September 13, 2018 0

Is Automation here to stay or a passing fad?

Posted by:Bridie Kruck onSeptember 13, 2018

There are many definitions of the word “automation.” It’s a relatively new term in the popular lexicon, and it means different things to different industries. In Silicon Valley automation is light, processes may be automated by lines of written code. In Detroit, automation is heavy–it’s all sparks, steel, and robots.

The sum of these definitions is this: automation is the implementation of self-executing processes that require little to no human intervention and provide for increased efficiency at a more advantageous cost over time.

Automation is common in manufacturing, but is being increasingly adapted to the office, retail, and service industry environments.

How is automation implemented?

In late 2016, Rio Tinto, a UK-based heavy metals extraction company, automated an entire fleet of dump trucks at their Australian aluminium mine. The 70 some-odd trucks in Rio Tinto’s “robot” fleet travel on a constant circuit from the mine to the processing plant some 3-miles away.

They drive unabated, rain or shine, day or night, never breaking the route due to fatigue, distraction, or for any other reason. They make this journey 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Since implementation, Rio Tinto site managers’ report a significant decrease in on the job injuries, and substantial cost savings in the form of decreases in payroll, insurance obligations, and other employee related expenses.

But automation isn’t all assembly lines and dump trucks.

Retail locations, warehouses, office parks, and other service-oriented industries are also seeing automation as a way to increase efficiency, profitability, and employee safety.

Companies like WhosOnLocation provide automated and semi-automated services that help organizations that have to manage a physical location. Inspired by a chaotic building evacuation, Founder and CEO Darren Whitaker-Barnett thought there must be a smarter way to account for people in an emergency. Today, WhosOnLocation can help an office keep track of its employees, contractors, visitors as well as provide for a mobile evacuation management solution.

By making personnel management more effective, WhosOnLocation can provide a mostly automated service that might be beyond traditional small and mid-sized businesses means, now those businesses are able to meet their security obligations while keeping funds free for other investments. Supporting self-check-in kiosks, enabling site safety acknowledgments, NDA and more, these services help ease the front-desk burden and provide a safer means of allowing site visitors to check in.

WhosOnLocation has done, in a small way, for the office based business what Rio Tinto has done for mining operations: it’s found a way to automate a significant and expensive part of business operations.

Here to stay, or a passing fad?

There’s continued skepticism of automation. And that skepticism is not without merit. Some worry that automation could make business too efficient, thereby displacing human workers.

Likewise, some analysts suggest that the learning curve and technical hiccups associated with the implementation of new systems might make them less effective than anticipated.

Neither of these points, though, suggest automation is becoming anything other than further entrenched as a modern business convention. People were also skeptical about Henry Ford’s assembly line, and many voiced concerns about the stable-boys and blacksmiths that might lose their jobs to the widespread adoption of Mr. Ford’s automobile.

And much of his critic’s concerns proved well founded.

But automation, like other past innovations, has created as many opportunities as it may have disrupted. The blacksmith and stable boy were replaced by the mechanic. Likewise, while front-desk personnel may be replaced by services like WhosOnLocation, it can free up that personnel to move to more back-office support roles for project managers, engineers and others where the work is taking place.

This reallocation of resources almost always leads to better and safer working conditions for employees, increased productivity and new opportunities for start-ups like WhosOnLocation and others. Personally, I always look for sensible ways to make my work smarter (not easier). If I have timely access to the right data then I am quickly able to identify areas needing improvement.

When I managed facilities, trends like types of safety concerns, areas of the facilities that are having security issues, whether contractors/visitors were onsite, evacuation results, etc. all made my decisions about how to best manage the site a lot easier. And most facilities managers I talk to agree. That profession is moving more toward automation of facilities as a result.

Ultimately, automated processes–when implemented in an intelligent way by an experienced team–are a good thing. And their further implementation will likely become a critical aspect to the success of many future endeavours across a broad spectrum of industries.

About the author

Blaine J. Hoffmann, MS OSHM is an entrepreneur, podcaster, business coach, and a leader in the field of industrial safety. With over 20 years of industry experience and more than a decade as a full-time corporate consultant, he has become highly proficient at designing, implementing and sustaining organizational management systems. Blaine J. Hoffman is consistently on the cutting-edge of safety best-practices and industry standards. Click here to read more from Blaine on LinkedIn.

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