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Which jobs will robots take over in Malaysia?

AvantiKumar | March 22, 2017
Exactly how automation will disrupt industries forms the main theme of this Computerworld Malaysia interview with KS Lai, who is responsible for developing strategic operational strategies across the region.

(1) The 'What' phase?
Assess for automation opportunities - which processes are good opportunities for automation and would be suitable to pilot? What are the impacts of proceeding with the pilot?
(2) The 'Why' phase?
Build the business case - what are the pain points being alleviated and the benefits? What are the metrics to determine whether automation is valuable?
(3) The 'How' phase?
Determine the optimal operating model - do we have the right team to support the solution and carry out responsibilities?
(4) The 'Who' phase?
Identity our automation partner(s) - who should we compare the pricing models in order to understand what we are paying for?
(5) The 'When' phase?
Plan the automation roadmap - how long should the pilot be and what are the stages after the pilot? What is our strategy for scale?
In your experience, how does automation help improve productivity?

Automation frees up the workforce from routine and repetitive (and sometimes dangerous) tasks and allows them to engage in higher-value work that cannot be automated such as creative problem-solving and collaboration. In fact, people performing expert cognitive tasks will be even more productive as a result of automation.
In manufacturing, automation improves overall performance and efficiency by reducing errors, increasing accuracy and speed on the shop floor. It can also be more affordable than a human worker. The Boston Consulting Group expects that the operating cost of a robot welder will be around US$8 per hour by 2025. This will cost less than the pay of a human welder today in the US (US$25 per hour including benefits), and even less than what a skilled worker earns in developing countries.
Automation can also help to compensate the effects of a declining working age population, a situation which many developed countries are or will be facing. A recent McKinsey Global Institute report estimates that automation can potentially raise global productivity growth by 0.8 to 1.4 percent annually.
 Robots will replace humans in many roles is one of the worries expressed recently: what's your view?

There is a lot of concern about robots taking over jobs, not only in manufacturing but also in other industries.

Without a doubt, robots are the key enablers of digital manufacturing and will herald the most important revolution of the decade.

Robots now perform tasks that are routine, predictable and labour-intensive, but as science and engineering continue to advance, we will see the technological, analytical and cognitive capabilities of robots expanding.

Advances in computer vision and artificial intelligence (AI) that utilize enhanced sensors, coupled with big data and analytics could make robots more competitive than humans. Robots are also capable of learning from their mistakes, just like any shop floor operator or technician.
While manufacturing will incorporate more automation, people and intellect will still remain very important components of manufacturing. Processes that require a high level of human interaction or complex assembly that cannot be done by machines will still have to be performed by humans with collaborative robots.

Humans will also be needed for jobs requiring higher level skills such as the management and operations of robots and digitised manufacturing infrastructure, and also to make sense of complex data. In a future where adaptability and flexibility is essential, humans have an edge as they are able to adapt to changes a lot faster than robots.

 I envision a future where intelligent machines and humans work together in partnership to deliver outcomes that neither can produce alone.
So, how do you see jobs changing across industry sectors?

Actually, technology, connectivity and intelligence will continue to disrupt industries and force us to change the way we think about manufacturing on a global scale.

With manufacturing becoming more high tech, automated and innovative, manufacturers need a more viable and adaptive response.

Having the agility and flexibility to respond quickly to changing trends and customer demands in the digital economy is critical. These need to be supported by a culture of constant innovation, experimentation and openness to change.
Take Jabil for example. We have been a traditional contract manufacturer turned EMS (electronics manufacturing services) and product Solutions Company for the last 50 years. But we see the critical need to innovate and transform our business in order to thrive in the new digital economy.

So we have structured our business for agility and speed, and introduced value-added offerings such as Innovation Acceleration Services to move up the value chain in anticipation of market trends and changing customer demands. Innovation Acceleration Services provides: Digital Prototype Lab (DPL) which delivers speed to innovation; Managed Supply Chain Services which improve supply chain visibility and mitigate risk, Managed Procurement Services which boost purchasing efficiencies and drive cost savings; and 3D printing and additive manufacturing which accelerate new product introductions for large-scale production.

 Innovation Acceleration Services compresses the product lifecycle and shortens the path to commercialisation while reducing cost and risks, which enables our customers to compete more effectively in the digital economy. At the same time, we are investing in technologies and training that make our people more efficient, more connected and more advanced.
How should security professionals handle the automation and emerging technologies?

The intensity and severity of cyber attacks is increasing over the years, and this is set to grow with more and more devices being connected to the internet. We have seen many recent examples of cyber attacks that have crippled organisations' operations, or resulted in theft of confidential information. 

Industrial automation systems are particularly vulnerable to security threats and vulnerabilities such as data and intellectual property (IP) theft, and the sabotage of industrial processes. Often the automation hardware and software are interlocked and connected to the internet without sufficient protection. Automation systems are also increasingly being integrated with business processes, which increase exposure to both indirect and direct attacks.

With more manufacturers incorporating automation into their operations and moving towards Industry 4.0, cyber security will be a critical area of concern. Proper and thorough risk (safety, hazard) assessments and compliance studies should be done to identify and protect against vulnerabilities across devices and systems. Jabil complies with international cyber security standards and ISA Standards for Automation even at the proof-of-concept (POC) stage. In addition, we educate our employees on the various types of cyber threats and the preventive measures against them.
 How will the current operating environment impact emerging technology trends in Asia's manufacturing sector?

While political transitions and global trade are major concerns for manufacturers, other factors such as operational cost, the availability of labour, established supply chains and proximity to consuming markets are also part of the consideration set.

With Asia still a lower cost region from a labour, supply chain and logistics standpoint, political stability and favourable currency exchange will continue to drive manufacturing to Asia. 
What will the rise of automation and robotics mean, in the longer term, to Malaysia and other emerging markets?

As a result of compressed product lifecycles, need for speed to market and constant market disruptions, manufacturing has to be done where the consuming markets are located.

Some manufacturing in the areas of personalisation will be based in the West but it is likely that mass customisation will be in locations where the manufacturing and supply chain ecosystems are most mature.
The increasing use of automation and robotics will erode the traditional labour-cost advantage of developing countries. These countries are placing a huge focus on transitioning their economies to new growth models where the efficiencies of automation and robotics are to be gained through the development of lean manufacturing techniques.
 Let's for now with a look ahead to what your expectations are for them industry in the near future.
Smart manufacturing, automation and IoT are inextricably linked. With more companies embarking on smart manufacturing and automation not only on the factory floor but also in their supply chains, the IoT market is set to grow.

Research firm MarketandMarkets has projected that the market size for IoT in Manufacturing will grow from US$6.17 billion in 2016 to US$20.59 billion by 2021 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 27.2 percent.

This growth will be driven by increasing need for centralised monitoring, predictive maintenance of manufacturing infrastructure, agile production, operational efficiency and control, and demand-driven supply chain and connected logistics.

The latest edition of this article can be found at Computerworld Malaysia.


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