“At present, manufacturers can benefit from adopting a collaborative approach that looks at how humans and robots can work hand in hand as AI continues to develop.”
AI and robotics can provide positive transformational opportunities, but should be employed in conjunction with manpower in order to achieve the best results.
That’s the view of one of the country’s leading experts in the field, who says ensuring an effective balance is struck will help ensure businesses maximise efficiency and profits.
Ian Hart, adi Projects’ Business Development Director, said: “Androids are not capable of replacing humans inside factories altogether. But as the power of AI continues to develop, they have the potential to become irreplaceable for specific functions.
“The real value of AI when it comes to manufacturing is providing robotics with the ability to assess data and make decisions based on that data – to essentially possess a form of ‘thinking’ process, which is certainly a long way away.”
Ian, a director and chartered engineer with 25 years Executive Board experience, says we are seeing more and more great examples of human and robotic collaboration in action.
“There’s no longer anything new or innovative about standard three-dimensional robots that can automate repetitive manual tasks in factories,” he continued. “Standard robots do what they are programmed to do; nothing more, nothing less. We have seen some incredible examples of how humans can work collaboratively with these robots to enhance quality and increase profits. But we have not yet reached the next level.
“There’s plenty of robots that can shift an item from point A to point B, for instance. However, in the future, more advanced AI-powered robots could become capable of assessing the current circumstances and decide that it’s better to move the item somewhere else, or to not move it altogether.”
Across more than two decades in the sector, Ian has successfully established and developed a range of customer-focussed, engineering-based solutions, expertly managing the delivery of projects that involve the automation of manufacturing facilities.
He said: “There is no doubt that reducing our reliability on manpower has its benefits, in some cases. If you can replace humans with robots, then you can eliminate some of the risk in terms of the cleanliness of the factory, the possibility of transferring diseases and the presence of contamination – factors of utmost importance.
“Hypothetically, if you had a hermetically sealed food factory with no humans coming in and out, then the benefits with regards to the quality of the production and that of the product itself would be extraordinary. You could significantly extend the shelf life of a product, boost profits and reduce waste.
“However, this would require androids that were capable of ‘thinking’ to be locked inside of that space, carrying out all operations including repairs and alterations without the need for humans to go inside and potentially contaminate the environment.
“Similarly, these intelligent robots could be instrumental in the maintenance of factories, being available 24 hours a day for tasks such as inspections and watching over particular aspects of the production, as well as carrying out maintenance afterwards.
“Nevertheless, this type of technology is a long way away from being readily available, which means that at present, manufacturers can benefit from adopting a collaborative approach that looks at how humans and robots can work hand in hand as AI continues to develop.”
Highlighting the vital role costs and quality assurance play in manufacturing he added: “Manufacturers are looking to lower costs as a priority. Their desire to reduce their reliance on manpower stems primarily from the need to decrease the risk of contamination and improve quality. And though ‘thinking’ robots are not yet within our reach, there’s technology available that can certainly lend a helping hand.
“Upon considering the UK landscape post-Brexit, there is a considerable lack of labour availability when it comes to repetitive, manual jobs. Therefore, if manufacturers can utilise robots that can perform the same functions as humans, but in some cases faster and better, then obviously productivity rises and profit margins increase, which is a huge driver.
“Nevertheless, we have to be mindful of taking such a black-and-white approach: estimating the effectiveness of a human being against that of a robot means humans have no chance of coming out on top. It’s simply not the right mindset.
He concluded: “AI and robotics are inevitably going to cause certain types of jobs to disappear, yet human labour is, and will continue to remain indispensable now and in the future.
“Ultimately, to ensure we can effectively reap the many advantages of AI and robotics, we must clearly define the areas that will benefit from their implementation, and those that are better left to humans.”