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14 posts categorized "Material Handling"

Will smart robots take your job?

By Mitch Mac Donald | March 30, 2015 | 3:04 AM | Categories: Lift Trucks, Material Handling, Warehousing

Technology in logistics is replacing jobs traditionally done by humans, the trend and will continue at a record pace for the foreseeable future. Many have grown accustomed to seeing this kind of thing in certain industries like manufacturing, healthcare, and logistics. But now, according Professor Edward D. Hess of the University of Virginia's Darden Graduate School of Business, technology will be coming for white collar jobs, too.

"Technology will be replacing more jobs at an ever-increasing pace, particularly with this next round of technology, which includes artificial intelligence. AI is the game changer," says Hess, author of a new book Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization (Columbia Business School Publishing, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-231-17024-6, www.EDHLTD.com). "It is the biggest discovery since fire! It effectively threatens to wipe out a whole new group of jobs, including white collar positions."

His assertions are supported by a recent University of Oxford study that found over the next 10 to 20 years, of full two-thirds of U.S. employees have a medium-to-high risk of being displaced by smart robots and machines powered by artificial intelligence.

So, what can you do to keep your job?

"When the AI tech tsunami hits, the only jobs that will be safe are the ones that require a human element,” says Hess. “The things that humans will be able to do better than robots is creative, innovative, and complex critical thinking and engaging emotionally with other humans. You must take up your skills in these areas in order to make yourself more irreplaceable."

His advice on the skills sets that will strengthen employability in the rise of smart machines include:

  • Overcome cognitive blindness. Humans have a problem when competing with smart machines. We are lazy, sub-optimal thinkers, Hess says. We seek to confirm what we already believe, and we tend not to be open-minded or rational. We take what we already know, replicate it, improve it, and repeat. It is easier than thinking critically or innovatively, but it makes us cognitively blind. You can overcome your cognitive blindness by strengthening your critical thinking.
  • Get good at not knowing. We have to change our mindset about what being smart really is. In the technology-enabled world, how much you know will be irrelevant, because smart machines and the Internet will always know more than you. What will be more important is knowing what you don't know and knowing how to use best learning processes—in other words, the smartest people will be focused on continuously learning.
  • "Quiet your ego," recommends Hess. Humilitywill help you really hear what your customers and colleagues are saying, and humility will help you be open-minded and more willing to try new ways. Don't be so consumed with being right—be consumed with constantly “stress testing” what you believe against new data. Treat everything you think you know as conditional, subject to modification by better data.
  • Become an true collaborator. "The ability to collaborate effectively will be an essential skill in years to come," says Hess. "The powerful work connections that will be needed to build successful organizations will result from relationships that are built by authentically relating to another person, recognizing their uniqueness, and doing so in a respectful way that builds trust.

          "Artificial intelligence will in many ways make our lives better," says Hess. "But it will also challenge all of us to take our skills to a higher level in order to compete and stay relevant. We humans need to focus on continually developing the skills that are ours and ours alone."

Manage like a coach, not a dictator

By Mitch Mac Donald | February 17, 2015 | 1:31 PM | Categories: Lift Trucks, Material Handling, Warehousing

Common sense sometimes isn’t as common as it should be. This came to mind in correspondence with the folks at West Monroe Partners.

 

Michael Harris, manager of workforce optimization at WMP makes a very strong case for a shift in mindset and approach for warehouse managers in dealing with team management. The bottom line: managers who coach their team will yield more positive result than those who dictate.

 

Harris notes it is very common in warehouses with standards to discipline based solely on a performance percent – for example, John only achieved 80% of his target for the week.  The problem is deeper than John’s performance, though, because there is typically no detail on what caused the subpar performance. For example, was it because an environmental condition was not present, i.e., a wheel on John’s picking cart is broken? Or was it due to something John is or is not doing? 

 

Managers have two ways to approach this matter with John. They can discipline him for poor performance, or they can coach him to improve his performance.

 

In a disciplinary approach, says Harris, the associate is instructed to react to a course of action dictated to them through the company’s formal discipline process. There is little to no opportunity for the associate to have input into this course of action and it ends up creating low morale and a lack of trust. It can also strain the relationship between the associates and the management team.

 

By instead taking a coaching approach, he suggests, a manager engages John to actively work together to address the issue. This creates a process of supervisors observing the associates and their environment to determine a root cause. It also gives the management team and the associates an opportunity to improve their relationship and create a team environment where both sides are working together towards a common goal.

 

If the root cause is a methods issue with the associate, the supervisor can explain what the associate is adding to the work or doing different from the preferred methods and how that equates to their underperformance.

 

Coaching should be utilized as the initial steps to newly-identified underperformance, Harris states. “Supervisors should give the associate an opportunity to learn from mistakes and fix any issues prior to launching into the formal discipline process, which may still be necessary if the associate continues to show an inability or unwillingness to address the issue.”

