Tag Archive: robots

What’s Ahead in Technology?

January 30th, 2019

To think about what’s ahead in technology, it is important to put it in perspective with what’s ahead in business.  Read our article, “What’s Ahead in Business?” for details on the key trends impacting business:

  1. Importance of the customer experience
  2. Taking the holistic view has become a “must”
  3. Volatility is the new norm
  4. The coming power of manufacturing and supply chain

What’s ahead in technology lines up with these same themes. In order to achieve scalable, profitable growth, technology is an important enabler. The most relevant technology trends include:

  1. ERP Upgrades – More and more companies are realizing that their system infrastructure must keep up with business requirements and customer expectations. As tough as an ERP upgrade can be, it is one of the only ways to make the leap from manual, labor-intensive processes to providing a superior customer experience efficiently.
  2. E-commerce/ Customer Portals – Amazon. Alibaba. Customer collaboration. Need we say more?
  3. Business Intelligence & Data Analytics – We are overwhelmed by mountains of data. We are so anxious to gather data yet we don’t seem to have the appropriate information at our fingertips when we need it. That’s where data analytics comes into the picture. Beyond that, predictive analytics is gaining steam.
  4. Artificial Intelligence – Even my Mom counts on Alexa! In addition, who wouldn’t want a car that self corrects? Predicting customer patterns and behaviors is becoming more important. AI is set to transform many industries over the next several years.
  5. IoT– Smart factories. Smart homes. Connected devices and machines. According to NEWGENAPPS, 60% of global manufacturers will use analytics data tracked using connected devices to analyze and and optimize processes.
  6. Robotics & Automation – Robots may not be taking over the universe tomorrow morning, but they are working hand-in-hand with people to achieve many benefits – improve safety, increase speed and consistency, improve customer satisfaction, fill capacity shortfalls and and increase productivity.
  7. Autonomous Vehicles – Beyond self-driving cars and trucks, autonomous vehicles are used widely in manufacturing and distribution environments.

Are you thinking about which of these technologies will support your business objectives?  Or which are likely to impact your industry?  Consider technology as a key part of your strategy and plans. If you’d like an expert to evaluate which, if any, of these technologies will be relevant to your business, contact us.

Did you like this article? Continue reading on this topic:

Systems Pragmatist

The Resilient Supply Chain: Should We Invest in Technology? 

AI, Robots, IoT, Blockchain, Hike!



Robots Taking on Pharmaceuticals & Food?

July 28th, 2018

 

According to the Wall Street Journal, robots are taking on pharmaceuticals and food preparation.  In pharmaceuticals, companies like Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline are investing heavily in automation to radically change the process of drug discovery.   If robots can handle thousands of samples around the clock (although costs will decrease or be reallocated to more valuable tasks), these results pale in comparison with the vast opportunity to develop drugs quicker!

Are you radically re-thinking and innovating with speed in mind?

Meanwhile, a burger joint will open in San Francisco that makes $6 burgers entirely by robot.  Creator is betting that robots can create burgers more efficiently and better (with techniques borrowed from Michelin-star chefs) than humans.

Now the question will become – when the robot curious wears off, will people frequent a robot run burger shop?  Regardless, the question really becomes – are you considering whether robots or automation might benefit your customers and business value?

What Should We Consider and/or What Impacts Could Arise?
As much as we warn our clients not to get “too” carried away with robots and technology (as it is easy to chase these ideas down a rabbit hole leading nowhere), it is certainly worthwhile to think about the strategic use of technology as it relates to innovation, providing a superior customer experience and in improving performance.  If it fits with your strategy, doesn’t distract from your priorities (or preferably compliments and enhances them) and generates a return on investment, why wouldn’t you consider every option?

One client leveraged the use of robots (designed uniquely for them by internal expertise) so that they could run a critical operation around-the-clock.  They couldn’t find employees with the appropriate skills to run more than first shift and overtime.  And, they were constantly struggling to keep up with orders.  Once the robot was up and running, the bottleneck was virtually eliminated and customers received what they needed when they needed it.  The people on first shift took on the complex tasks, set the robots up to run at night and remained extremely valuable (even more so).

Have you thought about these type of unique innovations to propel your business?  We’ll be starting a new video and interview series, “Innovation: Fast-tracking growth and profits” shortly.  We’d love to hear about your suggestions and innovations.

 

 



AI, Robots, IoT, Blockchain, Hike!

July 16th, 2018

AI (artificial intelligence), Robots, IoT (internet of things), Blockchain, hike! Doesn’t it sound like a foreign language?  It certainly does to my mother! Yet it is the language of the future.

business intelligence

Which of these technologies should we pay attention to?  Let’s look at some of the more popular ones:

