Will robots really take over the workplace?

Will robots really take over the workplace?

Industrial – Workplace October 2018

Smarter solutions

US figures indicate around 80 percent of warehouses are still solely manually operated, with no automated support at all so the robots haven’t quite taken over the world – yet.

Analysis from McKinsey in late 2017, suggested that automation could destroy as many as 73 million US jobs by 2030 – about one third of all jobs in the country but added “there will be enough jobs for everyone in most sectors."

Sounds very optimistic because if we think in terms of “automation” rather than “robots” per se, technologies have advanced very quickly with drones, autonomous vehicles and an army of robots well-mobilised within the manufacturing, distribution and logistics sectors particularly. Plus, they’re not just doing the easy and repetitive tasks.

Advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and software robots – and their resulting safety, accuracy, productivity and efficiency gains – led Microsoft founder Bill Gates, to propose a tax on robots to fund spending to create replacement jobs.

Brave new world, indeed, but will the wide-spread use of robots free-up people to take on more dynamic and thoughtful tasks instead?

Some thought bites on automation:

• 3D laser vision, coupled with new robotic software, is changing the way work can be carried out in warehouses. “Robotic beings” can view different products in a container, determine the optimal loading or unloading sequence, and carry out this function with a high level of accuracy.

• Industrial robot arms with sophisticated vision systems are able to sort products – known as “piece picking” – very accurately and quickly.

• Amazon now has its own robotics division, Amazon Robotics, and say an important breakthrough is nearby, which will see robots able to perform warehouse piece picking with far greater efficiency than is currently possible.

• Collaborative robots “cobots”, which have no sharp edges and shut down when they bump into something, are very human workforce-friendly and can be trained to do tasks by letting a human guide their arms once to learn the motion – fantastic for custom packaging processes, for example.

• How about robots working as security guards – be very afraid.

• Fruit-picking robots and cow-milking robots have already proven their worth in situations where finding human resources can be tricky.

• We’re all used to pumping our own fuel on the forecourt, but robots that can refuel a car at the push of a button, allowing drivers to control everything from inside their car are heading your way.

• A recent study (by IDC) in the States, which surveyed 600 decision makers across several industries about their current and future of commercial service robots, says 2 in 5 respondents noted they are piloting service robotics, while more than half said they "plan to deploy" or are "researching and considering the technology."

• The biggest obstacle for business owners is understanding the technology, the possible applications and a general lack of awareness about automation potential

• Food for thought: just because something can be automated does not mean that it should be…

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