Intelligent World 2030: A New Age of Productivity for Business
In our Intelligent World 2030 report, we discuss how technology will change almost every aspect of life, focusing on “8 Outlooks” that will unfold over the next decade. In part 7 of this series, we look how new technologies will create a productivity goldmine through trackable and resilient supply chains and automated processes.
Pessimists sometimes envision dystopian visions of the future factory production line.
Robots, automation, and digitalization are seen by some as threats to traditional jobs in manufacturing, leading to mass unemployment and a world without work. However, with a rapidly ageing population and shift to knowledge-based work around the world, the reality is that there is likely to be a global labor shortage of almost 8 million semi-skilled workers by 2030.
This would lead to an unrealized annual output of over US$600 billion of production – equivalent to the loss of GDP from a medium sized country like Sweden.
If falling productivity weren’t enough of a challenge, rapidly changing customer demands are also making traditional manufacturing methods obsolete. Customers now expect more customization options, input into product design, and faster production turnaround.
Not only would bespoke products be hard to make at scale, but supply chain problems would also be exponentially more complicated. Imagine having to source thousands of different components with different quantities to make hundreds of products to different timescales – it would be a production and logistical nightmare prone to error and failure.
With current methods, we have problems in productivity, limitations in flexibility, and exposure to supply chain risks. So what’s the answer?
Unmanned operations: Meet your new AI-powered colleague
The first solution is robots. Not a terminator-style evil robot, but rather, a smart and useful one. In fact, in a decade, 1 in 25 of workers could have a robot working with them on a daily basis.
These fixed position bots could be sitting anywhere in factories, laboratories, shops, or offices performing a set number of tasks carefully, quickly, and efficiently.
Collaborative robots are suitable for jobs that people are unwilling to do, such as highly repetitive work like sorting and packaging. With sophisticated sensors and a limited ring-fenced range, they are safe to be in close proximity with. And due to their small size, are quick to deploy. With relatively low prices compared to traditional industrial robots, the cost of ownership is low and will fall further in coming years.
Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs)
Think of the cute little vacuum bots or customer service bots seen roaming around shopping centers – these are the kind of environmentally-aware robots that we are likely to see on factory floors, logistical hubs, and outside spaces in the near future to boost productivity and fill the worker shortage gap.
For example, in warehouses, AMRs intelligently pick goods, and perform automated stock-in and stock-out recording. When goods are unloaded, robots can automatically move them to their designated warehouse rack.
Flexible manufacturing: Your wish is my command
With production woes seemingly solved with automation, our second concern is how to bring personalization at scale to the manufacturing floor.
The solution is to use a combination of technologies to allow new methods of people-centric production that is flexible and on-demand.
New methods of design simulation to speed up R&D and planning
Simulation, modeling, VR, and other technologies can be used to simulate the entire new manufacturing process. This will reduce the cost of new product development and design, and support more accurate adjustment cost projections and capacity projections.
New scheduling processes to eliminate manual planning
Intelligent scheduling systems will provide an optimal production plan based on known features such as the factory’s production capacity, order complexity, and delivery deadlines.
After a company receives an order, the scheduling system will automatically identify all the parts and materials required to manufacture these components.
New equipment to quickly switch between products
In the future, technologies such as visual programming, natural language interaction, and action capture will help factories reprogram equipment quickly and easily. This will help companies promptly meet consumer demand for flexible manufacturing.
New logistics that is automated and more secure
Automation will manage warehousing and logistics, preventing errors in the shipment process.
Take furniture producers as an example. With large-scale customization, every board, decorative strip, and handle may need its own identification code or radio frequency identification (RFID) tag to facilitate automated packing and loading, and to support traceability throughout the whole transportation and distribution process.
Smarter supply chains: Logistics networks running on autopilot
The third issue to handle is the exponential increase in complexity of logistics if we are to deliver flexible manufacturing.
The answer to solving the complexity is to use intelligent computing to automate manual work, and abstract away the multifaceted points of contact for ordering and tracking.
Tracked, traced, and visualized in real-time
The first part – automation – will be enabled with GPS, AI, 5G, IoT, and other technologies which will be used to monitor the transportation process in real-time and the status of goods when they are in transit.
Blockchain technology can be used to authenticate the origin of goods, and guarantee the agreed quality and quantity is in the right place at the right time.
More integrated networks, less linear chains
The threat of disruption to fragile supply chains is a risk than cannot be managed under current models. More and more companies will focus on building a resilient and intelligent supply chain and regard it as one of their most important strategic priorities.
With the adoption of cloud computing, IoT, big data, and AI, the supply chain will transform into a supply network.
In this network, the required upstream materials and components will have multiple alternative sources, and they can be sourced through multiple routes. A collaborative supply ecosystem with multiple points of contact will be created, and so the failure of any single link will not result in paralysis across the whole supply network.
Digitalization, intelligence, and automation will enable enterprises to become more productive, and more responsive to customer needs. Robotics and automation will become commonplace at innovative manufacturing workplaces.
Investments in AI, Cloud Computing, and 5G networks will become significant chunks of IT expenditure by 2030, and these technologies will allow enterprises to develop new business models, easily manage existing supply chains and build new supply networks.
Learn more about our predictions for enterprises.
What else will be different in the Intelligent World 2030? Download our Intelligent World 2030 report to find out more.
Don’t miss the previous posts in this series:
- 8 Outlooks for Intelligent World
- Intelligent World 2030: How Will You Experience Healthcare in the Future?
- Intelligent World 2030: Food for Thought
- Intelligent World 2030: There’s No Place Like Home
- Intelligent World 2030: In the Fast Lane to the Future
- Intelligent World 2030: What Will Your City Look Like?
Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.