Intelligent automation to emerge as key driver for optimising business operations

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By Deep Agarwal

As the operations of enterprises become increasingly mobile and automated, there is a need to develop a common, central point of orchestration of disparate sensors, devices and automation platforms (the instrumentation layer) to coordinate the combined value. Customers are looking for technology to enable the automated smart tasking of their workers empowered via prescriptive analytics and mobile software to close the loop that the prescribed actions were taken.

In view of a labor pool that is not increasing at the rate required to meet accelerating demand, enterprises are looking for technological solutions that can enable the automated smart tasking of their workers empowered via prescriptive analytics and mobile software to overcome their challenges. Given the complexity of their workflows, finding the right domain expertise for the job is key to a successful digital transformation. So too will be orchestrating human and robot workflows in a synergistic way across the warehouse and distribution center as well as the retail store.

Customers are asking for automation and workflow augmentation solutions to optimize the performance of their limited and in some instances, shrinking, skilled labor pool. Given the growing complexity of workflows and the need for digitalization to enable automation, the need for domain expertise has become critical to success.

Computer Vision: Delivered through modalities such as scanners, robots and other edge solutions, focused on creating a digital business environment. As camera technology becomes “intelligent”, customers will be able to monitor their environments and workflows and make automated decisions to improve customer experiences (such as frictionless checkout, automated shelf inventory control, loss prevention, quality control, and object/item/action recognition) and improve the understanding of their operations.

Augmented Reality (AR): Using AR technologies to direct workers to task assignments, guide new workers or find lost items by overlaying information on the information from the camera – on their mobile computers or wearable devices.

Robotics: Instead of replacing workers, robots will assist workers by guiding workers through their workflow and transporting items and completed work, taking away mundane travel time to give back to the worker for high-value tasks. In this way, robotics solutions can “take the robot out of the human” and allow companies to reallocate their human labor force toward the greatest area of need and highest value. However, workflow optimization solutions today typically focus on either human tasks and workflows, or robotic tasks and workflows, with little to no crossover (and therefore, synergy) between the two.

Cooperative orchestration between automation systems and human workers will be critical to achieving the highest levels of productivity improvement in the not-too-distant future.

Zebra has always focused on exploring and evaluating how cutting-edge technologies can benefit our customers. For example, in the Computer Vision space, Zebra has developed innovative solutions like SmartPack to enable intelligent workflows to be achieved in the digital supply chain space. Further, Zebra has invested in several robotic companies via our Zebra Ventures arm, such as Plus One Robotics, Locus, Fetch Robotics, as well as acquired leading computer vision solutions provider Cortexica.

Computer Vison and robotics encompass capturing, aggregating and democratizing data to further augment and empower the human worker experience. We are collaborating with some of these and other companies to leverage FulfillmentEdge warehouse workflow software to help modernize warehouse operations across both human and robotic resources, without requiring an upgrade or direct integration into the warehouse management system (WMS).

As machine vision and deep learning evolves, the possibility of recognizing some items automatically without the need for an identifying mark has become real. The challenge today is sieving out the applications with the right technology that can perform the tasks from those that may require further performance improvements.

(The author is the Regional Sales Director – Indian Sub-Continent, Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific)

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