Automation & Digital Transformation

Automatic equipment in a manufacturing, warehousing, transportation and distribution, Industrial and Autonomous research robots, Robotic process automation (RPA) and other processes or facilities.

The future workforce: augmentation not just automation

The future of the warehouse and production industries, in terms of augmentation of the existing human workforce, as an alternative to full automation

18-Jun-2019
Andreas Koenig (pictured)
CEO, ProGlove
The future workforce: augmentation not just automation
The speed of evolution within artificial intelligence and automation is exciting, yet for companies seeking rapid improvements in productivity, the ROI model is just not adding up. From the time and cost associated with automation to the constraints of very simplistic areas of application, full automation is not always an option.

Look closely at any warehouse environment, however, and there are very significant opportunities to augment the performance of the existing human workforce. While processes have been optimised in recent years there are still many aspects of worker activity that are less than optimal. From the physical challenges associated with juggling scanning devices while lifting items, especially at height, to the time wasted walking back to static work stations to input information and receive the next task, there are very significant opportunities to enhance the worker experience, and hence performance.

The latest generation of ergonomically designed wearables, such as gloves with detachable barcode scanners, can be rapidly introduced to augment day to day worker experience and transform productivity, explains Andreas Koenig, CEO, ProGlove.

Understanding Automation Reality

Warehouse efficiency has never been more important; yet with the continued labour shortages, it has never been more challenging. With the need to improve both productivity and accuracy businesses are understandably intrigued by the promise of automation. However, while the concept of lights out operations that can run 24x7, 365 days a year is compelling, the reality is somewhat different.

Full automation is not achievable today for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it is incredibly complex. There is no simple switch for an efficient, completely automated environment. It takes time and money to train machines to perform required tasks – and few organisations have the skills to create the deep learning structure required. Given the speed of innovation within many product cycles, time becomes a factor. If an item is only in production for a few weeks, even one season, there is not enough time to either train the technology to automate the process or, critically, achieve a return on investment.

It is also important to recognise that while progress within this field is impressive, automation technology can today only manage relatively simple processes. As even the technology vendors will confirm, robots cannot handle processes with multiple intricate steps and machines cannot comprehend events that occur outside their sphere of reference.

Value Natural Intelligence

Robots continuing to perform their simple, preprogrammed processes while the warehouse burned down around them may be an extreme, recent example but there are many events where a human’s natural intelligence is still essential to ensure problems are immediately resolved. Drop an item and a human will pick it up, check for damage and move on. Unless it has been trained to undertake every one of those steps, a robot will be stymied.

Of course, automation has an important role to play, especially in handling simple, repeatable processes; but it is no panacea. To meet the challenges of transforming productivity, the existing workforce remains essential. With the added pressure of recruitment and retention facing the industry, organisations must therefore look at opportunities to augment and enhance the worker experience to improve efficiency, safety and morale.

Human Centric Design

One of the biggest challenges for improving productivity is that humans get tired. From stamina to muscle power, errors typically increase as workers run out of steam. For this reason, the science of ergonomic design has become ever more important to maximise both performance and worker comfort.

One key opportunity is to minimise extraneous movement and ensure the majority of physical movement is directly linked to productive activity. For example, replacing the traditional point and shoot barcode scanner with a glove with in-built scan functionality offers a number of benefits. Obviously, the worker has both hands free at all times to pick up items and safely negotiate warehouse locations, often at height. The wearable devices are always to hand; the worker simply presses a button in the glove to scan an item, making the entire process much easier. Furthermore, there is no need to put down and pick up the device; while scanners are relatively lightweight, even removing this level of additional weight from a worker can have a tangible impact on fatigue.

The hands-free nature of wearable devices can also improve worker safety – a key issue since the majority of health and safety incidents reported in the UK in 2017/18 within the transportation and storage industry related to musculoskeletal disorders. In addition to avoiding one handed pick up of items, a wearable scanner eradicates the risk of scanners being dropped on other workers. In addition, wearables can include sensors and emit a signal to alert other workers to an individual’s presence, addressing the risks created by forklifts and other moving infrastructure.

Knowledge Driven Performance

In addition, such wearable devices improve picking accuracy by using adjustable feedback options, such as acoustic signals, vibration and LEDs on the back of the hand to provide immediate confirmation of correct product selection. By helping the worker to rapidly distinguish between ostensibly identical products, for example, helps to minimise both delays and errors. This not only drives up productivity but also avoids worker frustration.