  1.  AIDepending on your industry, AI will most certainly impact it.  Service industries such as accounting are definitely impacted. After all, if a program like Alexa can learn how to put together your taxes, it is bound to disrupt.  Machine learning and artificial intelligence can be powerful – preventative maintenance can be completely redefined in a proactive, predictive way.
  2. Robots – Isn’t everyone talking about robots?  Of course, this is partially because they are fun to talk about.  Is a robot good in all situations? NO! We’ve seen many manufacturers and distributors try robots and end up slowing the process down because they didn’t think about the full impacts.
  3.  IoT  We don’t even think about all the devices that are connected in our everyday lives.  Smoke alarms, security systems, phones, refrigerators, Amazon Alexa, our car, traffic signals, manufacturing machines, RFID tags and much more.  Connecting devices because we can yet for no valuable use just adds to the mountain of data to analyze. Instead, we should think about the strategic use of IoT for our business.
  4.  Blockchain Talk about another buzzword!  Isn’t a phone call, an email, EDI, lot traceability in ERP or a customer portal sufficient?  Many times – yes. Again, the value of blockchain should be evaluated before jumping on board with the latest and greatest trend; however, there will be uses.  When instantly visible, irrefutable and non-changeable (think avoidance of high potential fraud), traceable transactions are required, it might be just the medicine.
  5.  Autonomous vehiclesForklifts, cars, trucks, and more.  Again, let’s think ‘fit’ to our business.  In trucking, it is likely to make all sorts of sense.  Rates continue to rise. There is a shortage of drivers. Baby boomers are retiring. Environmental rules continue to increase. It does seem to fill a potential gap.

The underlying bottom line when it comes to technology remains – let’s not use technology for technology’s sake!
Instead, think smart. How does it fit with your business requirements? Will it provide a superior customer experience?  Purse those with a strong return on investment, ignore the rest and success will follow while your competition chases ‘shiny objects’.



The Skills Gap Emerges as #1 at Prominent Supply Chain Conference

May 28th, 2018

At the Southern California Supply Chain and Logistics Summit conference, there were several keynote speakers from industry icons such as Amazon, UPS, Union Pacific and more.  One might expect quite a lot of interesting insights into the latest supply chain trends yet the most common theme among the presentations tied back to the skills gap. It boils down to having the “right people” for success – both in terms of employees and supply chain partners.

 

Several of the themes emerged the supply chain summit:

  1.  Automation: Friend or Foe? With the advances of automation in the supply chain, there is much worry over the impact on people. Yet, several speakers said they HAD to automate and leverage technology just to have a hope of keeping up with the expected growth over the next several years.  When adding in the retirement of baby boomers, will you have the skills to support your business growth?
  2. Someone has to be behind the robot – Even though some robots use artificial intelligence concepts, they aren’t programming themselves.  There is someone behind the robot – programming, maintenance and more. Are you preparing for a job that can be replaced by a robot or are you programming the robot?
  3.  Robots and people side-by-side-  There are some tasks that robots can automate and improve upon whereas there are others it makes sense to employ workers.  Are you preparing your resources to see value in both?
  4.  Matching skills with roles – How does your company stack up?  Another topic of much discussion – mentioned by panelists and attendees alike – the vast majority of executives feel they are falling short when it comes to gaining the skills they need to run their business at the “right” margins.  How clear are you on what you need to successfully run your business? Or are you living on hope it will all work out?
  5.  The rise of flexibility – With the rise of e-commerce, we have BIG spikes.  We need to be thinking about how to incorporate flexibility into our thinking. How flexible are you?
  6. Would you want to be in the role?  There are some jobs set up to be thankless (such as drivers in several environments).  If you wouldn’t want to do the job, how can you expect to keep your workforce?

Since having the “right” talent in the “right” place at the “right” time is #1 to success, investing in talent could be your most important investment of the year.  Do you spend as much time thinking about your people (whether current or new) as you do a major machine or technology purchase? You should!

 



Will Robots Pay Back?

January 13th, 2018

Supply Chain Briefing

I attended a compelling ProVisors presentation for manufacturers and distributors on the latest trends in technology for manufacturing.  Our presenter, Craig Young, discussed the latest advances in technology and what manufacturers should be thinking about to succeed in the New Year.  Robots were front and center in the discussion.

Robots in the workplace

Automation Advancements
Fully automated packaging lines should be quite popular with a typical 1-2 year payback – and that is prior to thinking about a vast array of non-financial advantages.  

Next up on the robots front is automatic storage and retrieval systems – although a longer payback of typically 5 years, they can bring a host of advantages and increase competitiveness.  

And, last but not least, we discussed laser guided vehicles with a typical 10-20 year payback with different advantages.   

What Should We Consider and/or What Impacts Could Arise?
Clearly, throwing robots at every problem is like Maslow’s hammer and the nail quote (if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail).  Don’t do it!!  However, obviously, from the opposite perspective, there is something quite compelling about robots to achieve manufacturing objectives – profitable and scalable growth.  

Robots aren’t new.  I clearly remember a colleague at one of my jobs from 25 years ago when I was in planning/ purchasing/ inventory at Santa Fe Plastics (a plastic injection molding operation that produced consumer products like the jars for face cream) who spent 70% of his time working on a robot.  There were clear cut advantages, even way back then!   

Although a lot of executives think about robots from an automation and cost savings perspective, there are more important advantages such as keeping up with growth, replacing people as they retire (since it is a tough market to find good manufacturing resources), 24/7 focus and more.  

One of my current clients designed a robot that works around-the-clock.  Since putting the robot in place, they are able to keep up with customer requirements, have precise quality control and have maintained their long-term, high-skilled resources on first shift.  A definite win!  Others have brought manufacturing back to the U.S. – and even to California.

Everything in Perspective
Remember, robots shouldn’t be viewed as a hammer.  Think about what you need to accomplish and evaluate robots as one tool/solution to a business issue.  We are in the age of the customer experience.  Will robots help or hurt you with this endeavor?  Depending on your specific situation, it could go either way.  Think before jumping.