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Rise of the Robots

Rise of the Robots




With the rapid advances in artificial intelligence and automation, robots are no longer mere science fiction. Especially in this ever-changing industry, the best are characterised by those who understand the importance of taking risks and pushing the boundaries of conventional thinking by introducing modern solutions that will not only add values to existing systems, but completely revolutionise them.

On 9th and 10th September, more than 600 senior executives of leading firms and experts in the supply chain and logistics industry came together at Grand Copthrone Waterfront Hotel for Supply Chain Asia Forum 2015 to discuss the implications of robotics technology in the industry.

In addition to a highly entertaining keynote talk and panel discussions, participants were also be able to view the latest innovations, technologies and services available in the market for the Asian industry players showcased by 24 distinguished exhibitors. The young talents from across Asia also gathered for the acclaimed Asia Pacific – Supply Chain Management Challenge (AP-SCMC), and racked their brains over the challenges of using robotics technology in the industry to vie for the championship title.

The Future of the Internet of Things (IoT)

Even though roboticists are nowhere near achieving a true level of artificial intelligence, they are making progress in replicating some specific elements of intellectual ability by using the IoT as the foundation of all “knowledge.” As IoT matures, the industry is expected to add more robotic and AI functions to traditional industrial and consumer robots. Robots will only continue to improve beyond simple automation, and will strive to include functions like predictive analysis, learning capabilities, autonomous decisionmaking, and complex programmable responses.

“However, the expectations and trust we have in machines are still not ready yet,” mentioned Mr Peter Ho, CEO of HOPE Technik on the current status of humans’ acceptance to the robots.

Despite experts saying that robots will be a commonplace in 10 years, the consumers still lack the suitable expectations and trust in the machines. Moreover, there are security issues with Internet-based control of robots, which grows as the number of robots and connection grow. The IoT creates an attack vector where someone can now gain control of industrial robots using cyber attacks.

Highlights of Panel Discussions

Robotics and its Applications in Logistics

“The role of people will change, but there will still be a need for people. We will always need people for the most complex jobs and the running of these machines,” commented Professor Shantanu Bhattacharya, Singapore Management University.

Along with the rising level of robotic capabilities from performing repetitive tasks to being able to imitate and look like humans, many question what will be the future of typical factories. Based on this discussion, the experts discussed using different points of view of the technology, such as in a close environment, how it works in both ends, and also in the commercial and business sector.

The Digital Divide: The Power of Data in a Connected Supply Chain World

“Data is going to be the currency of the future,” said Mr Rathinakumar Vaidyanathan, Director for Supply Chain Operations of Oracle Corp.

The key to Big Data is real-time analytics. It complements the end-to-end visibility of the supply chain, monitors the factors in real time and therefore, enables companies to react quickly to prevent loss in revenue and profits that may occur in various points of the supply chain.

Mr Frans Kok, General Manager of AEB(Asia Pacific) Pte Ltd, mentioned that the definition of a big company has changed from one that owns a factory or a big office building, to one that employs less than 100 workers by making use of the latest emerging technologies.

This further elaborates that the society is moving towards being data driven, like WhatsApp and Uber, which focuses on innovation and invests in data instead of assets.

Augmented Reality and its Application in Supply Chain

The question of augmented reality have been gaining attention as it gains popularity amongst businesses. Currently, large companies like BMW and IKEA have already adapted it into their systems to add value for its customers. But is augmented reality the future of the supply chain? Although it is used in some warehouses, is this innovation necessary to sttay competitive in the industry?

One example of augmented reality that Mr Franck Paduch, Regional Head of Business Development (Asia) of the Systems & Automation sector at SSI Schaefer brought up was e-commerce. The market of e-commerce is always changing and very dynamic.

Having a very volatile business plan, it is able to reach to a large market without much physical items. e-commerce is a very successful example of augmented reality that took the world by storm.

As for its application in the supply chain, Mr Roland Martin, Industry Segment Leader e-Commerce Asia Pacific from Swisslog mentioned the ability to adapt with augmented reality, increasing flexibility and movability of the supply chain. Furthermore, only to be the first in using the technology will allow the company to gain competitive advantage.

Robotics and the Displacement of Work

The number of industrial robots continues to increase in a growth rate about two to three per cent, and estimated to jump by 10 per cent each year in the world’s top 25 export nations through 2025, according to the Boston Consulting Group’s report, ‘The Shifting Economics of Global Manufacturing’. As robots gain more functions and are used widely around the world, there is a fear that humans will become obsolete and robots will replace them. However, the loss in jobs due to robots also lead to an increase in jobs for the maintenance of robots and engineers.

“The additional value creation to increase quality of products will have to rely a lot on human,” said Professor Lim Yun Fong of Singapore Management University. Some experts believe that the growth of robots automating the elements of supply chain which will improve efficiencies will not be at the expense of humans.

NUS Brings Home the Glory

After two successful runs, the AP-SCMC continues to be a permanent fixture at the annual Forum. Attracting passionate tertiary students of ages between 18 to 25 from all over the region, this year will continue to see some of the brightest minds competing to come up with the most comprehensive and ingenious solutions using today’s robotic technology to sweep home the titles.

The final presentation of AP-SCMC was held on the afternoon of Day 1 of SCAF 2015. Despite having a time limit and challenging a novel topic like robotics in the Supply Chain and Logistics industry, Robolution from National University of Singapore (NUS) stood out amongst its competitors and claimed its place as the champions. The team is made up of Year 4 students from NUS Business School: Ms Tan Jie Ni, Mr Perry Chia and Mr Quang Minh Nguyen.

When enquired about the learning points of the competition, Robolution team member, Mr Chia, commented, “Analysing the proposed idea critically from all aspects is challenging but crucial in the real world, as a company has only that limited resources to work on a new project. Throughout the competition, we also draw inspiration for new ideas from successful case studies. Since these studies have shown the successful application of robotics, we can learn and adapt such ideas for another use or industry when coming up with recommendations”.

While the team is “overjoyed when the results were announced”, the team members admitted that they felt a “sense of relief” as they encountered many challenges leading up to the final presentation.

“Our mutual hectic school schedules meant that each meeting could only last a very short period of time. Therefore, the team had to meet each other almost everyday. On top of this, our advisor provided valuable feedback to our presentation one week before the final rounds. Left with such a short period of time, we had to make some last minute adjustments to our final presentation. Consequently, during the day of the competition, the whole team felt very jittery and nervous about how our presentation would be received,” added Mr Nguyen.

Their hard work paid off, and Ms Tan believes that the competition has provided them with unique opportunities to interact with renowned industry players and helped them understand the real-life challenges of the supply chain industry outside of the classroom.