Post-Covid technological investment? The need to strengthen our industry

Robotic process automation

The advent of coronavirus in our lives has introduced constraints that hardly existed hitherto. But like any other change or revolution, the Covid-19 pandemic has given us an unprecedented chance to stress just how important technology and innovation are as problem-solving allies. Teleworking, e-commerce, home food deliveries, online education, digital communication channels are only some of the options that have now come into their own. This pandemic has hit us hard, but we have proven able to adapt ourselves to the situation and digitize to keep business going. The moot point now is whether or not we’re capable of accepting technology’s groundbreaking role in these situations and the essential nexus of the transformation now lying ahead, so we can all come out of this even stronger.

The truth is that the world as a whole practically ground to a halt; industry was no exception. During these recent months many businesses have pulled in their horns; demand has plummeted (expect for the logistic sector, the food and pharmaceutical industries) and several firms have had to lay off staff temporarily to survive. Nonetheless, the industrial sector as a whole has responded to the pandemic with a surge of civic responsibility and fellow feeling, turning its assets to the benefit of society: donating healthcare material; switching its production to essential goods, lending vehicles to the emergency services, etc. This situation has prompted manufacturers and companies to adopt new production and distribution methods, clearly revealing the fundamental role of technology and the huge potential of automation, digitization, traceability, predictability or robotics.

There are many technological capabilities that, had they been implemented in our industry, could have helped us cope with this situation better:

  • Industrial and collaborative robotics, with the ability to work remotely and round the clock to carry out tedious, routine and hazardous tasks.
  • Artificial intelligence applied to robotics (machine learning) for constant planning of the specific activity to be carried out.
  • Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) navigation system plus other advanced technologies like artificial vision, which enable autonomous systems to move automatically, without human intervention, to the reloading point on the basis of information captured by their real time sensors.
  • Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in support of repetitive or low-benefit but labor-intensive activities.
  • Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGV) to reduce logistics-dependency and favor social distancing.
  • Big Data and predictive analysis to minimize equipment- and system-incidents and breakdowns.
  • IoT sensors to provide real time visibility of asset availability (raw materials, finished products …).

Hindsight is little help here, however. Rather than think about what we could have done we need to look forward. Investment in all the abovementioned technology will help firms to become more resilient and intelligent, not only in terms of analysis and prediction but also machine interaction, making our industry stronger and more competitive.

The synergy between human and artificial intelligence as a lever for reindustrialization

Robotics and artificial intelligence have really come into their own during this crisis, allowing us to continue producing despite constraints on the movements and availability of workers. Machine learning, moreover, means the machines themselves can learn from their own errors and even empathize with humans. It is for this very reason that we should plump for machine-person collaboration, exploiting the best of both, in order to define industrial market leaders.

A report drawn up by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), World Robotics 2019 brings out the growing importance of automation over the coming years. The hard figures: at the end of 2016 over 1.8 million industrial robots were working around the world and IFR expects this figure to rise to over 3 million by the end of 2020; this represents a mean annual growth rate of 14% from 2017 to 2020. This trend will not reduce the number of jobs but simply switch them to new functions. Witness the US car market, where the labor force rose by 22% from 2013 to 2018, a period coinciding with the massive takeup of robotics in the industry.

In short, we need to keep in touch with what’s happening and get ready for it. The industrial sector will have to rethink its strategic plan, weighing up the importance of digitization and automation to improve worker safety and boost resource efficiency and use. The fine examples of solidarity and common endeavor during the pandemic have shown us the importance of all pulling in the same direction, turning collaboration, talent and investment to the best possible account.

[GMV] Automation and robotics in the industrial sector: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWW0oL2ZTnY&t

 

Author: Eric Polvorosa

 

Las opiniones vertidas por el autor son enteramente suyas y no siempre representan la opinión de GMV
The author’s views are entirely his own and may not reflect the views of GMV
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