Work-life Integration Through Automation

As the standard of an interconnected life in today’s manufacturing world transitions from the paradigm of “Work-Life Balance” of the 2000’s to the new standard of “Work-Life Integration”, major companies are implementing automated solutions to take this from concept to reality.

Imagine working your regular 9-5 job (really 7-3:30 in manufacturing), heading home to be greeted with multiple company emails on your Blackberry 8900, iPhone S or Nokia with a crazy slide out keyboard. You then eat supper, get a couple calls from a boss or a subordinate by dessert, open up your laptop to do some work while watching tv and later check your text messages to see if that supplier has confirmed the project meeting for the morning prior to bedding down. The only “balance” in this scenario, would be your physical removal from work, half of which is spent sleeping and getting ready for the next day.

Fast the forward to mid-2010’s: You wake up early to fire off a couple emails and start your to-do list before you head to a dentist appointment. You get to the office around 9:30 with your communication for the day started and tasks well underway. Your shared calendar with your boss and direct reports allows them to balance their needs around your committed meetings, you webex in some clients from the west coast, another internal meeting around the production numbers from the MES (Manufacturing Execution Software) by early afternoon. One last meeting to do a 3D design review with a supplier prior to a FAT site visit next week to make sure nothing slipped through the cracks. Home for dinner and activities then a bit of time spent in your CRM app to check in on the progress of the remote sales team prior to the next day. Head hits the pillow with the day firmly in control without controlling you.

Two very different workdays only separated by 10-12 years based on the adoption of advanced technology and software readily available through your business devices. With the speed the fourth industrial revolution is being adopted across all manufacturing, this “Work-Life” integration is quickly becoming a reality in factories and warehouses around the world. From autonomous AGVs to MES software or predictive maintenance platforms, integration to the factory floor without having to be constantly there is gaining traction in all market segments. Some processes are for early adopters but some have been readily available for some time and cost relative to ROI (Return On Investment) is starting to take shape. Equipment is learning how to limit downtime without impacting productivity and therefore profits. You can connect to a robotic system on a manufacturing floor in Huntsville, Alabama from a coffee shop in Stuttgart, Germany and watch things unfold in real-time.

Some examples of this true lights-out manufacturing process:

According to eMarketer, e-commerce has captured over half of the global retail sales, which is approximately $1.13 trillion (USD) in 2017. Alibaba, which is the biggest global e-commerce company in China has already installed 60 AGV robots. While this doesn’t sound like a large number, these “MoBots” continuously work, repeatedly communicate with the integrated network and submit work reports, 24/7. No paperwork lost, no inaccurate data, no break times. The company will be deploying another 60 units in 2018. From the base level, this improves productivity and profitability. A level deeper, employees can now monitor the incoming stream of multiple workstations, quality processes and order tracking. This solution is also entirely scalable. Also, no guessing at efficiency of production due to training, fatigue or poor workmanship.

Currently, 70% of the Alibaba warehouse work is done by AGVs. These MoBots are able to carry over 500 kilograms at once, and automatically avoid colliding with each other due to the closed network of communication. By allocating simple material handling work to robots, workers are utilized in more parameterized tasks such as: double-check packed stocks posted to the right customers. According to Alibaba staff, since Alibaba deployed these AGV robots, they can sort 3,000 products during a 7.5-hour shift in 2, 563 steps to get them in their proper place. This has almost doubled what the humans were capable of sorting in the manual process (Humans had to walk 27,924 steps to get to the right location allowing them to only sort 1,500 products in the same time period)

The agriculture industry has been rapidly evolving due to some culture/social issues such as the worst labour shortage, especially in developed countries. The growth of demand for products sourced close to the origin is relying on higher cost areas to provide fresher goods. To solve these problems, the food industry has incorporated advanced and adaptive farming robotic solutions which range from Nursey Planting, Crop Seeding, Crop Monitoring and Analysis, Fertilizing and Irrigation, and others. Automated farming is leading the charge of improving yields, better detection of waste and improving the farm field density for bumper crops.

Do you want to learn more about what the farming robotic applications are?

Taylor Farms, the baby leaf lettuce & romaine producer in California, U.S.A, has been adapting harvesting and picking robots to increase productivity and efficiency. According to Bruce Taylor, CEO of Taylor Farms, over 95% of their products are harvested by robots and these robots have boosted the cultivation speed. Technology is at the point where agriculture can now find solutions that deal with the issues related to condensed harvest schedules, migrant labour concerns and harvesting the crop at the perfect time from the cellular level. There are even GPS driven tractors that are now being deployed to automatically seed and fertilize autonomously, in the same cycle.

While these two companies showcase two very different strategies of automation, the overriding theme is the same. Well established technology is readily available to provide seamless automation and autonomy for your production challenge. The future of production takes you off the shop floor or out of the warehouse. Tireless overtime shifts, unexpected downtimes and separate silos of information have gone the way of “Work-Life Balance” of the 2000s. Now equipment can predict failures before they happen. Equipment can autonomously complete the hard labour tasks leaving your workforce with roles in quality inspection or process optimization. Labour issues related to ergonomics, migrant workers or human inefficiencies are now an issue that can be resolved with readily available equipment, not expensive customized solutions. As we move through this next industrial revolution expect more interconnectivity, more readily available information and the ability to offer “Work-Life Integration” to your workforce without sacrificing productivity.

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