Are these robots the future of factories and warehouses?
Pet food, aerosols, canned drinks and sweets - this robot packages them all. Sawyer robots are helping warehouses and factories cope with peaks in demand by being shifted around numerous sites and being programmed to handle several different tasks.
DHL Supply Chain has purchased four of them, the first step of its UKI robotics deployment programme. The robots will be flexibly used across its 19 co-packing and Production Logistics centres in the country.
Sawyer robots are some of the most advanced collaborative robots currently available and can support production and warehouse staff by automating repetitive tasks. The four robots will allow DHL to leverage automation flexibly, moving the robots between different sites in support of seasonal demands.
DHL is introducing the new technology in response to changing requirements from its customer base, who need to quickly meet peaks in demand. The new flexible approach ensures production lines are adjusting to change, while also providing additional capacity by filling gaps in the labour market.
Sawyer robots have been tested to ensure they have the highest health and safety credentials so they can work in collaboration with the workforce. The robots automatically stop if they touch something unexpected, which means that humans can physically be much closer to them without risk of harm. DHL will be upskilling its existing co-packing teams to support its growth and apply this new technology, hiring specialist roles such as Robotics Technicians, Project Engineers as well as other production management roles.
The four Sawyer robots have been bought following successful trials packing pet food, confectionery, aerosols and canned drinks. Following this initial investment, DHL plans a strategic investment of over £1 million in the next 12 months to enhance its commitment to robotics and automation.
Simon Woodward, Director of Co-Packing and Production Logistics at DHL Supply Chain, said: “The introduction of collaborative robotics into logistics is something we’ve been exploring at DHL for a while. After numerous trials, we are excited to now be offering our Sawyer robots as a solution to our co-packing customers’ needs.
“Our customers who work in consumer industries are seeing huge fluctuations in demand as consumer preferences change. The rise of ecommerce has led to a surge in the number of deliveries within the network and the flexible nature of Sawyer allows us to quickly respond to changing needs, delivering solutions to meet demands and fill labour gaps.”
DHL processes more than 50 million cases per annum from 19 co-pack centres nationwide and works with household names across a range of industries. It is now exploring how automation and robotics can be introduced at other points in the supply chain as well as at its co-packing and Production Logistics operations.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”