Automation in supply chain management has been growing at an exponential rate. From that constant evolution of machines has risen a combination of sophisticated hardware and intelligent software, that is constantly making supply chains faster, more efficient and less erroneous. However, this also leads us to a question that is more than a few decades old by now; are robots really going to take over human jobs in the future?
The answer is not as straightforward as it may seem; rather it is quite complicated. There are jobs which are already being taken over by machines, while there are other posts which have been created because of the intelligent machines. Before we can discuss all that, it is important for the sake of clarity that we first discuss what robots do exactly in the supply chain that makes them so valuable.
The Role of AI and Robotics in Logistics Today
Giant robotic arms are being built today with the help of complex engineering advancements made through the many decades. These marvels of engineering are then being automated to a great extent, by cutting edge machine learning algorithms that keep learning from every interaction they have with the environment around them.
In warehouses, packaging facilities and loading/docking stations, modern, intelligent robots can easily:
- Lift, load, unload, stackand unstack heavy packages, to and from assembly lines and conveyor belts
- Erect cardboard or similar flat sheet packaging materials into cartons and cases
- Place items into cases and packages, then close and seal those packages
- Sort pallets, set packages on the pallets and/or lift them from the pallets
Intelligent, mechanical arms in the supply chain can do all of what we just mentioned above, completely on their own. Supervision is still necessary initially – and constantly – but these mechanical behemoths are symbolic of how far human engineering has come, both in terms of hardware and software development. Unfortunately, they are also the reason why must discuss the next point.
Robotics and AI Are Already Replacing Human Workers
The fear of robots taking over human jobs in the supply chain is not an unfound or irrational one, unfortunately, but even more importantly, it’s not something that will happen in the future, but it is very much a present phenomenon. Thousands of people have already lost manual labor work in logistics because of the technological marvels which revolutionized the supply chain as a whole. These machines can:
- Work hundreds of times faster than a whole team of workers
- Complete hundreds orthousands of cycles without making a single mistake
- Lower costs significantly by reducing the number of necessary employees
- Improve the quality of packaging and hold those standards without ever dipping
Compared to long term expenses of maintaining a labor team, which a single robotic arm can easilyreplace with significantly better results, the initial investment and maintenance costs are just more cost-efficient. This means that unfortunate as it is, the job of the manual laborer in supply chain logistics is not a secure one anymore.
In the coming days, this fact is going to become even more evident as the ever-learning AI begins to become more and more efficient, while the engineering around industrial robotics continues to improve simultaneouslyto augment it. A few of the many conglomerates which have already replaced a large chunk of their manual laborers with roboticreplacements in their warehouses and packaging facilities are:
- Best Buy
Robots Cannot, However, Replace Supply Chain Managers
The job of higher officials in any supply chain segment is not threatened by modern innovations in robotics and AI in any way, however. In order to understand why that’s true, we must at first compare what the AI-powered robots do in warehouses and packaging facilities, with what a supply chain manager does. Since we have already discussed the significance, role and benefits of letting machines take care of manual work in supply chain and manufacturing, let’s now take a look at some of themaintasksthata supply chain managerperforms in logistics:
- Planningstrategies for improving performance at multiple wings of the company’s supply chain
- Implementing those strategies and making improvements on the fly to accommodate new developments
- Identification of problems, aka bottlenecks in the chain
- Devising and implementing solutions to clear those bottlenecks, in order to improve workflow
- Suggesting changes in processes to higher-ups, if they believe it would improve productivity/performance of the supply chain
- Maintaining collaboration with all wings directly or indirectly related to logistics, such as sales, operations, finance, manufacturing, CS, etc.
- Planning and implementing strategies, as well as steps to best utilize robotics in their supply chain, while keeping cost-effectiveness in mind
- Identification of key performance indicators (KPIs)
- Depending on the role in question, it may also involve training a team, while evaluating the present situation, machinery, and personnel
- Identifying the most ideal vendors and suppliers in accordance with the business’s specific and concurrent needs
- Handling relationship management with those same vendors and suppliers, via the use of business tactics and soft skills
It should be quite evident by now that none of the roles that a supply chain management official is supposed to handle areduties that robotics in logisticscan, or is even supposed to aid with at all! Therefore, the conclusion is quite simple; the roles and duties of supply chain managers are not mutually exclusive with that of the machines in modern logistics.
On the contrary, their roles are ofteninterdependent in more ways than one. This is precisely why qualified supply chain managers are always in demand and advancements in robotics have done nothing to decrease their value in logistics. Click here to see projected demands for supply chain managersacross various roles and segments of logistics, especially those with a proper graduation degree in the subject under their belt.
Is Now the Right Time to Complete Your Master’s Degree in Supply Chain Management?
Modern master’s degree programs in supply chain management are updated to include intelligent robotics usage, which improves the supply chain’s overall performance and cost-effectiveness. Even if someone has been working as a supply chain manager for many years now, but did not yet complete their graduation for some reason, now might be the best time to pursue one online. Not because robots will be taking away your job otherwise, but because of the following more practical reasons:
- If you are mostly working from home to avoid public contact as best as possible, you have more time on your hands to pursue the master’s degree online
- Although robots cannot replace supply chain managers, other more qualified supply chain managers can
- Millions of people are losing their jobs, so it only makes sense to become more valuable to your company and the industry as a whole
- A modern master’s degree in supply chain management will familiarize you with various new concepts of management that have been developed to be in sync with recent times
- The newer courses also teach managers how to handle, use and benefit from the use of robotics in logistics
- A pay bump is generally expected after a logistics worker completes their graduation in supply chain management
- If someone is still working as a manual laborer in the supply chain, now is the ideal time to secure their jobs by becoming more qualified for handling higher responsibilities
It can be statedwithout any doubt that the job of high-level supply chain management workers and especially that of the managersare not ones that can be taken over by machines anytime soon. Advanced and extremely efficient as robotics isproving itself to be in logistics and manufacturing, itis only meant to help make the manual part of industrial process executioneasier, faster, more accurate and safer for people in charge of such operations. What they do for the supply chain, and what the managers handle are completely different, but interdependent all the same. The following few examples should help in making the interdependency that exists between them a lot clearer:
- As robotics will eventually become an integral part of the supply chain in all segments, understanding how to benefit from using them will be crucial to the success of managers
- In the absence of qualified and knowledgeable supply chain management workers, even the most sophisticate robotic arm would likely underperform
- Understanding how intelligent robots can benefit logistics will be crucial to supply chain managers for improving their own performance as well
- The machine can only prove itself to be worth the initial investment and continued maintenance if there is a manager that can implement strategies to make it happen
As a matter of fact, due to the sound technical knowledge base which operating such sophisticated machineryrequires, more qualified supply chain workers are now necessary to keep the robots working in their maximum capacity. In other words, althoughrobotshave and will continue to take over manual, repetitive work, they have also created the opportunity for supply chain management employees to earn better, without having to physically work harder in potentially dangerous scenarios.