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With the Rise of Robots and AI, is Human Interaction Still Needed?

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The rise of the robots in the form of AI is certainly improving sectors such as manufacturing, transport and logistics (T&L). Robots can perform mundane, repetitive tasks without loss of concentration or risk of error. They might also be able to access hard to reach spaces and assess stock count with greater accuracy.

By Deep Agarwal

Over the past few years, the adoption of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies by Indian enterprises have grown. As per a recent Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study, India ranks on the third spot after the USA and China in terms of AI implementation1. Considering these developments, the headline-seekers out there might ask: will robots end up taking our jobs and what will happen to the human workforce?

The rise of the robots in the form of AI is certainly improving sectors such as manufacturing, transport and logistics (T&L). For example, robots can perform mundane, repetitive tasks without loss of concentration or risk of error. They might also be able to access hard to reach spaces and assess stock count with greater accuracy.

Couple this with the fact that NASSCOM predicts a 20-25% reduction in jobs in next three years due to rise in automation, AI and Machine Learning in India2 ,and you will understand why workers are feeling threatened by the future. This is just a hypothesis, however. In fact, across both manufacturing, and T&L sectors, it’s obvious that automation will increase productivity, and the human touch will always be needed.

The Human Touch in Manufacturing

With the advent of Manufacturing 4.0, comprising data capture and exchange by using technologies such as Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), cloud computing and cognitive computing, the automated industry is changing for the better. Deloitte predicts that starting 2018, majority of Indian enterprises would embrace digital transformation programs to improve existing business productivity and performance, and enhance reliability. This new digital business environment is likely to go beyond just information technology (IT) operations and encompassing complete enterprises, their partners and the whole ecosystem3.

This new approach will enable executives to have complete visibility of operations and the ability to capture every process in the form of data. This information – ultimately analyzed by humans, not machines – will make production more efficient, and in turn drive cost savings. The use of IIoT can also monitor the stock of raw materials in real time. This will enable staff to oversee and order new stock, leading to continuous productivity and avoiding a break in the chain when, say, a paint or car part is running low.

The Human Touch in T&L

Automation has many clear benefits for T&L. In the warehouse, automation driven by mobile computers and scanners can ensure that the most up-to-date stock inventory is available for staff. This is important as consumers are now demanding within-the-hour delivery. Quite a challenge.

Inventory checks have become more efficient due to the use of mobile computers. The latest versions of this technology can scan bar codes up to 70 feet away, ensuring that human time – and of course, energy – is spared to do more work in other areas of the warehouse.

The next stage after smooth warehouse operations is delivery logistics. Here, automation can help carriers of freight and parcels across ground and air to build a smarter, more connected distribution network, resulting in real-time informed decision-making that improves loading operations.

By capturing data such as load density and trailer capacity, organizations can now gain valuable insights into achieving peak levels of performance and profitability. During this process, human interaction monitors how full freight is and human thinking is needed to decide when the vehicles can leave to make vital deliveries.

This new level of intelligence planning is very important today, as logistics companies must keep up with the rise of the ‘on-demand economy’, driven by e-commerce and the expectation of instant delivery. This drives the desire for solutions that can further optimize speed, accuracy and efficiency of the loading process.

The Future

Automation will bring many new exciting developments to the Indian manufacturing and T&L sector. As Manufacturing 4.0 arises, so too will Manufacturing 5.0, pushing IIoT to drive even more cost-efficient operations. Technology will drive visibility and data-capture to improve productivity.

Therefore, while it is natural for a labor-intensive country like India to be concerned that humans could be replaced by machines, it’s also necessary to understand that automation will also create new jobs. For example, as the use of drone technology increases in delivery of consumer goods, linking back to T&L, it’s feasible that we’ll see a rise in expert drone managers. It isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds.

Additionally, in the warehouse, if there is to be a rise in driverless forklift trucks, it’s very probable that those former drivers will be deployed in roles to monitor operations. Or better still, their human time can be spent doing more challenging problem-solving work within an organization.

What is clear is that automation will need some form of human response or interaction to run smoothly. This will ultimately save some traditional roles and no doubt create new roles and drive redeployment where it is needed. We are approaching a brave new AI world, but there will always be a demand to have a human mind at the center of efficient operations.

The writer is Regional Director – India, Zebra Technologies


If you have an interesting article / experience / case study to share, please get in touch with us at editors@expresscomputeronline.com

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