The global pandemic can be looked at in many different ways. While most of them negative, there has to be a slight silver lining to take away from the disaster. GAMBICA’s Nikesh Mistry explains that, for technology enthusiasts like he is, it’s the idea that automation has been used more than ever before.
In every industry, wherever possible, corporations have no choice but to find ways to automate and remotely control processes to maintain efficiency and productivity. Automation can be interpreted in many ways, however throughout the pandemic, it has been required not only from a process point of view, but it is being used at every stage within product life cycles, right from the manufacturing stage, through to consumer-facing automation such as QR codes for restaurant menus.
Some of these technological advances have more than one benefit. Let’s take the example mentioned above of restaurant menus. While the obvious benefit is the efficiency of not requiring staff to spend time taking orders, the bonus benefit is the reduction in the use of paper or plastic for the menus. It demonstrates how automation or technology can help solve underlying business issues that may not have been realised or had been realised but not addressed.
This new idea of reduced human labour in repetitive tasks means that we can better use the value of our employees in restaurants while letting automation handle the simple tasks. It will allow us to upskill our workers to manage the orders through the technology and help ensure the smooth running of commerce. This has already been taking place in supermarkets for some time. Since supermarkets have had self-checkout kiosks, they have seen shorter queues, better productivity and focus from staff, and better store capacity overall. This is contrary to those who say robots will take all our jobs, as they won’t; what they will do is allow us to use our workforce better and create jobs in areas we did not require before, such as data analysis.
This is reciprocated in manufacturing plants. The obligation for secure remote access to machinery has been increasingly necessary throughout the pandemic, arguably on a greater scale than initially thought. It has caused a theoretical fast forward of five years, as it was almost overnight that we had to transition from working as normal to having to work and manage employees and processes remotely.
The champions here were the companies that have aided others through transition. Zoom and Microsoft teams managed to kickstart the remote meetings platforms, having companies standardise on either platform from early on. Coincidentally, the requirement to monitor machines remotely was also a prerequisite. Many of the GAMBICA members have examples of software they implemented into machines to allow for secure remote maintenance. Before this, many UK engineers would need to conduct extensive travel to customer sites, costing money and time, to witness machine interactions. The thought of commissioning remotely or completely small fixes had, in some cases, never been considered.
Furthermore, members have discussed the ability not just to maintain machines remotely, but newly developed VPN based remote assistance means that UK engineers are now also able to remotely update software which can result in huge cost and time savings.
It seems that these innovative improvements are the real silver lining of the past 18 months. The UK Manufacturing sector, according to the recently published Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), has grown at its fastest rate since 1994. This includes output, orders, employment and more. We also conduct GAMBICA product group data collections which also show that although there was a significant dip early last year, the industrial automation market has seen a significant recovery. This recovery has been an excellent demonstration of the resilience of the UK manufacturing sector. We must learn from the current situation and continue to make technological advancement and adopt those technologies which help to streamline our processes.
The Industrial Automation Council at GAMBICA gets together quarterly to discuss industry best practice and various other industry-related changes. It is a great way to keep up to date with what is happening in the industry and what other corporations are doing to deal with change. If you’d like to find out more or get involved, do not hesitate to contact me or another member of the GAMBICA team.