Wise Robotics is a leading supplier of flexible, scaleable, warehouse automated solutions. We talked to Joe Daft, Head of Robotics, about the challenges facing industry, how to encourage more companies to adopt the benefits of automation, and how to bridge the current skills gap.
What challenges do you see in the market today?
We find that the current most-common challenges are labour and stock shortages, rising costs and achieving faster time to market; many of these influence and affect each other.
Automation can help solve some of these issues, but many companies are yet to invest in it. Many consider it in terms of return on investment (ROI) – “How can I save headcount?”, rather than “How can I use it to do the job?”
Generally, European and UK companies haven’t looked to China and Asia where new things are happening. For Asian companies it’s not about ROI but partnerships: “Who do I work with to make things happen?”
Many companies also lack robust plans and policies that will help them deal with big events such as the pandemic and Brexit, and also don’t have IT departments in place to make changes happen.
Logistics companies need to set a budget for automation – not having one means you are already behind.
There’s also a need for a good management structure in place to drive automation projects. This should come from the top.
Overall, the warehousing industry is only just starting to wake up to automation. This is most probably because there remains a distinct lack of understanding about how to deliver these projects, caused by a lack of staff with automation experience. There is now a greater desire to engage in discussions about automation, but companies are dealing with the problems they’ve just had, not looking forward to the future enough – they need to decide and move much faster.
How can some of these challenges be met?
Ultimately, if we can improve robot uptake by SMEs in the UK, it will help both them and everyone else.
At Wise Robotics, we offer a free consultancy stage, to ask questions or see demos. We find that testing and proving robotics installations is a valuable way to show customers what’s possible.
We also need to help customers define what success looks like and then work towards it. There needs to be a national vision or a strategy for automation, with initiatives and measures coming from the government.
We also need to move away from the myths about automation; warehouse operators will tell you that automation has improved their job.
We are heading towards the year of the robot. Our primary target is the SME sector, although some the companies not embracing automation are large ones. They are hampered by issues such as not having the basic data or ways of collecting it and little internal communication.
Being more agile and able to react faster, the smaller players tend to have a more open mind about automation and a clear understanding of their whole setup.
What trends are beginning to see in the manufacturing and engineering sectors?
One of the big trends is that collaborative technologies and sensors have made it much easier to get robots to work alongside people – but this requires a culture of change to encourage co-operation with robots and educating companies and their staff about that.
As with many sectors, lack of skills has been a growing trend. A lot must be done at the educational level to bring people into the sector who have the right knowledge and experience. This lack of skills will continue to be a problem. In the warehousing sector, very few people leave school with a desire to work in logistics and warehousing – schools don’t project this sector as a career. There needs to be more exposure in schools to industry.
There is also a need for softer skills – a person might be academically inclined, but may not be able to work as a team. Skills need to be taught from the very start to help us overcome the shortage and get the people we all need.