Michel Spruijt, Senior VP and General Manager, Brain Corp Europe

After their greatest stress test in living memory, global supply chains are steadily restoring their strength and resuming operations.

Amid a nightmarish pandemic and its resulting complications, ranging from inventory problems to staff shortages, managers are looking for new ways to order their affairs.

To remedy this situation, facilities have increasingly turned to automated machines to remain functional. This solution, however, has had an effect that goes well beyond a temporary fix. Automation has the potential to reimagine how managers organise supply chains.

The situation

Supply chains have been forced to sustain themselves with fewer staff and greater demand than previously. Labour shortages wear out staff more quickly, especially as waves of panic-driven overordering have washed over the sector. In light of this, managers have looked for immediate solutions to the crisis.

Naturally, technology has come to aid afflicted teams working hard to make the mark. While robots could be found in facilities before the pandemic, the need for greater productivity and cleanliness has seen robots enter a variety of sectors.

This uptake has fed back into the plans of leaders in the space who plan to automate more in the near future. According to Statista in 2021, 31.52% of retail supply chain executives aimed to invest in production and distribution automation. An explanation for this sudden drive can be found in what robots have to offer beleaguered supply chains, and their potential to drive change in the sector.

Changing supply chains

Modern artificial intelligence-powered robots are designed around the needs of supply chains. Capable of acting as dependable assistants, they allow workers to be more efficient, while also being suited to hazardous environments.

As we’ve seen since the first wave of the pandemic, workers need help to meet standards once taken for granted, especially during a global health threat such as Covid-19, with emerging variants placing facilities on constant standby.

Warehouses and logistics centres will always need human employees, but with robots holding down various tasks, such as, in our case, cleaning, staff are freed up to give greater focus to higher-value responsibilities, while allowing robots to take on mundane, routine and dangerous tasks. Moreover, this gives teams hours back in their day, making operations more efficient as a result.

Human workers remain integral to robot-assisted operations, needed to direct and maintain machines. Autonomous cleaning robots, for example, require a human to “teach” its routes and assist if a machine is unable to continue its operations. Thanks to intuitive user interfaces, setting up and directing the machines is a convenient process, which can be undertaken by non-technical staff, who can quickly deploy devices without the need for additional infrastructure requirements or training. This means the role of staff in supply chains is changing in real time.

AI’s role

The advent of AI means an entirely different relationship between managers and their work.

Owing to gains in cloud technology, operators are kept in the know by way of live notifications sent to their mobile devices; staff can be reliably informed when a cleaning route has been completed, or when a machine requires assistance. Plus, interactive learning centres offer a plethora of material to ensure operators can train themselves to optimise the functionality of the AI-powered machines.

Unlike traditional workforces, modern autonomous machines generate on-the-job performance data, which can then be compiled and analysed by operations teams looking to attain best practices within their organisations. Managers can analyse data created by machines while at work, see where the gaps are, and then decide how to optimise operations, going forward.

AI can give a bird’s eye view of supply chain operations, owing to its ability to harness and represent data. Managers can access up-to-date information about their machines, such as status or available software updates, as well as data and trends over time, which allows managers to make smarter decisions and tweak their systems accordingly.

This trend is not limited to how operators deploy robots. For instance, US retailer Sam’s Club has rolled out inventory-scanning robots powered by Brain Corp’s BrainOS platform, which reports inventory details such as pricing accuracy, stock levels and whether items are correctly located.

Looking ahead

The pandemic has shown the potential offered by automation to crucial sectors within the supply chain. Across multiple industries, leaders are improving operations through combining the data-enhanced sophistication of automated robots with human workforces, an arrangement which ultimately benefits everyone.

Disruption is followed by recovery, and the chance to reshape and enhance existing processes. When viewed this way, robots are not only an improvement on what came before, but a chance to revisualise facility operations and make them truly progressive and sustainable long into the future.

This is a guest post by Michel Spruijt, SVP of international business and general manager, Brain Corp Europe

Comment on this article

You must be logged in to post a comment.