Robots have emerged from the pages of science fiction novels into the real world and ever since, discussions of their possible economic effects can be found everywhere. While advancements in robotics are accelerating at an unprecedented pace thanks to machine learning algorithms allowing for endless experiments, manual operations are still the norm for approximately 80% of organizations.
As indicated in a recent Heartland blog, the demand for labor has increased significantly. With the incredible growth in e-commerce, organizations are being tasked to pick and pack more individual online orders. Due to this, more facilities are turning to smarter, more versatile mobile robots to help them function at levels far higher than ever before. According to a 2017 International Federation of Robotics report, sales of robot technology increased in 2015 by roughly 15% from previous years. The federation also estimates that companies worldwide will employ 2.5 million industrial robots by the end of this year, 2019.
With supply chain jobs today requiring skills that few workforces currently possess; many jobs become repetitive or even dangerous. This results in high turnover, low morale and the need to constantly retrain workers. This is a very expensive problem that is becoming more and more prevalent.
The solution is using robotics as a tool to augment human workers. This requires a multi-step approach and it is key to start with focused business problems. Let’s look at how to accomplish this in three-steps.
3 Steps to Use Robotics as a Tool to Augment Human Workers
- Target Specific Workflows
Organizations should evaluate their workforce and divide it into segments to identify which business problems could be most easily solved with robotics. It’s true that it can be leveraged across the entire organization to some degree, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be implemented everywhere right from the start. Instead, robotics should be strategically applied where they will quickly produce the highest returns. Then it can be rolled out more extensively.
- Pilot and Proof of Concept
Augmenting human workers with robotics requires a very structured approach. Utilizing some type of test environment will enable new solutions to be designed and tested before they are implemented. Start with a small pilot, tweaking the process as needed until a realistic solution is reached. Once the most effective solution is determined, it can then be introduced into the live environment.
- Acknowledge the Human Element
As robotics are introduced into the workforce, it’s best to focus on employee experience. It’s also important to recognize that a certain investment in upgrading, improving, and retraining employees will likely be necessary in order to facilitate a cohesive environment in which both people and robots can work side-by-side and complement one another. NPR interviewed workers at a furniture company in Massachusetts where not only were workers and robots happily coexisting, the employees were learning how to program the robots and supervise them. And, better yet, the new robot workers have given this small business the means to survive, due to their increasing problems in finding individuals who wanted to do the work.
In the end, the way employees perceive their role and impact within an organization will affect their engagement and productivity. As they begin to view robotics as a tool to help them be more productive and engage in more meaningful work, they will begin to recognize the value that it brings to their lives. With continued investment in mobile robots and an added emphasis on support for manual workers to ensure that they’re knowledgeable, trained, and ready to embrace the solutions poised to improve their lives at work, organizations will be that much more capable of solving all of today’s contemporary labor problems.
When implementing robotic technologies, it's important to remember the processes of evaluating how they can benefit your organization. It requires a commitment of time and a trusted partner like Heartland. By utilizing Heartland's network of partners, project engineers and analysts, we can assist and support you through your robotics evaluation and implementation process from start to finish.
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