Supply chain managers and workers seem to have two schools of thought when it comes to using robotic automation. On the one end are people who are excited about improving efficiency by using robots. They are willing to implement new ways of doing things even when they are not fully proven to be effective. At the other end of the spectrum are those who fear that robots will take over the workplace and displace humans entirely.
Until recently, robots were mainly used for repetitive and transactional processes. The trend is now turning towards robotics process automation (RPA). While some people fear this means replacing humans with machines, that isn’t entirely true. Instead, it integrates a variety of systems already used in order fulfillment. The typical supply chain can automate up to 45 percent of manual work activities by embracing RPA. The workers displaced by RPA must adapt to new jobs requiring higher levels of skill.
RPA can still be exceptionally useful when actual employees remain a part of the supply chain.
Some of the tasks that a robot can perform include:
• Picking and moving products through the facility
• Detecting humidity and vibration that can affect product quality
• Artificial intelligence
• Cognitive learning systems
Today’s younger generation of employees know how to find information quickly, and it’s a smart supply chain manager who takes advantage of that. These people skip phone calls in favor of using their web browser. They stay connected to the Internet all waking hours through their mobile devices. This new reality presents a unique way to increase productivity and collaboration through what is referred to as social supply chain management.
Manufacturers and distributors in the United States have discovered the advantages of working with suppliers around the world to access greater selection and prices. However, communication across time zones and language barriers can become a huge challenge. A social supply chain brings everyone together on social media platforms in real-time rather than relying primarily on email communication. Managers and others on the supply chain can check to see if the person they need to communicate with is logged in and then send him or her an instant message.
The social supply chain also cuts down on the need for time-consuming status update meetings and eliminates misunderstandings caused by language barriers. Participants can enter information in their own language and the program automatically translates it into the language of the recipient. This concept may be new, but it’s expected to become increasingly popular as manufacturing continues to go global.
In the next decade, expect to see a robotic, largely autonomous workforce on assembly lines, overseen by human managers who are interconnected through social networks with other managers at supply chain points around the globe.