Industry trend 2023: Automation (by itself) is not a competitive advantage￼
Many companies have been rushing to adopt automation technologies to gain a competitive advantage in recent years. It is supported by nearly 75 percent of organizations around the world, scaling repetitive tasks and increasing production capacity. While automation can certainly provide benefits, it turns out that it is not a silver bullet that will magically solve all business problems. Relying on it too much can create new problems, such as a loss of flexibility and the inability to adapt quickly to changing market conditions.
There are also two major problems with it. First, many industrial robots have simply failed. When the pandemic scare fuelled demand for robotization, manufacturers outdid themselves in bringing innovations to market, and the industry pressed for time and worried about the future, making rash decisions, and investing in ill-advised solutions. EY reports that nearly 50 percent of robotization processes fail. Especially where the purchase of equipment was not consulted with employees, costly machines are now standing on the back burner. The machines stopped working or were too expensive to operate. In other cases, robots turned out to be unnecessary gadgets that slow down work instead of improving it.
Second, the competitive advantage gained through robotization is sometimes short-lived. The world is changing faster and is often moving in a different direction than we assumed. This requires constant strategy revisions and rapid responses that machines cannot match. The difficulty of automation is that it rarely provides flexible, adaptable solutions. It undoubtedly improves productivity by increasing process speed or accuracy, but it does not offer solutions for significantly changing conditions.
The main feature of our time is change, and the challenge of business is adaptation. It turns out that robotization alone cannot cope with this. Adaptation to change is a unique feature of humans and strengthening their competencies – the source of today’s business advantage.
Augmentation – technologies that put humans first
Deloitte’s predictions for the manufacturing industry for 2023 say that a key trend is to ensure that people and technology work together. When it comes to technologies, however, Deloitte points to a huge shift in their perception: the future belongs to technologies that make work better for people and people better at work. The technologies of the future are not just replacing humans in tedious tasks but enhancing the capabilities of employees and teams.
People, not technology, are shaping the future of manufacturing, according to Torbjørn Netland, a World Economic Forum expert specializing in manufacturing and operations process management. How employees use new technologies will determine how the organization evolves.
This approach offers the direction of augmentation, which was born from the simple idea that human work can be made better with the right tools. Despite appearances, augmentation is nothing new. Historically, first, the work tools were handheld, then those that are fitted to the body – like glasses – and then the interfaces – computers and smartphones. Recent years have seen several experiments with wearables, like smartwatches, and finally, immersive technologies namely augmented reality (AR) glasses or virtual reality environments.
“In the technology industry, augmented reality is pointed to as one of humanity’s breakthrough inventions that will significantly change the world and the way we live and work. AR is a key technology that will affect everything to such an extent that we will soon begin to wonder how we could have lived without it.” – says Przemyslaw Maliszewski, CEO and co-founder of Aidar.
What sets AR apart is that it provides users with digital information superimposed on the physical world around them. This means that when they are working in focus, they don’t have to detach from their tasks to take advantage of the technology’s support – AR comes to the rescue in the form of a button that is invisible to the surroundings and opens an entire interface of possibilities in front of the employee. The technology prompts the solutions and calculations needed to get the job done in the middle of tasks, without the need to open a web browser, look around for a piece of paper and pencil, or pull out a tape measure. It becomes a supernatural power, available on demand.
The business value of augmentation
As with other tools, the value of augmentation can be judged by the extent to which it supports a person in crossing existing barriers and how many areas it is applied to. Last year’s IDC survey outlines how AR has helped organizations across a cross-section of industries deal with challenges, through remote support, digital capture and knowledge transfer, learning, work, and training, or 3D resources.
Augmented reality has come a long way in recent years and is now being used to increase efficiency and productivity.
In the competitive environment of the manufacturing industry, where a permanent shortage of skilled workers prevails and as many as 10 million jobs remain unfilled globally, people are at an advantage. Today, businesses cannot afford complicated onboarding or reskilling aimed at aligning humans with machines. In today’s global society, employees who have grown up with smartphones will no longer accept outdated user interfaces, overly complicated task lists, and instructions. They become the focal point when building and implementing new systems, and their challenges should be a priority for the organization.”Augmentation does not negate automation but points out that it is only as good as the humans operating it. The industry will always need people, and augmented reality can help retain and even create jobs that automation can never replace. With access to contextual information in a convenient and accessible format, workers can better utilize their unique qualities not available to robots, and business is discovering its advantage in them.” – Przemysław Maliszewski notes.
Automation is the notion that machines or robots can perform human labor more effectively than people. Although it is a captivating idea, it is ultimately extremely flawed because it is predicated on several unrealistic or futuristic assumptions. There are certain situations where automation makes more sense than human labor: For instance, when the labor is monotonous, risky, or of little worth. However, implementing automation to replace a workforce of human beings is doomed to fail. Industrial companies face a transition from looking at human labor as a problem to be solved to helping humans solve problems if they are to succeed over the long haul.