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The dark side of the automation boom

Published: 4 September 2019 - Victoria White

With automation becoming a significant part of practically every industry, it is not surprising to see new technologies begin to influence the world of manufacturing and materials handling.

Reports show that across the Gulf Cooperation Council specifically — including in nations such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — automated materials handling is booming. There’s also the first signs of the same happening closer to home in the UK and Europe but is it all good news? Perhaps not, warns materials handling firm Midland Pallet Trucks who says that the ‘dark’ side of automation is being overlooked, with the potential to significantly affect the safety of warehousing staff.

Midland Pallet Trucks is a UK leader in the provision and supply of equipment such as manual stacker trucks, hand pallet trucks, and aerial work platforms, says that, contrary to popular belief, the future of the industry will not be dominated by robots. Human skill, talent, and experience continue to be one of the most important factors on-site.

Materials handling automation promised benefits such as reduced costs and greater productivity, however, Midland Pallet Trucks says it’s important to fully consider the ‘dark’ side of automation too. This includes the technical issues which inevitably arise from the heavy reliance on technology, increased risks as a result of cybersecurity vulnerabilities, and the costs associated with both the initial investment and the additional measures that businesses will need to take in order to maintain and protect their technology.

“This is undoubtedly a hugely exciting time for our industry, and to see the changes that have already been made and how these changes are being implemented into warehouses, particularly across the GCC, is fascinating,” says Midland Pallet Trucks Managing Director, Phil Chesworth. “But it’s easy to become over excited and forget that full automation potential in materials handling is ranked as being incredibly low.

“What we have here is very much a self-driving car situation. The technology itself is jaw dropping, yet we tend to overlook the fact that this technology can really only exist with the support of a skilled, capable human.”

A report by McKinsey backs this view, suggesting that the automation potential of work involving decision making and planning — two of the most important aspects in safe materials handling — lies at just 18%. Considered to be ‘knowledgeable work’, materials handling is one area where human input is key.

Source: Industrial Compliance


 
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