Supply chain operations struggling to keep up with the increasing demands of order fulfillment and the ongoing challenges of finding and retaining qualified labor are increasingly turning to robotics and automation as a solution.
Indeed, according to the 2018 MHI Annual Industry Report, “Overcoming Barriers to NextGen Supply Chain Innovation,” robotics and automation ranked the highest among 11 technologies by 65% of survey respondents who believe has the greatest potential to disrupt or create competitive advantage in their marketplace. The study also found that 34% of respondents have already adopted robotics and automation in their operations, a figure that is anticipated to reach 53% over the next two years, and 73% over the next five years.
Yet, the predicted rise in robotic and automation implementations has some concerned about its impact on jobs. Those worries are misplaced, says Melonee Wise, CEO of Fetch Robotics, in the second quarter 2018 issue of MHI Solutions in the article, “People Are at the Center of the Robotics Revolution.”
“Fears are being stoked among the workforce about robots taking jobs,” she says. “The reality is that robots take over tasks, and usually the worst tasks. Robotics has traditionally been designed to handle tasks that are dirty, dangerous or dull. While workers may have some initial trepidation when a Fetch robot is deployed at their location, as those robots start to take over the dull, dangerous and dirty tasks, those employees are happy to have them work alongside.”
The Annual Industry Report found the same when surveying supply chain leaders. In these operations, the most common uses for robotics and automation are for warehouse operations:
- Picking, packing, and sorting orders (61%)
- Loading, unloading and stacking cartons (56%)
- Receiving and put-away (49%)
For example, Fetch’s robotic systems transport items from one part of a warehouse to another. “They take that task over from workers so those workers are more efficient in their other tasks, and also so they save the wear and tear of traversing miles each day in a facility,” explains Wise.
Ultimately, with the labor market so tight and the expectations of consumers steadily increasing, robotics and automation are a foregone conclusion. Not only do they allow operations to reassign workers to handle non-repetitive tasks, but they also create new types of jobs—ones that require the technology skill sets to operate and maintain these systems.
“Humans aren’t being displaced,” notes Ryan Renner, Principal and Strategy and Operations Analytics Leader at Deloitte Consulting—MHI’s partner in producing the Annual Industry Report. “Rather, they’re being given the opportunity to apply their higher-order brains to more advanced processes, creating augmented intelligence.”
To read the full article in MHI Solutions, click here.