American automation has, over recent years, come to somewhat of a standstill.
The impact of the international coronavirus pandemic clearly illustrated this; NASDAQ highlights how industrial production dropped to a ten year low, with only the arrival of new automation tools creating any sort of relief within the industry.
The need for automation is clear, as the impact of a total industrial shutdown causes far more harm to the economy and jobs than the jobs lost to robotic and automated systems. While America might have a lot to do to catch up, other countries have carved out a trail that can provide inspiration.
Upscaling current solutions
Sometimes the most important innovation comes from already existing plans. The BBC highlights the work of one company in Wales that has rapidly upscaled the ability of its automated warehouse tech.
This is an important and current crossover with existing industry. Life has to go on during the charge of automation, and ensuring that sophisticated classic warehouse operations such as conveyor systems can dovetail with new, automated systems, will help factories to stay online and stay productive, and to keep feeding the consumer supply chain.
Innovation in Wales has shown that automation can be rapidly upscaled in a way that doesn’t damage operations, and will help to protect employee health and safety.
Innovation in Wales has shown that automation can step in to replace the work of those unable to enter the factory floor. What if nobody is available to work?
The American Institute for Contemporary German Studies highlights certain factories in Germany that have brought in large-scale robotic worker forces to help stock their workforce.
Promisingly, this has allowed entire production lines to stay online and stay productive despite large numbers of the workforce being sidelined due to COVID and other extenuating circumstances.
This shows that robot workers can effectively be deployed to complete an end-to-end process, and are in short effective workers.
Another example of an automation good news story is Singapore.
Analysis by the governmental Agency for Science, Technology and Research shows that uptake of automation methods was slow prior to the pandemic, but that an opportunity was also presented to make real long-term change.
To that end, factories including Michelman were able to quickly pivot to changing their output in their factories, and this again shows another positive and easily replicated aspect of automation.
These factories were able to quickly present new goods on the turn of a coin, as opposed to floundering, and that’s due to the novel implementation of automation within their business. This combines automated factory lines, but also data techniques to allow for quick positioning.
Looking at the holistic view of automation is important in this regard. It’s not just about robots; it’s about the data, the view of how products are made, and the workers who will support the automated processes. The good news is that other countries have led the way, and the US can – and should – follow.