TechHub: Automation Creates More & Better Jobs, Seegrid’s New Self-Driving Pallet Truck and More

JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF

Automation Creates More, Better-paying Jobs

Robots, artificial intelligence and other forms of automation are often feared due to their job-destroying potential when in fact they’re creating more, better-paying jobs.

The brick-and-mortar retail swoon has been accompanied by a less headline-grabbing e-commerce boom that has created more jobs in the U.S. than traditional stores have cut. Those jobs, in turn, pay better, because its workers are so much more productive, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Throughout history, automation commonly creates more, and better-paying, jobs than it destroys. The reason: Companies don’t use automation simply to produce the same thing more cheaply. Instead, they find ways to offer entirely new, improved products. As customers flock to these new offerings, companies have to hire more people.

In the Amazon facility’s packing area, computers tell workers precisely which size box to use. PHOTO: ADAM GLANZMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

James Bessen, an economist at Boston University School of Law, has found in numerous episodes when technology was supposed to annihilate jobs, the opposite occurred.

After the first automated tellers were installed in the 1970s, an executive at Wells, Fargo & Co. predicted ATMs would lead to fewer branches with even fewer staff. And indeed, the average branch used one-third fewer workers in 2004 than in 1988. But, Mr. Bessen found, ATMs made it much cheaper to operate a branch so banks opened more: Total branches rose 43% over that time.

There are still plenty of logistics that only humans can handle. When the new 1.2-million square foot Amazon warehouse opened in Fall River, Massachusetts, Amazon workers had trouble stowing long, narrow things like shovels and rolled-up rugs, which don’t stack very well. Their solution? Large cardboard tubes, typically used to form concrete pillars, were fashioned into rows and rows of improvised barrels, according to the Boston Globe.

“One thing we learned is to find the cheapest and easiest solution possible,” said Andrew Sweatman, the Fall River general manager.

City leaders rolled out the red carpet for Amazon with generous tax incentives and a prime location on Innovation Way. Its arrival was the single biggest job creation event anyone could remember.

“We had people with a skill set that was nontransferable,” says Jasiel F. Correia II, Fall River’s 25-year-old mayor and a first-generation child of immigrants from the former Portuguese territory of Cape Verde. “Where does a person who sewed textiles for 20 years go if they’re laid off? Places such as Amazon fill that gap,” he says. “They got a chance to work for a Fortune 500 company. This community doesn’t get those chances very often.”

Seegrid Rolls Out New Self-Driving Pallet Truck

Seegrid has rolled out a self-driving pallet truck the Pittsburgh-based robotics company said doesn’t need human intervention.

As the leader in connected self-driving vehicles for materials handling, they’ve recently expanded the company’s suite of automated solutions with the announcement of the GP8 Series 6 self-driving pallet truck.

SOURCE: Seegrid

Further enhancing the Seegrid Smart Platform, which combines flexible and reliable infrastructure-free vision guided vehicles with fleet management and enterprise intelligence data, the self-driving truck has fully automated material movement to execute hands-free load exchange from pick-up to drop-off, according to Seegrid.

In the automotive industry, self-driving vehicles are used for consistent delivery of parts to line. The self-driving pallet truck picks up and drops off palletized car parts without human interaction, increasing productivity amidst labor shortages for automakers. In e-commerce, it enables fully autonomous delivery of goods to keep up with fulfillment industry growth and demand.

Operating without wires, lasers, magnets, or tape, it allows manufacturers and distributors to change routes in-house, operate in manual mode, and effortless scale their fleet as they grow.

As part of the Seegrid Smart Platform, the Series 6 is aligned with Industry 4.0 and lean initiatives, helping companies transform into smart factories of the future.

Developing a Work Culture that Embraces its CMMS and Values Data Accuracy

First, establish new behaviors by creating a set of CMMS guiding principles.

Creating a culture that embraces CMMS and values data integrity begins with leaders changing their behavior. If they expect their organization to change, O&M leaders, including materials, procurement, and engineering functions, should jointly develop a set of CMMS guiding principles.

The development process creates ownership and alignment within the cross-functional group around new leadership behaviors. After completion and approval, leaders should post the CMMS principles, which will allow them to hold each other, as well as the organization, accountable. It will also enable the organization to begin adjusting to the new behaviors they observe. When leaders consistently behave differently, the organization will adapt and follow, according to Industry Week.

