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Robots and Humans Working Hand in Hand

Bernita Marais

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Though workers may be concerned that automated systems or warehouse robots could replace them on the job, implementing automated systems within warehousing and manufacturing will improve the lives and jobs of everyone who works there – from labourers to the foreman and even the company owner. Worker safety is enhanced and morale can benefit too, when automated devices handle stressful, repetitive tasks, thereby freeing workers to focus on more value-added activities.

Technology is changing the nature of how warehouses operate. It reduces the physical demands. Some technologies even reduce the need for employees or consultants to be on-site – critical in a time of social distancing.

In efforts to implement social distancing guidelines, warehouse managers are working towards becoming more digital and finding alternative ways of ordering and receiving products.

Digital supply chains will be the dominant supply chain model within the next five years making use of technologies such as robotics, wearables, and autonomous vehicles increasing worker efficiency and taking over aspects of warehouse work that are tedious or dangerous.

Implementing the ideal automated warehouse system and solution for a business can appear daunting and difficult. But now that the opportunity exists to increase efficiency through automation – barcode scanning, handheld tablet computers, automated storage and retrieval systems – the benefits of warehouse automation is undeniable.

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The Unseen Attacker: Cybercrime

Bernita Marais

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According to experts within the industry, the SUNBURST cyber attack appears to be one of the most complex and sophisticated cyberattacks in history.  The SolarWinds-Sunburst campaign is the first major supply chain attack of its kind and represents a shift in tactics where nation-State threat actors have employed a new weapon for cyber-espionage, and the use of a supply chain attack has changed the way one needs to defend against these cyberattacks.

These types of attacks impact not only private companies but also pose a threat to individuals and their families, given that in todays highly interconnected homes, a breach of consumer electronics could result in attackers accessing smart devices like smart phones to steal information or to act as a gateway to attack business.  Unlike government networks, that store classified information on isolated networks, private organisations often have critical intellectual property (IP) on networks with access to the internet making these attacks even more dangerous.

Hackers make us of trusted software to bypass cyberdefenses, then infiltrate the organisations and steal data, destroy data, hold critical systems for ransom, orchestrate system malfunctions or simply implant malicious content through the organization to stay in control even after the initial threat appears to have passed.

Another observation has been made on the threat that they can also use social networks, such as LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Facebook, and twitter to engage and develop relationships with and then compromise corporate employees, through who they compromise the broader enterprise.

While enterprises assert security controls over corporate issued devices and place restrictions on how consumer devices access IT assets, user activity on social network platforms are not monitored and controlled in the same way making it somewhat more difficult.

There has been a forecast that social network platforms attacks are becoming more common in the years to come, particularly among most advanced actors.

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Step Aside for Delivery Robots

Bernita Marais

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The latest thing the e-commerce giant Amazon is testing is a small, autonomous six-wheel robot that is about the same size as a large cooler to get your stuff from its warehouse to you as quickly and as cheaply as possible.  This nontraditional way of delivering parcels is powered by batteries and moves at a walking pace.

A big part of the development for the delivery robot has been done in simulations, like the way organisations have been training the neural networks that are being designed to power self-driving cars. Moving at a walking pace, each delivery device can navigate around pets, pedestrians, and other objects in its path. 

Another delivery company is also in the development of a delivery robot and looks like a small refrigerator and has completed on-road tests in four cities overseas. Both companies present similar visions: A delivery van full of robots would arrive in a neighbourhood, and robots would travel the ‘last mile’ to customers doorsteps without human aid.

During a time when so many people rely on deliveries to get what they want, bringing these new delivery bots into the network increases deliver capacity. 

We are interested to see where Amazon’s testing goes next, and whether it will allow the little delivery robot to start going out on its own without human supervision.

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The Workplace Post-Covid19

SCN Africa

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COVID-19 has created unprecedented waves in all industries. Some of the hardest hit being logistics and distribution. As this pandemic has changed the face of business, it has also left a lasting impact on the logistics sector. These are some of the changes that we can expect in our workforces and workplaces, post COVID-19.

McKinsey & Company, the global consulting group, released a report based on a survey of 800 executives, globally.

“These insights are based on a recent survey of 800 executives, representing a full range of industries in eight countries. Half of the respondents are based in the United States, and the rest work in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The respondents represented businesses of different sizes, with a quarter from companies with less than $1 billion in revenues, and the remainder split between companies with revenues of $1 billion to $10 billion and those with revenues over $10 billion.” – McKinsey & Company, Future of Work

Respondents predicted a disruptive period ahead, due to the acceleration of automation, digitisation, and other trends.

Here are some survey highlights:

1) Executives say that the adoption of digitisation and automation technologies has accelerated, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has pushed societies to an inflection point where embracing technology is no longer an option but a necessity.

Resilient futures depend on technology investments and skills.

This rapid spread of technology has led to a pressing need for businesses to adapt. With non-essential workers working from home, 85% of respondents reported that their business somewhat/greatly accelerated the implementation of technologies that enable interaction and collaboration whilst working remotely.

In addition to technology people themselves are equally important to digital transformation.

Workers have also had to adapt by upskilling their digital knowledge. There was little time for training but post COVID-1, businesses will need to invest in training programmes to equip their workers.

Approximately 50% of all respondents increased the digitisation of customer channels, such as: ecommerce, mobile apps, or chatbots.

35% have digitised their supply chains, by connecting suppliers with digital platforms in supply chain management.

2) COVID-19 has brought into light the inter-relation of hygiene and safety in the workplace, not just for food and produce. According to the survey, 83% of respondents said they would hire more people in health and safety roles; of the 83%, 73% expected to hire more people to manage on-site physical distancing and sanitation.

A proposed solution is to also employ the use of machines and robots to clean floors, windows, and ducts. Robotic cleaning machines increase cleaning speed and consistency.

However, in spite of the advantages, cleaning robots aren’t necessarily the right choice for every business. Since the machines require a certain amount of physical space, a company needs to determine if their environment is conducive to robotics, and also whether or not the technology would serve their particular needs and requirements.

In addition, is the company in a position to incorporate robotic cleaning machines into their current operation? Do they have the resources and systems in place to train operators and make a smooth transition to the new technology

3) The uncertainty that comes with how the pandemic will continue is one of the reasons for plans to increase the number of temporary staff and contractors used. 70% of executives said that 2 years from now, they expect to use more temporary workers and contractors on-site than prior to the pandemic. As companies try to weather this storm, making labour a variable cost may help companies as they struggle to survive through the downturn.

COVID-19 already has dramatically changed the way many jobs are done, and employers are now planning how best to extract benefits from those changes as they prepare for business after the pandemic subsides. Innovation historically has driven changes beneficial to workers and humanity at large, and new workplace trends hold the promise of greater productivity that will fuel broader well-being.

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