Will your next employee be a robot?

By Pierfrancesco Manenti | November 13, 2018 | 0 Comments

Supply ChainPower of the Profession

Automation and robotics is on the rise, expected to change the way we run manufacturing operations. According to Statista[i], the revenue generated from the robotics market globally is expected to grow to be worth almost $500 billion in 2025, a jump of over 1,000% from today! Not only have new industrial robotics developed amazing human-like dexterity and intelligence, but this technology is taking a variety of new forms, such as personal assistant robots, customer service robots and robotic process automation (RPA).

Ericsson recently implemented RPA[ii] to automate its global order management process. It achieved a staggering 80% process productivity: for every 100 inputs provided to the robot, 80 are handled automatically and only 20 need manual intervention.

Arrow Electronics uses drones throughout its warehouse operations to support Lean Six Sigma. The idea came from employee feedback pointing out that higher vantage points from a drone were more beneficial for identifying areas for improvement than people observing from atop ladders. The company reduced 6.6 million walking steps yearly and increased productivity by 82%.

Are we heading to a fully automated, lights-off operations environment? 75% of respondents to our Future of Supply Chain 2018 survey indeed expect a net decrease in manufacturing jobs by 2025. However, from the same survey, 77% also believe that people will be at the center of an automated factory of the future as they provide the degree of flexibility and decision-making capabilities that are required to deal with demanding customers.

This only apparent contradiction is explained by the changing nature of work. Daniel Myers, chief supply chain officer at Mondelez International, believes that “work is going to change dramatically,” but thinks “it’s going to be an exciting time. The repetitive work will be automatically done by robotics, either online or physical robotics, while individuals are going to be doing more modeling, more business analytics, more value-added work to win with the consumer.“

People to control and orchestrate the automated factory of the future
Q. What degree of change to the functional workforce do you anticipate technology and automation driving in manufacturing operations by 2025?

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The majority of respondents don’t expect a fully automated, lights-off factory anytime soon. They anticipate technology and automation will be driving a partially automated, human controlled and orchestrated factory of the future by 2025.

Take actions to develop new skillset

The shift of manufacturing work from operational to control and orchestration will require a very different skillset. For nearly 80% of respondents, the ability of employees to learn and adapt to new technologies quickly and the ability to work side by side with advanced robotics are, by far, the most relevant future skills for plant-floor workers.

This is a significant change with respect to current skillset, and organizations need to take immediate actions. They need to upskill their current employees and increase their attractiveness to technology-minded, younger generations of workers.

  • Schneider Electric is on a multiyear journey to develop its existing manufacturing workforce to adopt new technologies. Employees in the company’s factories and distribution centers now have access to a dedicated learning facility on site, where they can access learning content, including safety, technical, quality, onboarding and technology training. Its approach has been to start small, building out pilot sites from which lessons are learned and approaches tweaked, before rolling out to the wider organization. The transformation started with 11 pilot plants at the beginning of 2018, scaled to 60 by the end of the year, and will expand to the rest of the organization over the following 18 months.
  • In 2009, GE Appliances made a strategic decision to bring back to the U.S. the manufacture of its home appliances, previously outsourced to Asia. The company entered a period of mass hiring, adding 3,000 manufacturing jobs. It received hundreds of resumes, but it was difficult to find the right candidates with the needed experience. The company took action and partnered with other manufacturers in the area to develop the Kentucky Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education (KY FAME), a common strategy to bridging the industrial skill gap. Key actions include engaging with local schools and launching campaigns to promote manufacturing as a great career option.

Your next manufacturing employee might be a robot. But people will be far from unnecessary to run operations. The unique ingenuity and empathy of the human brain can’t be replicated by artificial intelligence. Your responsibility? Keep them trained!


[i] https://www.statista.com/statistics/760190/worldwide-robotics-market-revenue/

[ii] SCM World webinar, Ericsson, Automation / RPA in Supply, 2018

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