Guiding Principles

  • No work order, no work
  • 400-percent rule
    • 100% internal labor, 100% of materials, 100% of contractor cost documented on work order, 100% of the time
  • Completed field work documented
  • All equipment failures receive a Root Cause Analysis (RCA)
  • All spare parts have a stores item number
  • All lowest maintainable equipment is identified by unique number, title, hierarchy and criticality rank
  • Measure the process as well as end results
  • Weekly work order audits
  • Periodic communication
  • Periodically audit the CMMS

Developing a culture that embraces utilization of a CMMS and values data integrity starts with leadership vision and behavior.

Read More.

Get Your Head in the Clouds

Most municipal water/wastewater treatments utilities, regardless of their size, rely on sophisticated control and monitoring systems.

Contemporary science and regulatory compliance compel utilities to install systems that can control and record process events and provide reports to regulatory agencies in a timely and accurate manner.

Even the smallest of utilities faces complex process control and reporting challenges.

Long gone are the days of “sticks and clipboards”.

For many years now, the solution to these challenges has involved the deployment of local Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition Systems (SCADA) of varying complexity.

It has been the responsibility of the utility, often with the aid of a consulting engineer, to design, source, and maintain these systems.

This has meant the utility needs to have well trained technical staff on hand or strong relationships with control systems integrators that can manage and maintain these systems.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Water utilities want to treat water, plain and simple.

But along the way, they find themselves fiddling around with databases, networks, graphics engines, alarming systems, reporting mechanisms, and the list goes on and on.[/su_pullquote]It is not uncommon for a utility to deploy a SCADA, only to watch it degrade over time due to a lack of maintenance, or an aversion to swallowing the somewhat expensive pill of remaining current and abreast of evolving technologies.

It seems that this is a long walk from the core mission of the utility, which is to professionally and reliably treat water/wastewater for the public and/or industrial customers.

These utilities find themselves having to be experts — or at least knowledgeable —  about software, networks, cyber security, and a host of other disciplines that are essential to their process, but are not their core competency.

Water utilities want to treat water, plain and simple.

They have undergone intense training and certification in order to operate their plants and treat water.

But along the way, they find themselves fiddling around with databases, networks, graphics engines, alarming systems, reporting mechanisms, and the list goes on and on.

And then, to make matters worse, a popular operating system is made obsolete out-of-the-blue and becomes unsupported. It happens more often than not and the cycle begins anew.

Anyone with an online bank account can tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Most of us are already relying on cloud technology to handle our most sensitive and confidential information, access to our entire life really.

When our financial institutions do an upgrade to their system, the user isn’t involved in the slightest.  Databases are backed up, patches are installed, new versions of software platforms are deployed, browser and mobile device support is kept current, and our account access remains unaffected while our account balances remain accurate to the 100th of a penny.

So why can’t your SCADA system function like your online banking?

Why can’t you just “subscribe” to a service that provides SCADA, data logging, report generation, work process management, predictive maintenance, and even real-time interfaces to GIS, CMMS, LIMS, and any database driven backend systems?

The answer is, you can!

Application hosting services of all kinds are emerging in every area of commercial and industrial computing.  It is now possible, and practical for utilities to consider unburdening themselves from being IT organizations, and move to service based computing models that offer many technical and commercial advantages.

Some of the technical and operational advantages are obvious – you won’t have to continue to maintain a complex system and can focus on your main objective of treating water.

Other technical advantages include the easy mobilization of your workforce via browser and device support for application interfaces.

Software platform upgrades, operating system upgrades, and application migrations are the responsibility of the hosting service and will always remain current.

Among the many commercial advantages, SCADA and associated systems would no longer require capital funding, they could be funded out of operating budgets instead, like many of the services you already employ there would be a periodic service fee.

Your maintenance budget for these kinds of systems would fall to zero, allowing you to invest more in the maintenance of your process equipment.

Furthermore, these cloud-based systems could further reduce your maintenance outlay if predictive/condition based maintenance applications and principles were applied to your hosted account.

There are many ways to skin this particular cat, but it does appear to be the current trend and future of municipal utility management.

The path to evolving to these kinds of hosted solutions will depend greatly on the underlying deployed infrastructure in the form of PLC’s, RTU’s, and network architecture, but it is possible, practical, affordable, and perpetually current.

Want to carry on the conversation? Interested in how we can help?

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