Posted on: 03 June 2019
According to a recent report, more than six million workers are worried that their jobs could be replaced by machines over the next decade. This comes on the back of a study from the IPPR, who estimated that 44 per cent of jobs in the UK could currently be automated - equivalent to 13.7 million workers
But is there enough evidence to suggest mass unemployment is imminent? And should we see the exponential rise of technology as an opportunity rather than a burden?
Here, we will look at some of the most publicised examples of robots in the workplace and the potential ramifications to the global workforce.
Factory robotic process automation is not a new concept. Ever since the 1980s, companies like Mitsubishi have been at the forefront of technological innovation, using robots for tasks such as welding, material handling and assembly.
But instead of looking to replace a human workforce, these companies are introducing a collaboration between automated systems and human workers. Also known as ‘cobots’, these collaborative robots are designed to work alongside you.
The field has been opened up by specialist companies like FANUC and Universal Robotics, but they have been joined by major established manufacturers like Mitsubishi who are mass-producing industrial-grade collaborative robots that are more affordable than many current models.
One of the most obvious and widespread versions of collaborative automation is one we use almost daily: self-service supermarket checkouts.
The terminals vastly increase a store’s throughput, but still require supervision from employees. It is a largely automated process, with the employee only required to intervene when something goes wrong (we’ve all heard ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’). This collaboration works to elevate the customer experience.
However, the future of retail does point to a completely automated process. Amazon is currently developing staff-free, checkout-free stores that eliminate the need for cashiers or supervisors. In these stores, ten of which are currently in operation, anyone with an Amazon Go app can enter, pick up their items from the shelf and walk out. Sensors on the doors will total up your order and charge your card.
Robotic automation is not just reserved for manual labour though. Artificial intelligence and machine-learning algorithms are becoming increasingly popular in the financial sector. While a specialised financial advisor may have once been the preserve of the wealthy, ‘robo-advisors’ have opened investing to everybody by having algorithms and machine-learning systems manage an investor’s portfolio.
The US robo-advisor giant Betterment manages $13.5 billion in assets for its customers, and can automatically adjust portfolios to become more tax-efficient. UK equivalent Nutmeg is similarly easy: you pick the level of risk that you’re comfortable with, set your style of investment and the system will take care of the rest.
When it comes to warehouses and logistics, automation performs much of the lifting and stacking tasks that characterise the physicality of the industry.
Machines like driverless forklifts and mobile shelf robots are becoming much more common, introduced with the goal of improving workplace efficiency. Walmart, for example, is currently testing warehouse drones in its distribution centres to take full stock checks. Human staff would take nearly a month to complete this task, but current drones can do it in a day.
Much like supermarkets, full automation appears to be the ultimate goal though – and it might not be so far away. In 2018, the Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com opened its first fully automated fulfilment centre; a 40,000 sq-m facility with twenty large robots for heavy lifting and dozens more for moving items to loading bays.
On the horizon
With advanced technology either currently being trialled or approaching on the horizon, business owners will also have to re-think their insurance policies. Of course, human workers will still need to be covered by employers’ liability insurance, but you may also want to protect your growing robotic workforce.
That is where warehouse insurance comes into play. These policies can cover everything from the transportation of goods to stock levels, protecting you financially should an accident happen. Automated robots represent a significant investment and warehouse insurance can protect that.
To find out more about warehouse insurance and to compare quotes give us a call today and speak to a member of our team.
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