Kevin Massey, senior director of strategic analytics and data science with Ryder Supply Chain Solutions, talks about how humans and robots can work together, each performing the tasks that it does best, to create the most efficient operating model for supply chain and logistics providers.
The old view of robots taking away all of the jobs from people simply isn’t accurate. “There are great things that robotics can do,” says Massey, “but you still need the humans there. They’re vital for the foreseeable future.”
Robots in their modern-day manifestation are there to assist humans in supply chain environments. They’re taking over activities that are numbingly repetitive or unsafe for humans to perform, while the job of complex problem-solving remains that of people.
The days when robots had to be caged or otherwise distanced from humans out of safety concerns are long gone. A typical automated facility today will find humans and robots working literally side by side. That requires robots to be equipped with proximity detectors and other sophisticated systems for collision avoidance. The technology is similar to that being developed for autonomous vehicles, Massey says.
Humans remain better than robots at adjusting to change, such as sudden order-fulfillment emergencies or surges in demand. At the same time, it’s easier for facility managers to increase their reliance on robots during times of peak demand. “You’re not constantly having to ebb and flow human capital,” Massey says.
Robots are uniquely skilled in their ability to take in and analyze immense amounts of data, but they’re no “black box” when it comes to explaining the “reasoning” behind their predictions or recommendations for action. “It’s becoming increasingly important for humans to understand how the model is making a decision,” Massey says.
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