Adapting to Crisis: Here’s why collaborative robot applications are key

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Tim Rowley Management Advisor, OnRobot

Tim Rowley, Strategy Professor and Management Advisor, explains why automation using collaborative robot applications is key for manufacturers following the outbreak of COVID-19.

By Tim Rowley


Today, my daughter asked when she could go back to school. And yesterday, during a webinar with a group of manufacturing managers, I was asked when operations would be back to normal. I had the same empty feeling answering both questions: That dissatisfaction that comes from knowingly disappointing your audience.

The only honest answer to both questions was: “I really don’t know”.

Despite having lots of data, daily reporting by experts, and media predictions, there are too many possible futures to suggest one outcome is more likely than another.  Indeed, I have seen equally confident experts suggesting different predictions: COVID-19 will be fully behind us by summer versus it will be with us in some form until 2022. There could be regional outbreaks in the fall or the winter or both. A vaccine will be available in 6 months. Or will it take 2 years? Making accurate predictions is a fool’s dream because, like 9/11 and Brexit, COVID-19 is a Black Swan – a highly unlikely and unique event that is difficult to foresee before it happens and brings with it drastic consequences. One of my data scientist friends said: “There is just too much noise to know what will happen next”.

This level of uncertainty is enough to make your head spin. Even the calmest among us might panic or freeze attempting to solve this problem. However, in my opinion, this is the wrong problem to solve: Asking when we will be back to normal or how will the impacts of COVID-19 play out over the next 18 months are not the right questions.  The better question is:

 

How can we ensure operational stability in the face of possible labor disruptions brought on by future outbreaks?

 

We do not know the when, where, or how long of new outbreaks, but we must be prepared for this possibility. And now there is no excuse. Going forward, COVID-19 will not be a Black Swan event: It has turned into a big hairy problem right in front of us. 

Managers are taking many steps to maintain operational stability and ensure employee safety. What is clear is that automation is the most effective step and that collaborative robot applications can be a solution to the COVID-19 problem in factory environments. We must adjust our mindset to think about ways to utilize labor more wisely and safely. And automation is essential for doing so. Let me share three reasons why automation using collaborative robot applications is key.

 

  1. Monitoring is not enough 
    As more factories move back into production (partial or full), new policies have been adopted, such as enhanced cleaning routines and daily employee temperature checks. Foxconn, which makes iPhones for Apple in China, has received attention for its practice of separating employees into 20 person groups, which work and live together and do not interact with any other groups. Some larger facilities have invested in contract tracing technologies, a practice adopted by several hospitals, to see how the virus might have spread. 

    While all these actions are useful, these steps are not enough to maintain operational stability.  Separating working group helps to isolate infection spreads to smaller groups, but an infection will shut down the whole group. Temperature checks are minimally effective because infected workers can have no symptoms for two weeks, while they spread the virus. 

    And contact tracing tells us how many workers have been infected once one of them has been found to have the virus. These practices are mostly helpful for increasing employees’ comfort and understanding where the virus has spread. However, the horse has already left the barn, as the expression goes, and it has the virus.

     
  2. Social distancing is the key to labour and operation stability 
    The single most effective way to prevent the spread of the virus in factories and ensure operational stability is to create social distancing among workers. Social distancing is highly correlated with infection rates – countries that have implemented and followed strict social distancing practices have experienced the lowest infection rates and more quickly opened businesses – the poster child is Korea. 

    Factory spaces with multiple employees are super spreader environments, like weddings and bars – too many people near one another. Indeed, in many regions, infections hotspots have been in factories, such as the meat processing plants in the United States or densely populated factories in China that were shut down at the beginning of 2020.

    Automation allows for thoughtful deployment of labor in ways that reduce close contact. Collaborative robotic solutions mean factory works cooperate with machines rather than other humans, leading to higher productivity and preventing virus transmission. Factories that have successfully created social distancing through smart collaborative automation are building better employee engagement and morale and will avoid costly government enforced shutdowns.  
  3. From labor intensive to labor smart processes
    Through intelligent software and out-of-the-box tools, collaborative robot applications are accessible without automation experience. Automation is a path to social distancing and preventing the spread of COVID-19, while at the same time easy to deploy and operate.

    Training systems can make it possible to quickly shift a task away from labor intensive to labor smart processes. Existing operators can quickly run the new systems, and payback for automation can be measured in weeks. 

