Oct 28, 2020

Honeywell: Warehouse Automation Advancements Creating Jobs

Smart Manufacturing
Digital Adoption
Technological Transformation
Industrial IoT
Oliver Freeman
4 min
New jobs for existing employees through digital transformation.
A Honeywell study recently revealed that new warehouse automation technologies would create new jobs rather than reducing them...

Industrial ‘Internet of Things’, artificial intelligence (AI), and robotic process automation (RPA) ─ what do these three concepts all have in common? They’re coming to a factory near you! Well, unless they’ve already been implemented. 

In an age of true technological transformation, it was inevitable that every industry would eventually find itself under the thumb of a new advancement in one way or another, at some point. At first, the idea was dreaded by many, but now it’s mostly hailed as “the best next thing”. Fortunately, those combined technological enhancements have now reached the mainstream manufacturing industry and are revolutionising traditional systems in ways that you’d only expect in a Star Trek episode, four decades ago. 

Automation is the Name of the Game

It’s a tedious process to make products by hand, after all. Especially when you consider the extreme levels of demand that consumers now place on providers of goods and services. The implementation of automation-powered machines changes the game and removes this strain from human resources within factories and manufacturing plants ─ but, at what cost? Historically, many industry-leaders and workers in the industry dreaded the concept of ‘machines’ because they’d result in a loss of jobs for the working-class people that make up the bulk of the workforce in every nation. 

Fortunately, Honeywell has released a study that found the reality to be contrary to the historical assumption. The company revealed that investment in automation is absolutely crucial to remain competitive in an oversaturated global marketplace, but there will be an even stronger need for human capital in the workplace. It seems to be the case that traditional roles might be lost to humans, but they’ll be allocated and retrained elsewhere. 

New Roles Across the Board

Most of the companies that responded to the 2020 Honeywell Intelligrated Automation Investment Study indicated that automation in their supply chains could lead to opportunities for new jobs within the workplace. In fact, two-thirds of the respondents see opportunities for “new and different jobs in customer service, distribution centres, and warehouses.” 

“E-commerce and e-retail fulfilment growth are pushing traditional warehouses and distribution centres to their limits, and automation is critical to any operation that wants to remain competitive,” said Christine Feuell, Chief Marketing Officer of Honeywell Intelligrated. “These automation and robotics advancements are shifting the workforce away from physically demanding, strenuous and monotonous tasks to more skilled tasks.”

Maintaining Success in Unknown Waters

Honeywell’s study revealed that eight in ten companies see the highest potential for new jobs in in-house maintenance roles; 42 per cent of the respondents mentioned the frequency of maintenance as one of the biggest areas of concern in their company’s further investment in automation. Unsurprisingly, I suppose ─ as we move into an era of relatively unknown new gadgets and gizmos, manufacturers need to be prepared with risk mitigation strategies that alleviate any potential disasters with their plants. 

As infrastructures within warehouses and fulfilment centres become more automated and demand for products soars, Feuell claims that maintenance technicians will play a crucial role in helping limit downtime. With the increased implementation and use of technology across warehouse spaces, manufacturers will be able to leverage data-driven insights from the interconnected architecture of IIoT-enhanced machinery and sensors, through sophisticated solutions to perform preventative maintenance ‘on-the-go’ to maximise uptime. 

“The 2020 Honeywell Intelligrated Automation Investment Study was conducted April 21 to May 7, 2020, in collaboration with KRC Research, an independent third-party research firm not affiliated with Honeywell or its business groups. The 434 U.S.-based professionals polled work full-time in senior roles for companies that directly manage warehouses, distribution centres or fulfilment centres; have insight into the operations of those facilities; are familiar with automation, and make or influence purchase decisions for their company.

Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions (SPS) provides products, software and connected solutions that improve productivity, workplace safety and asset performance for our customers across the globe. We deliver on this promise through industry-leading mobile devices, software, cloud technology and automation solutions, the broadest range of personal protective equipment and gas detection technology, and custom-engineered sensors, switches and controls.”

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May 12, 2021

Gartner: Leaders Lack Skilled Smart Manufacturing Workers

2 min
57% of manufacturing leaders feel that their organisations lack the skilled workers needed to support smart manufacturing digitalisation

With organisations rapidly adopting industry 4.0 capabilities to increase productivity, efficiency, transparency, and quality as well as reduce cost, manufacturers “are under pressure to bring their workforce into the 21st century,” says Gartner.

While more connected factory workers are leveraging digital tools and data management techniques to improve decision accuracy, increase knowledge and lessen variability, 57% of manufacturing leaders feel that their organisations lack the skilled workers needed to support their smart manufacturing digitalisation plans.

“Our survey revealed that manufacturers are currently going through a difficult phase in their digitisation journey toward smart manufacturing,” said Simon Jacobson, Vice President analyst, Gartner Supply Chain practice.

“They accept that changing from a break-fix mentality and culture to a data-driven workforce is a must. However, intuition, efficiency and engagement cannot be sacrificed. New workers might be tech-savvy but lack access to best practices and know-how — and tenured workers might have the knowledge, but not the digital skills. A truly connected factory worker in a smart manufacturing environment needs both.”

Change Management

Surveying 439 respondents from North America, Western Europe and APAC, Gartner found that “organisational complexity, integration and process reengineering are the most prevalent challenges for executing smart manufacturing initiatives.” Combined they represent “the largest change management obstacle [for manufacturers],” adds Gartner.

“It’s interesting to see that leadership commitment is frequently cited as not being a challenge. Across all respondents, 83% agree that their leadership understands and accepts the need to invest in smart manufacturing. However, it does not reflect whether or not the majority of leaders understand the magnitude of change in front of them – regarding technology, as well as talent,” added Jacobson.

Technology and People

While the value and opportunities smart manufacturing can provide an organisation is being recognised, introducing technology alone isn’t enough. Gartner emphasises the importance of evolving factory workers alongside the technology, ensuring that they are on board in order for the change to be successful.

“The most immediate action is for organisations to realize that this is more than digitisation. It requires synchronising activities for capability building, capability enablement and empowering people. Taking a ‘how to improve a day in the life’ approach will increase engagement, continuous learning and ultimately foster a pull-based approach that will attract tenured workers. They are the best points of contact to identify the best starting points for automation and the required data and digital tools for better decision-making,” said Jacobson.

Long term, “it is important to establish a data-driven culture in manufacturing operations that is rooted in governance and training - without stifling employee creativity and ingenuity,” concluded Gartner.

Discover Gartner's Five Best Practices for Post COVID-19 Innovation' in manufacturing.

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