These wearables can also be connected to other devices such as tablets, smartwatches or wearable terminals to provide individuals with additional information. Rather than time consuming – and tiring – treks back to a static information display, workers can immediately be provided with the next pick location, for example. Essentially, wearable devices enable individuals to avoid extraneous, tiring activity: every step, every arm movement is directly related to undertaking the task at hand.

Of course this efficient, augmented workforce will increasingly work with machines. Automation technology and artificial intelligence will continue to evolve, releasing human workers from the tedium of many simple processes. The provision of real-time information via wearables will be an essential component of this intelligent, augmented human workforce, supporting a team of informed individuals taking on increasingly complex, changing and time-sensitive tasks in tandem with automation.

Wearables Ecosystem

The implication for businesses of this augmented human workforce is significant. Scanning time reduced by up to four seconds per scan. Minimising unnecessary and tiring repetitive actions and improving accuracy significantly increases the volume of work undertaken by each worker. Augmenting the workforce will rapidly transform productivity and efficiency.

This is just the start. As the evolution of wearable devices continues, workers will increasingly be able to leverage an ecosystem of wearables that will enhance not only human collaboration but also human to machine interaction. From gloves to glasses and cameras, the augmented human workforce will be not only more productivity but safer and, hopefully, happier.

Econocom Funds Honda Motor Europe’s Technology Transformation Project

Chris Labrey, MD for the UK & Ireland at Econocom and Peter Soentjens, Business Area Manager Service Delivery at Honda Motor Europe comment.

Infotech & Command Alkon to Enhance Material Management Processes for Public Agencies & Heavy Materials Suppliers

Real-Time Access to Data with E-Ticketing Applications Speeds Documentation Processing and Payment Processing; A Win-Win for All Involved

Amazon Business Award winners: Cepsa, Walsall Council and ABB

The first-ever Amazon Business Awards on User Empowerment, Agile Procurement & Visionary Award

Command Alkon Announces Steve Jones of Dodge Data & Analytics as Keynote Speaker at ELEVATE Conference

Leveraging Project Data to Deliver Cutting Edge Research on the Adoption and Value of Technology Usage in the Heavy Construction Space

SIOS achieved SAP certification for SAP S/4HANA

New capabilities and simplified pricing enables customers to easily move their SAP high availability clusters to AWS and Azure clouds

A.P. Moller - Maersk to Extend its End-to-End Container Logistics Services with JDA

Leading integrated container logistics and transport company to deploy cloud-based JDA Warehouse Management as part of its digital transformation

Siemens launches Digital Academy to nurture next generation of engineering and tech talent

Programme offers undergraduates up to 3,000-a-year sponsorship and up to 12-weeks paid summer placements

UiPath collaboratse with TechUK’s Public Services Board (PSB)

Robotic process automation (RPA) leader UiPath is keen to drive greater engagement between the tech industry and government

Atos further supports Italian Broadcaster RAI's digital transformation with new media player

Atos signed a 4-year contract with RAI - Radiotelevisione italiana S.p.A.* to develop new player system in RAI’s digital media supply chain.

Atos delivers Quantum-Learning-as-a-Service to Xofia to enable artificial intelligence solutions

Xofia combines artificial intelligence & quantum-based algorithms to implement problem-solving strategies for the enterprise

Automation is key as UK productivity declines further

As productivity in labour markets decline, businesses are under pressure to increase efficiency to remain competitive

Previsor Insurance Goes Live on IVANS Markets

Workers Compensation provider to instantly communicate appetite to agents within their management systems

IBM and Cisco amongst the leading companies in GlobalData's IIoT theme for the industrial automation sector

Gained the highest Thematic score (5 out of 5) in GlobalData’s Thematic Scorecard for the industrial automation sector

Donseed Launches New Cloud-Based Software to Unify Construction Site Inductions and Communications

Contractors can invite subcontractors, individuals, and supply chain workers to complete fully customised inductions and site briefings remotely

Atos participates in COSMIC EU Project developing powerful shipping container threat detection system

The advanced inspection system is to detect CBRNE threats (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive)

UK Organisations Leaders in Adopting Business Automation

A new survey commissioned by UiPath finds that growing business challenges are being addressed with automation

Participants should adopt as-a-service models, ready for deployment to adapt and thrive, finds Frost & Sulliva

, Digitalisation in Defence, reveals that digital technologies are gradually being leveraged at both agency and operational levels as change enablers

Lectra unveils two trailblazing Industry 4.0 solutions at annual furniture event

Furniture on Demand by Lectra and Versalis® 2019 enhance customization and productivity capabilities for future-oriented furniture companies

Elemica’s Gary Neights Wins Top 50 Tech Visionary Award

Speaking at Intercon Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

TCS and Star Alliance Celebrate 15 years of Partnership with New Digital Transformation Initiatives

Industry-First Solutions Built by TCS have Helped Star Alliance Drive Digital Innovation and Provide a Seamless Experience to Passengers

Digital disruption set to transform personal mobility

Forcing the creation of new business models, disrupting trends in personal mobility and reshaping global supply chains.

