Automation provides opportunities for many industries

A roundtable discussion at A3 Industry Forum highlighted how robots and automation are being applied to augment human workers.

By Chris Vavra January 19, 2023
Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Automation and manufacturing insights

  • Automation and robotics are known for being used in manufacturing applications, but their potential is being realized in other industries such as agriculture, retail and medical.
  • A roundtable discussion of four thought leaders at A3 Business Forum in Orlando emphasized the need for innovation and to be open and transparent with people when introducing new technologies to show them how they work and how they can augment human workers.

Automation is getting a lot of attention in the manufacturing industry for the potential workflow improvements it can enable. However, automation’s potential isn’t limited to manufacturing; it is also helping workers in many other industries improve their operations and efficiency. During a roundtable discussion at “New opportunities for automation” at A3 Industry Forum in Orlando, four industry leaders offered their insights on how automation has improved and changed operations in their respective industries.

While it’s common to see robots in manufacturing, their presence in other industries such as agriculture, medical, retail and others is growing. As in manufacturing, robots in these fields are being used to take over some of the dull, dirty and dangerous jobs previously performed by humans. They’re also collaborating with humans to gather data so engineers in the field or control room can make better and more informed decisions.

Robots and automation technology in different industries

Regardless of the application, there is a lot of data the users need to sift through to come up with actionable results. Stephanie Cannon, senior VP of operations excellence and collaborative innovation at Pitney Bowes, said this is a challenge in warehouse automation.

“We need scalability and data,” she said. “Clients expect accuracy, quality and speed when we service them.” And because of inflation and other economic factors, she added, “You have to be really smart how you spend capital these days.”

Proving a concept works in practice is crucial, which is why Pitney Bowes created a collaborative innovation program for their facility, which is designed to bring different technologies together. The program includes induction robots, autonomous pallet stacking, vision technology built for maintenance and training and robots for last-mile sortation. All of it working together allows workers to be free from monotonous jobs and perform the complex tasks humans are best at.

“Technology evolving makes it easier to solve some of these problems,” said Darcy Bachert, CEO at Prolucid Technologies Inc. His company has been focused on improving automation in sensitive and precise industries such as nuclear engineering and medical. “We have an aging population. We need to find ways to bring costs down through technology and there’s so much opportunity to solve these big problems.”

Left to right: Brad Bogolea, CEO and co-founder of Simbe Robotics; Stephanie Cannon, senior VP of operations excellence and collaborative innovation at Pitney Bowes; Mark DeSantis, CEO at Bloomfield Robotics; Darcy Bachert, CEO at Prolucid Technologies at the A3 Business Forum in Orlando. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Left to right: Brad Bogolea, CEO and co-founder of Simbe Robotics; Stephanie Cannon, senior VP of operations excellence and collaborative innovation at Pitney Bowes; Mark DeSantis, CEO at Bloomfield Robotics; Darcy Bachert, CEO at Prolucid Technologies at the A3 Business Forum in Orlando. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Mark DeSantis, CEO at Bloomfield Robotics, agreed. He discussed how he’s using robots and advanced sensors and vision technologies to automate the picking process for crops.

“You have a lot of people right now making judgments during the year to protect and evaluate the crop. The problem with human nature is you get different evaluations.”

The humans they have working in the field aren’t enough, which adds to the problem. “What’s coming to the fore in automation in farming is more with less,” he said. “But it’s less about replacing human and more about augmenting them.”

For Brad Bogolea, CEO and co-founder of Simbe Robotics, his challenge was two-fold: Bringing an autonomous robot into a busy retail environment to examine empty shelves, and convincing  workers the robots were there to augment their jobs rather than replace them. The latter part, he admitted, was daunting.

“Many of the folks have not seen robotics in a live environment,” he said. “It’s important to focus on design and communication. We wanted to develop something intuitive that would be accepted. What we’ve been able to do is convince them through experience.”

These applications and industries might be different, but they have the same priority: Using automation and technology advances to get the best possible results to improve their business’ potential.

Chris Vavra, web content manager, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.


Author Bio: Chris Vavra is senior editor for WTWH Media LLC.