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Exploring Procurement Automation | Are supply chain disruptions a symptom of failing to embrace new technology such as robotics?

In this concluding third feature on Exploring Procurement Automation, PASA spoke with Chronix CEO Daniel Milford about how the technology is being used in the supply chain. 

Chironix is an Australian company that specialises in software engineering and robotics systems. It develops robotic solutions allowing humans and robots to collaborate in real time with robots that augment the workforce in support of the employees.  

Daniel says the crippling supply chain crisis could have been mitigated if Australian businesses weren’t so reliant on inefficient human-oriented processes and invested in robotic automation. 

He says the lack of robotic automation involved in the country’s supply chain and fulfilment operations has resulted in supermarket shelves, where essential items aren’t available, parcel and mail delivery is late and the country is on its knees.

“We’ve woken up to labour shortages in 2022 and there’s no real surprise here,” he says.

“From retailing and agriculture to food processing and manufacturing, the solution to labour shortages is robotic automation and the pandemic serves as a wake-up call to industry to start their AI automation journey now.”

AI solutions for the warehouse to the shop floor ignored

Daniel says the COVID crisis should have leaders asking themselves why, with the pool of AI talent available in Australia, is the country battling supply chain issues in warehouse, distribution and manufacturing facilities. 

“When you can’t buy basics like yoghurt, nappies, pasta or meat and home grocery deliveries are delayed, Australian businesses must question their behaviour and hesitancy to embrace robotic automation,” he said. 

“If the products are sitting in warehouse but are not being picked, packed and dispatched due to labour shortages, there was and still remains an opportunity to make these services more efficient and reliable through automation.”

He says supply chain problems are not new but because the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wipe out hundreds of thousands of employees working in distribution centres and logistics, it’s highlighted the dire need for an AI solution and businesses to start using robots.

The Australian Governments 2021 Intergenerational Report produced by the Treasury Department predicts changing demographics like ageing and retiring workers will be a factor behind supply chain problems and product shortages even when the pandemic is long gone.

It’s not humans versus robots

“AI powered robots can pick up the slack in jobs where there aren’t enough staff available and COVID is a prime example,” Daniel said. 

“For example, fruit-picking, AI-powered robots can do the sorting of inventory and heavy lifting when there are staff shortages. That way, businesses can stay open, products can be transported and most importantly, families receive their goods on time.”

Daniel says the other reasons why autonomous robotics needs to be embraced by Australian business includes:

  • Automation works alongside people to assist and create jobs – It’s not humans versus. robots, it’s humans working alongside robots. Robots and people can work together to pick, sort and transport everything from food, retail products to home packages. Robotic automation can also take on riskier and more dangerous roles, removing the safety concerns for humans who can be re-deployed to perform jobs requiring higher judgment and skills robots can’t do.
  • Protect your business against an ageing and diminishing population – An ageing population affects the size and productivity of your workforce. Beyond the pandemic is an ageing population ready for retirement.  Businesses can’t afford not to have the support of AI and robotic automation to streamline processes, improve safety and invest in strategic innovation.
  • Upskill your workforce – AI and robotics can have a positive effect on the human workforce.  Instead of removing workers, business can leverage robotics and provide their employees with new skills in the AI space or a higher skilled job in the future. Robots, once they are deployed, typically open up opportunities for new forms of work and skills.
  • Robots are about innovation so you can remain competitive – The pandemic has exposed massive vulnerabilities with our supply chain where the overwhelming majority of work is still manual . The pandemic has proven the critical need for robotic automation. AI in this space is not just about creating a more efficient and automated environment, it’s real benefit is greater innovation, and strategic effort to remain competitive.
  • Automation will help business innovate its way out of the pandemic: Automation and robots can play an important role in the recovery phase of our economy.  Australia has the IT ability, AI knowledge and technology to create, program and drive software for robots. 

Lessons of the past have taught us technology helps

Daniel says it’s irresponsible claim robotic automation is ‘stealing jobs’. He cites the introduction of ATMs in the 70’s and barcodes and scanners in the 80’s as proof of innovation and progress and workers acquire new skills for new jobs to offer a better customer service.  

“Amazon is using a horde of robots enabling the warehouse to hold more stock and get online deliveries out faster and I don’t hear anyone complaining,” he said. 

“Industry, business and governments all have a part to play in robotic automation. Mass robotic automation must be accepted so we can avoid a supply chain crisis post pandemic. The failure of supply chains today is a failure of business to innovate and think ahead.”

Read the other articles in our Autonomous Procurement Series

PASA’s leading eProcurement event is coming up

ProcureTECH is the only large scale independent event specifically focussed on eProcurement technologies in Australian and New Zealand. This event, 11 and 12 May will directly enable and assist the procurement function to help procurement teams overcome the challenges of ‘going digital’.

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