The collaboration between human and machine

UK industrial, supply chain and support services have invested heavily over the years in working alongside intelligent robotics with a hope to improve business efficiency, cut production cycle times and boost quality.

However, the sector’s still behind the curve and there is scope for improvement. Following an exclusive roundtable event with leaders in manufacturing, supply chain and logistics from top UK companies, Holmes Noble published a discussion paper to share insights from the event and stimulate thinking.

Here, Amy Speake, Partner at Holmes Noble, discusses the key trends and insights from the event.

It’s no surprise how industry roles are changing.

The industrial, supply chain and logistics sectors are already collaborating with automation.  Teams are learning to co-work alongside intelligent robotics with each party, bringing to the production line, abilities the other lacks.

Whilst some are beginning to consider artificial intelligence (AI) systems as partners with special skill sets, others fear automation will cause a shortage of work for people. But, as an industry, we should not see it as human vs machine. Rather, we should think human and machine collaboration.

Productivity is one of the biggest challenges the UK faces today. Current statistics – from The Guardian – put Britain’s productivity output (per hour worked), 22.2% lower than that of the US, 22.7% lower than in France and 26.7% lower than in Germany. The UK has made no intrinsic improvements over the last 20 years and this needs to change. Automation could be the answer to increasing UK productivity.

During the Holmes Noble round table, one leader revealed that automation practices have contributed to growing its turnover by 70%. The key advantage of automation is that it boosts productivity and wealth but those may be offset against jobs. According to The Daily Telegraph, using robotics and AI to optimise manufacture can lead to a 3:1 return on investment and efficiency gains of 10-20%.

The supply chain is very committed to automation but one of the challenges is having people with the right skills to support new technology. Attracting the right people – those with an innovative and creative mindset – to get the most out of new technology, is paramount. It’s also essential to re-skill and up-skill the current workforce.

There is a significant skills gap between where most of the workforce is now, compared to where it needs to be. Employers need a multi-skilled workforce.  Continual development of the right skills to work alongside new technology is vital.

Over the past 20 years, technology has reshaped most industries. Previously, much manufacturing and fabrication involved manual labour but now automation gives firms the competitive advantage but that will eventually become the standard.  Business has no choice but to adopt new technology otherwise they will die.

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For additional insights and for further insights from the event, you can download Holmes Noble’s exclusive discussion document Automation – the collaboration between human and machine.