The Future Never Ends - A Vision on Robotisation

The Future Never Ends - A Vision on Robotisation

"We Need to Come up with Solutions for the World's Food Problems"

Wittenborg's Business Development Advisor, Ben Prins, recently wrote an opinion piece on preparing for robotisation in the trade journal Vakblad Voedingsindustrie. He focused specifically on issues facing the food industry. Here follows an on excerpt from his article.

We are getting more and more familiar with terms like industry 4.0, the internet of things, big data, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality. But do we know what they actually entail? Do you know how they impact your company? How you can use them in practice and how we keep these new systems up to date?

The global food chain is facing huge challenges: We need to come up with solutions for the world's food problems, respond to the energy transition, fight climate change, and make the right choices in today's capricious geopolitical situation. Competition is fierce, the margins often small. In order to face and cope with all these challenges, digitisation and robotisation of the food production are essential.

Nevertheless, the developments are succeeding each other rapidly and it is very hard for entrepreneurs to keep up with them. So first a word of reassurance: there is really no need to implement all the latest 'gadgets' and innovations into your company in order to be a frontrunner. The main thing is that you always make strategic and well-informed decisions. For that, you need knowledge.

Endless amount of data
These past years, the IT landscape has become increasingly complex. The role of autonomous, completely independent and intelligent systems in production environments is strongly increasing. Drones in the agricultural sector are no longer exceptional, sophisticated grippers with improved built-in sensors are commonplace. In logistics, we see warehouses with AGVs (automatic guided vehicles) and SDVs (self-driving vehicles). All those drones, robots, and cobots collect an endless amount of data. The trick is to turn this data into valuable and usable information that will help your company to function and perform (even) better, to increase the efficiency, to reduce costs, and to create value.

The complexity of IT does not affect the productions processes; it has an impact on the entire company culture. Organisations, at all levels, have to adjust to the new circumstances as the digital transition has a major effect on the way we think, produce, distribute, and train. Digitisation and robotisation are the new tools that support employees in their work activities: they must serve the employee, not the other way around! This process of transition has to be taken step by step in order to develop an intensive machine-communication structure. And with all these changes, it is vital that (outdated) business models are adapted as well and that company cultures are open to change. Or to quote Darwin: ‘It’s not the strongest of the species that will survive, but the one most responsive to change!’.

New jobs
With robotisation, it is inevitable that certain jobs will become obsolete. A recent report by the WEF (World Economic Forum), published on 17 September 2018, states that, up to 2022, 75 million jobs will disappear worldwide. On the other hand, 133 million new jobs will be created. Think of app developers, drone pilots, and people who monitor patients via computers. On a global scale, robot services will create 58 million jobs, says the WEF. The organisation estimates that 52% of the current work activities will be taken over by machines over the next four years. Today, 29% of the work activities are carried out by machines and 71% by human labour. The work activities of the operator, who is now mainly focusing on operational tasks, will become more and more often IT-oriented.

This also offers opportunities for instructors. Just as the industry, the entire education sector needs to respond to the changes that are inherent to the digital revolution; with new educational programmes and (retraining) courses, revised teaching methods, and teachers and instructors who can handle these tasks.

Points of action
The Dutch food processing industry is characterised by a long history of continuous improvement and far-reaching automation. If we want to maintain this frontrunner position, our educational system, the government, the industry, and research institutions will have to cooperate much more intensively and united. The (secure!) sharing of information and data, from both manufacturers and suppliers, must be increased in order to come to the right decisions.

A significant robot potential lies with the SME sector. To exploit this potential, robot suppliers will have to make sure that it becomes easier to operate and utilise robots. They have to develop robots that can 'handle' objects of various shapes and sizes, and which can be deployed in an environment where food safety is a main issue. Companies that produce robots need to focus more on new forms of collaboration between man and machine, meaning the development of cobots. Additionally, they have to find solutions for the improvement of cyber security.

The overall conclusion is self-evident: entrepreneurs in the food industry will have to be proactive when it comes to the inevitable developments in digitisation and robotisation. Eat or be (b)eaten! It's not yet too late. ‘The main thing is that you always make strategic and well-informed decisions.’

Ben Prins is a company consultant, owner of Prins Management Consultancy, Business Development Advisor, and lecturer at Saxion University for Applied Sciences and at WUAS.

WUP 2/12/2018

by Ben Prins
©WUAS Press

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