apprentice electrician. You can even do that after high school, we’ve had some employees that have done that. And the third thing maybe even, and I’m in my experience, six months ago, we had an open house here for hires. We were looking to hire a couple of dozen people and I had a young kid come in and out of high school.

[00:12:25] Mitch: Did you say a couple of dozen. Yeah. You never hear that. 

[00:12:30] Gene: Hear that? No, we’ve added a third shift recently at the beginning of this year. And we’ve got about 250 employees, so we’ve grown substantially, but I had a young kid come in and he was right out of high school. Had no experience, had printouts of our website and had read what we do. I hired him on the spot. My, theory was the kid showed some initiative they had actually looked into and he’s worked and it’s six months later, the kids have been fantastic. He’s just shown the initiative that he wanted. Great. So I think that’s another piece. If you just show the initiatives.[00:13:01]

Mitch: Awesome. Is there anything else you’d like to tell our listening audience, either about manufacturing or about technology or anything? 

[00:13:08] Gene: I’m no political expert, but I think we’ve hit the bottom where manufacturing a few years back was really in a lull. I think there’s been concentrated efforts to reverse that. And I think it’s heading in the right direction. 

[00:13:21] Mitch: That’s great. That was fabulous. Gene, I want to thank you for your time today. I know you’re really busy running the factory. Let you get back to that. Once again this was Gene Hubbard. And he is Operations Manager for a large plant here in Connecticut from the big multinational aerospace company. Thank you again for being on the show.

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