 

All in all, despite the many uncertainties, we must act. And in my view, automation using collaborative robot applications is the answer we are all looking for.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim Rowley

Professor of Strategy, University of Toronto
Visiting Professor, INSEAD, France
Management Advisor, OnRobot

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Privacy Policy for processing and protecting personal data

This data protection policy applies to OnRobot.

The purpose of the policy is to ensure and document that OnRobot protects personal data in accordance with the rules for processing of personal data. The policy will also contribute to OnRobot providing information about its processing and use of registered personal data.

The policy will be reviewed each year.

Record of the processing of personal data

OnRobot processes personal data about:

  • Employees

  • Customers

  • Suppliers

  • Applicants

OnRobot has prepared a record of the processing of personal data. The record provides an overview of the processing for which OnRobot is responsible.

The personal data must be provided in order for OnRobot to enter into employment, customer and supplier contracts.

Purpose and lawfulness of the processing

Personal data are processed and archived in connection with:

  • HR management, including recruitment, hiring, dismissal and payment of salary

  • Master data for customers as well as orders and sales

  • Master data for suppliers as well as requisition forms and purchases

  • Contracts

Processing is legal by the authority specified in the appended record.

OnRobot does not use the personal data for purposes other than those listed. OnRobot does not collect more personal data than necessary to meet the purpose. 

Storage and erasure

OnRobot has introduced the following overall guidelines for storage and erasure of personal data:

  • Personal data are stored in physical folders.

  • Personal data are stored in IT systems and on server drives.

  • Personal data are not stored for longer than necessary to meet the purpose of the processing.

  • Personal data for employees are erased five years after employment has ended, and personal data about applicants are erased after six months.

Data security

Based on the appended risk assessment, OnRobot has implemented security measures to protect personal data:

  • Only employees with a work-related need to access the registered personal data have access to the data, either physically or via IT systems with rights management.

  • All computers are password protected and employees may not disclose their passwords to others.

  • Computers must have firewall and antivirus software installed, which must be updated regularly.

  • Personal data are erased securely in connection with phasing-out and repair of IT equipment.

  • USB flash drives, external hard disks, etc. containing personal data must be stored in a locked drawer or cabinet.

  • Physical folders are placed in a locked office or in locked cabinets.

  • Personal data in physical folders are erased by shredding.

  • All employees must be instructed in what to do with personal data and how to protect personal data.

 

Website and Cookie

  • The Personal Data Regulation allows you to treat personal data only legally for the purpose for which they have been collected. If you want to use data for purposes other than the original, you must always have the consent of the registrant.

  • Upon receipt of a business card from a customer you have his consent. If you write his information you need his signature on this paper to have a formal requirement for consent if you want to use his information. Then the customer allows OnRobot to use his data for purposes other than communication, upcoming promotions, product updates or further news including upcoming promotions, product updates and further news.

  • According to the Cookie Act, OnRobot must have the user’s consent to use this software on the user’s equipment. On The company’s intranet or similar closed group, the rules in the E-data protection directive do not apply.

Disclosure

Personal data about employees may be disclosed to public authorities such as the Danish Customs and Tax Administration and pension companies.

Processors

OnRobot only uses processors if they are able to provide the required guarantees that they will implement appropriate technical and organisational security measures to comply with personal data law. All processors must sign a processor agreement before processing commences.

Rights                                                                      

OnRobot safeguards the rights of data subjects, including the right to access, withdrawal of consent, rectification and erasure and will inform the data subjects of OnRobot’s processing of personal data. Data subjects are also entitled to appeal to the Danish Data Protection Agency.

Personal data breach

In case of personal data breach, OnRobot will report the breach to the Danish Data Protection Agency as soon as possible and within 72 hours. The manager is responsible for this reporting taking place. The report will outline the breach, the groups of persons affected and the impact the breach may have on these persons and how OnRobot has remedied or intends to remedy the breach. If the breach entails a high risk for the persons about whom OnRobot processes personal data, OnRobot will also notify these persons. OnRobot s will document any personal data breach on an access-controlled drive.

Erasure of data

The customer should assess when personal data need to be erased by asking the question:

When is it no longer necessary to store the personal data?

OnRobot follows the practice of the Danish Data Protection Agency:

Applications Are erased after 6 months in connection with job interviews. Unsolicited applications are erased immediately.
Employee data Are erased 5 years after termination of employment.
CCTV surveillance Is erased after 30 days.
Telephone conversations Are erased immediately or after up to 3 months.
Accounting records Must be stored for 5 years from the end of the financial year.


 

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