Is an I, Robot takeover happening in factories? Is the factory worker soon to be inconsequential to the running of the factory? Well, not in the near future and potentially never. As Elon Musk confirms “humans are underrated”. He tweets
“Excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake”.
Currently, machines on the market may perform faster, preciser, and stronger than many humans. However, the key resistance to automation is that no machine has the flexibility in which a human has. To understand a job’s ability to be automated we must understand the concept of technical feasibility. Machines are unable to respond to a chaotic environment that is the material world.
100% automation? Reality or Impossible Dream
According to the McKinsey study, predictable physical activities like packing products, maintaining equipment or the loading of materials in a controlled environment only represents ⅓ of the average factory worker’s overall time. The sheer number of workers doing this predictable work means that 59% of manufacturing activities have the technical feasibility for automation. This is a far cry from the nightmares around 100% automation in the future.
This number is more than likely a lot smaller. We also have to consider the fiscal costs of installing machinery and the software that goes with it. Furthermore, supply and demand factors will impact the actual cost reducing and profit producing abilities of automation. Amazon struggles with automation because of the nature of the business. Demand increases sharply over peak seasons right before holidays, and supply was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. These two forces gives preferential treatment to the hiring of people instead of automation. Hiring in labor during peak seasons is more cost effective then spending millions on machines that will experience downtime during off seasons and unable to ramp up speed on peak seasons.
This is why leading executives are performing plug in play model for automating their factories. This model uses machines that are small, repurposable, modular and interoperable. This reduces installing costs. Increases the uses of machinery and is able to be operated by flexible human beings.
Robotics and software technology development will accelerate. This will create new potential for low technical feasibility jobs to become automated in the future. New found knowledge in these areas will allow for more safe and enhanced physical collaboration between robots and humans
Industry 4.0. A stepping stone for enterprise leaders
Executives need to identify where automation would bring value for their business. There needs to be a strong plan for the migration of new business processes powered by automation. A plan that sufficiently helps direct, identify and prioritize potential transformations. Many of the benefits will be of fewer errors, higher yields, and better quality, safety and speed. As far as great leaders are concerned, they need to “give up” a century of organizational development that focused on mainly labour intensive industries.
We often hear a lot about Industry 4.0. and many places have adopted it. However, the next stop is Industry 5.0. This is going to be a manufacturing world in which humans and machinery collaborate simultaneously in the completion of tasks. For this to become a reality, AI enhancing technology is a necessary part of that future.