Intelligent Automation in Energy and Utilities

The sector must focus on quick wins in core functions such as forecasting, yield optimization and complaints management

Bruno Ferreira to Lead UiPath into a New Era as UKI Area Vice President

Ferreira joins UiPath during a period of strong growth and rapid expansion

ABB and Ericsson Join Forces to Accelerate Wireless Automation for Flexible Factories

ABB and Ericsson today strengthened their long-standing relationship with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) at Hannover Messe 2019.

New UiPath Immersion Lab will Empower EMEA Customers and Partners to Realise Their Enterprise RPA and AI

UiPath Immersion Lab enables customers and partners to test their business processes automation scenarios and make the move to the digital business

Leading RPA Provider Kryon Attains Net Promotor Score of +57

Customer-Rated Experience Exceeds IT & Software Industry Standard

Dematic PackMyRide: The World's First Fully Automated Parcel Loading Solution Concept for the Last Mile

Dematic presents the Dematic PackMyRide automation system, the world's first fully automated solution concept for parcel loading

WestRock Expands Portfolio of Automated Packaging Systems

WestRock Company has expanded its portfolio of automated packaging system offerings with the acquisition of Linkx Packaging Systems.

NICE Robotic Automation Expands Partnership with ABBYY

Integration enables expansive automation of unstructured data and scanned documentation with NEVA as well as NICE's unattended robots

Dematic: A Pioneer of Intralogistics Celebrates its 200th Anniversary

Dematic is set for an extraordinary year: 2019 marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of this international enterprise.

E.Leclerc automates their Gellainville warehouse with a CMC CartonWrap

Logilec has successfully installed a CMC CartonWrap in one of their sites in Gellainville.

Jungheinrich acquires majority stake in ISI Automation

Jungheinrich AG is to acquire ISI Automation GmbH & Co. KG of Lemgo, Germany.

"Start your digital journey": Implico to promote digital transformation at StocExpo Europe

Market leader EMEA for terminal management systems will showcase new products and innovations for the tank storage industry in Rotterdam

Fulfillment Automation Provider 6 River Systems Announces General Availability in Europe

6 River Systems is pleased to announce general availability in Europe just two years after the company’s U.S. debut.

Telekom Slovenije selects Bulb Technologies to automate customer care and introduce Chatbot self-care channel

CEMPRESSO Customer Care deployed to increase the efficiency of service troubleshooting

Rockwell Automation Acquires a Leading Software Developer for Simulating and Emulating Industrial Automation

Software portfolio integrates automation software with 3-D CAD model, enabling customers to test machine and system designs virtually

Kryon Becomes the First and Only RPA Vendor to Achieve ISO/IEC 27001:2013 Certification

Automation Industry Leader Recognized for Its Commitment to Maintaining Information Security

The Top 5 Ways Document Automation Improves Customer Engagement​

Every customer interaction presents an opportunity to make the right impression, to meet customers’ needs and to build relationships

Everything will be accelerated – 2019 Europe automation predictions

Faster adoption, public sector stimulus, and increased democratisation – just some of the automation trends UiPath experts predict for next year

78 Percent of UK Office Workers Believe Their Jobs Will Survive Automation

UK employees positive about Robotic Process Automation (RPA), but awareness of how their work will be transformed is low

Audi’s Autonomous Intelligent Driving Teams Up With Luminar

Audi´s startup, AID is the center of excellence for urban autonomous driving in the Volkswagen Group

The Current RPA Approach is Broken, It’s Time for a People1st Approach

It’s time to turn the world of RPA on its head since the current approach is broken. A new approach which puts People before Robots is needed

NICE Launches Robotic Process Automation Version 7.0, Leveraging Advanced AI to Accelerate ROI

Version 7 streamlines the automation life-cycle with smart process selection, swift development and greater enablement of the human-robotic workforce

Bosch presents tomorrow's mobility today

Bosch is developing systems and components for automating, connecting, and electrifying shuttles