The International Data Corporation (IDC) released a report in the latter part of 2017 projecting that spending on robotics will reach $135.4 billion by 2019 in comparison to just $71 billion in 2015. That is double the spend in five years, and a good indication of how aggressive the adoption of robotics and its associated technologies like AI and automation are expected to be in the near future.
It is not hard to understand why this is projected to be the case: robotics and automation are both rapidly affecting economies around the world even today, because robots increase productivity, and productivity gains tend to generate wealth.
While the initial investment in robotics and automation may, on the surface of it, seem like an obscure investment for business, the long-term potential benefits of doing so are so strong that not getting involved early could be disastrous. In other words, if businesses are not thinking of including robotics and AI-driven automation functionalities in their strategies, they need to get on the bandwagon, fast.
One such industry that stands to benefit hugely from robotics, AI, and automation is warehousing and logistics. The industry is reaping the benefits of major advancements in Robotic Management Systems (RMS) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) that are making logistics easier, faster, and more efficient.
It makes sense for businesses in this industry to take advantage of these new capabilities, because if we take a general overview, it’s fair to say logistics are incredibly process-driven, and those can quite easily be automated to improve efficiency and allow for staff to focus on other things by using AI-driven software robots, physical robots, or a combination of the two.
The Tarsus Technology Group is in the final stages of deploying an RPA process for its in-bound shipping department, which leverages automation not by way of physical robots, but software algorithms that act like robots.
“An opportunity arose whereby one of our talented graduates, Tshepiso Makoloka, was given the opportunity to move into our project management office, and this was going to require a new appointment to replace her. We felt this was an opportunity to fast-track her into her new role as well as a chance to look at new technologies instead of simply employing another person,” says Tim Proome, the Head of Supply Chain and Warehousing at Tarsus Distribution.
“That project is currently being run by Tshepiso, and it’s upskilling her in project management and helping her to hand over her old role to a ‘bot’ at the same time. The greater team is really excited about the change, which will give them the chance to become proficient in RPA as well as affording them the opportunity to use their knowledge and expertise to find more efficiencies through the application of Business Information services instead of simply capturing data,” Proome says.
The traditional logistics process includes plenty of paperwork and data capturing, and to do their jobs the team receives different documents from vendors and then captures that information on an ERP system. The RPA pilot project has seen Tarsus Distribution create a software robot which has automated this entire process, doing what’s needed approximately three times the speed and efficiency of human workers. In some cases, Proome says, it can be about ten times faster. This is currently taking place in the OKI environment.
“The first phase of the project was to map PDF readers for each document we receive. The bot writes that data into a ‘Star Schema’ (a database of all shipping data), and then, through the mapped process, it writes the data from the database to the ERP system and SARS compliance documents.
What about jobs?
The adoption of robotics, AI and automation into business is a conversation that cannot be had without raising the question of what will happen to people’s jobs. In a series of podcasts about the future of work released by the McKinsey Global Institute, the consulting giant found that “the future of work was one of the hottest topics in 2017” and with good reason.
“We cannot speak about any aspect of digital transformation and exclude the human race. People are behind all the technological advancements that we enjoy, and that is why investing in talent should be a top priority for businesses,” says Proome.
“If people are to remain relevant in this era of rapid technological advancement, we need to ensure that we upskill them accordingly,” he continues.
“The business has now had a glimpse of the possibilities of this technology, and each business unit within the Group has begun looking for and identifying roles that can be automated. The feeling is that through scalability, we will start to fast-track this through the inbound shipping department, followed by finance and sales environments, to enable staff to focus on their core responsibilities, thereby adding massive value to our already-digital end-to-end supply chain,” Proome concludes.