What does the future for human and machine collaboration look like?

UK logistics alongside supply chain and manufacturing 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 industries are still behind the curve and there is huge scope for improvement.

Following an exclusive roundtable with leaders in manufacturing, supply chain and logistics from top UK companies, Holmes Noble launched a discussion paper stimulating thinking and sharing insights from the event. Let’s take a look at some of the results:

We’re on the brink of another technological revolution, the Fourth Industrial Revolution which brings together digital, physical and biological systems. The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. If we compare this with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential pace so it’s unsurprising that industry roles are changing. The way we work has changed.

Human and machine collaboration is changing the manufacturing, logistics and supply chain’s business operations. People 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 human workers.

One of the biggest challenges is having people with the right skills to support new technology. Attracting the right people, with an innovative and creative mind set, 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 so continual development of the right skills to work alongside new technology is vital.

In the short-term, automation could widen income inequality because a greater proportion of the economic pie will go to those with the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in an ever more digital economy.

By 2030, up to 30 per cent of existing UK jobs could be impacted by automation. But we must remember that over the next 15 years, in many cases, the nature of these jobs will change rather than disappear altogether.

As an industry, we should not see it as human vs machine. Rather, we should think human and machine collaboration. Automation should boost productivity and not necessarily reduce total employment in the long-run.

Automation is already making logistics faster and smarter, reducing the risk of error and increasing productivity. Collaborative technology can increase production capacity by 20 per cent whilst lowering material consumption by four per cent.

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 per cent lower than that of the US, 22.7 per cent lower than in France and 26.7 per cent 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 event, one leader revealed that automation has gone from one per cent to 70 per cent of its turnover. The key advantage of automation is that it will boost productivity and wealth which may be offset against jobs. According to The Telegraph, using robotics and AI to optimise manufacturing can lead to a 3:1 return on investment and efficiency gains of ten to 20 per cent.

Now, more than half a century after the first robotics worked on production lines, AI and machine learning are allowing companies to revolutionise the way they make and ship goods.

Over the past 20 years, technology has changed the nature of industry. Since technology has infiltrated the industry, automation has become the competitive advantage and is setting the standards for the industry.

Amy Speake is a Partner at Holmes Noble. Holmes Noble is a personal and progressive executive interim and search firm which transforms businesses by finding exceptional talent based on insights into both client and prospective employee perspectives.

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