 

According to Harris, this approach helps the associate understand exactly what activities hurt their productivity and gives them hands on understanding of how to fix the issue as well as how it benefits them to do so. It also gives the supervisor and manager insight into any issues outside of the associate’s control that are affecting overall productivity.

 

Managers, Harris maintains, can foster this environment by utilizing the same coaching approach between themselves and their supervisors. In addition, having regular discussions on the process and helping supervisors to understand how a coaching approach will benefit the operation in the long run will go a long way. Some key benefits include:

  • Increased morale
  • Stronger relationship between management team and associates, manager and supervisors
  • Reduced turnover
  • Consistent performance and increased productivity

Supervisors applying the coaching approach have an intimate knowledge of the functions under their responsibility (the methods for each job) and incorporate the following steps into their typical day:

  • Identify consistently underperforming associates.
  • Schedule time to observe identified associates as soon as possible.
  • Address any root cause issues immediately during observations.
  • Practices good listening skills when working with associates.
  • Utilize proper training techniques to ensure understanding and buy in.
  • Document each associate interaction related to coaching or discipline.
  • Spends as much time as possible in the operation even when not performing formal observations.
  • Have an “open door” policy and a process for associates to report operational concerns or other issues.

Managers applying the coaching approach also have an intimate knowledge of the operation and incorporate the following steps into their typical day routines:

  • Have an “open door” policy and a process for associates to report operational concerns or other issues.
  • Works with supervisors on a regular basis (including occasional role plays) to help them develop their communication and conflict resolution skills which are essential to the coaching approach.
  • Develops and trains supervisors on how to identify coaching opportunities versus when discipline is necessary.
  • Performs regular walk through of their operation over the course of each shift to ensure visibility and to give the opportunity for associates to approach with questions and concerns.

Preparing the workforce of the future

By David Maloney | November 10, 2014 | 6:01 PM | Categories: Material Handling, Warehousing

Those who attended the MHI Fall conference in San Diego last month heard one theme repeated through many of the sessions - how difficult it is becoming to find quality people. And the situation is expected to become even worse in the future.

Colleges are just not turning out enough skilled managers to fill the ranks of the future supply chain. The colleges and universities themselves say that they do not have enough qualified instructors to teach budding supply chain practitioners. The lure of industry is keeping many from pursuing PhD's and entering the world of academia. 

Supply chain technicians - those who install and repair warehouse technology - are also becoming rare at a time when automation is seeing dramatic growth rates within facilities.

While many companies are bemoaning the dirth of talent coming into the pipeline, one company is doing something about it. Baldor is investing in its future by helping to develop the robotics program at the University of Arkansas-Ft. Smith campus.

I attended the Baldor Publishers event last week at Baldor headquaters in Fort Smith, Ark. It was a gathering of editors and publishers from magazines that cover the various industries that use Baldor motors, drives, and robotics. During the meeting, we were bussed to the U of A campus to meet with some of the students of the robotics program and to experience their enthusiasm. The classes meet in the Baldor Technology Center building on the campus, further evidence of the company's support of education.

The eighteen students in the class worked in teams of two, with each team manning one of nine small tabletop robots supplied by ABB, the parent company of Baldor. The students had programmed the robots to do a number of tasks, some of which could simulate warehouse or manufacturing operations, such as picking up objects on one part of the table and moving them to a process represented at another spot on the tabletop.

One pair of students had programmed their robot to move ping pong balls from one set of egg cartons to another, simulating a picking operation. Another pair had their robot draw with a pen. And one more pair had attached a child's golf club to the robot and programmed it to put a ball across their worktable.

The range of student ages was also encouraging. While most were of the usual student age of around 20, several students were older and in their 40s or 50s. These were obviously workers retraining for new job skills.

A steady stream of skilled designers and technicians graduate the program every year, with many of them finding a home at nearby Baldor. Baldor is making an investment in the future that pays dividends over and over again.

 

DCV editors will begin blogging

By Peter Bradley | September 15, 2014 | 3:00 AM | Categories: Material Handling, Transportation, Warehousing

    Since 2003, DC Velocity has brought its readers stories designed to help material handling, logistics, transportation, and supply chain executives do their jobs better. Whether its the latest on transportation regulation, the newest developments in warehousing management systems, news on the innovative products for distribution efficiency, or leading thinking on issues like network design or business resilience, our editors have brought news and information to keep readers ahead of the game.

We've also changed with the times, offering a robust web site and a series of e-newsletters to bring news and information far more frequently than the monthly magazine. Now, in the latest extension of our effort to engage readers, our editors will begin blogging. One or more of our editors will post a blog on what they have seen, heard, or read--or what they consider vital or just plain interesting about the areas we cover--every week. We trust that this effort will add greater value to our readers and deepen the trust we've spent more than a decade working to develop.

This is a timely week to begin. Next week, the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals will hold its annual conference in San Antonio. We'll have a full team of editors there to bring you news of some of the latest thinking we hear at seminars, on the show floor, or in conversations along the way. Stay tuned.

-Peter Bradley, Editorial Director, DCV Velocity and CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly

 

The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

Thoughts from our editors.



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