Manufacturing Value Chain

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Ecommerce order fulfillment and retail order fulfillment operations are facing increasing customer demands and expectations of accelerated delivery times, while simultaneously facing a challenging labor market. These market dynamics are forcing such operations to look at autonomous mobile robotic technology as a means to increase capacity, increase productivity and efficiency, reduce labor risk, and better manage the costs of operating a fulfilment center. The past several years has seen a rapid uptick in the number of vendors supplying such robots, each with some unique form, function, or other differentiating factor.


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IDC's recent North American Commercial Service Robotics survey asked 600 non-manufacturing organizations what their top reasons are for deploying or planning to deploy commercial service robots in their operation. The top reason, among 17 choices, came back as improving productivity/efficiency with over 50% of respondents selecting this as a top reason they are using or considering service robots. Of course, there are many other reasons that companies are looking at robots as well, second on the list is improving product/service quality, and third is increasing operational capacity. Regardless of the reasons companies are looking at robots, the day has come where this technology is helping organizations achieve their strategic priorities.


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Industrial inspections, regardless of the reason for inspection, can be a very dirty and dangerous job. While not necessarily dull, industrial inspections definitely cover 2 of the 3 D's of robotics deployment (dull, dirty, and dangerous). Industrial inspections can range from inspecting operational assets and operational facilities to inspecting defunct facilities during the de-commissioning process or evaluating the health and risk of non-operational holding tanks. There is no shortage of reasons to conduct industrial inspections, and there is a big business emerging for robotics to be leveraged in the inspection process.


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Commercial service robots are robots that perform some useful task, with the exception of those robots operating within the realm of industrial automation or those considered consumer robots. This basically means that any robot that is not involved in industrial automation or for strictly consumer purposes are commercial service robots. This category includes robots that operate within logistics operations, hospitals, in the retail store, providing security services, and even delivering your takeout orders. There is a massive opportunity for commercial service robots to take on tasks that enable people to spend time doing other things that humans excel at, while stepping away from the dull, dirty, or dangerous tasks.


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Combatting a competitive market is no easy task. A growing concern of many manufacturers is the potential that they no longer have a tight bond with their customers which can withstand upstart competitors or third-party service providers who can eat away at profits. Recent IDC Manufacturing Insights data highlighted that the top business concern for service leaders was declining sales closely followed by a desire to expand into new markets. These two concerns combined demand that manufacturers innovate with new service products, differentiate through enhanced value, and wow current customers and prospects via value-add experiences.


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The definition of product innovation has evolved dramatically over the past five years as manufacturers digitally transform their businesses. The data, processes, and people that touch planning, design, R&D, and engineering continue to expand, so manufacturers need to unify data, digitize processes, and extend collaboration. This approach also needs to encompass the decision support systems and tools that accelerate speed to market and value, and continual improvement of products and customer experiences.


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Mobile robots in the fulfillment processes is something that many organizations are looking at as a way to drive up productivity and efficiency while at the same time helping to manage cost and mitigate labor related risks. Such robots are taking on a variety of shapes, sizes, and capabilities, as different vendors build out their vision of the best robot for warehouse operations in the hopes capturing position in a rapidly growing market. The thing in this market is, not all fulfillment operations have the same set of requirements and therefore it is important that there be a wide variety of options for companies considering robots in the fulfillment process to choose from.


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This past week, I came across an article which explored how one luxury auto manufacturer looked to achieve 100% customer satisfaction. To me this seems like a goal off a billboard or one found on a motivational poster in a contact center. But this manufacturer truly believes it can and should have this as its target to be measured and be held to account.


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Robotic Technology Goes Beyond Automation

By John Santagate

Automation is a clearly a top reason for companies looking into the use of robotic technology within their business processes. However, it is important to realize that, while many robots are designed for automating tasks, there are others that are designed to augment human capabilities rather than automate tasks. We tend to think of robots as either robotic arms or autonomous mobile robots operating autonomously in business settings. Such devices often focus on improving productivity and efficiency in business operations. On the other hand, there are several elements of robotic technology that are focused on improving human safety or giving humans increased strength, stamina, or precision. This post will take a look at a few examples of how robotic technology is enhancing human operators rather than automating tasks.


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Everywhere you walked inside and outside the grounds of Hannover Messe 2018 last week in Hannover, Germany, you were greeted by digital twin messaging and technology. It's an exciting time in manufacturing today for many reasons, including the increasing usage of digital twins, or virtual copies of products and assets for innovation, collaboration, and operation.


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