Freeman Cebu Business


FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos - The Freeman

Globally, COVID-19 is surging again. Developed countries, despite their enormous wealth, are never spared. To the developing countries like ours, it is even more difficult. With our national coffers drying up and debts mounting, it seems that we are still groping in the dark.

Sadly, while developed countries are already debating about the stimulus they can provide to rev up their sagging economies, we are still on a firefighting mode. Well, addressing vaccine availability.

Apart from these stark disparities in approaches, these developed countries’ businesses are also gearing up for different methodologies that would enhance their capabilities. The fact is, according to Kearney’s (one the world’s ten largest consulting firms) Senior Partner Ettore Pastore, there shall be “no slowdown in automation, information technology (IT), digitization or artificial intelligence (AI) investments for the foreseeable future.”

True enough, countries like the USA are encouraging employers to go for telework or remote work. Among others, Twitter, Facebook, Shopify, Dropbox and Microsoft have embraced this arrangement. Clearly, with technology so abundant, these companies, are downright comfortable with this setup. Thus, this will surely become permanent. 

Admittedly, we also benefited from this setup as most foreign-owned outsourcing firms and some local companies embraced the work-from-home arrangement.  This setup will also have a lasting and positive impact on companies’ bottomline and in workers’ and their families’ well-being (as they can also keep their jobs). However, these are mostly office works and can be done remotely.  What about the warehousing and manufacturing activities? Can they do the same? Of course, not. 

Notably though, just as IT continues its stride, automation and artificial intelligence are likewise moving ahead just as fast. To recall, we featured last year a picking system that was developed by Exotec Solutions that can make warehouse management easy, efficient and effective.  

This company has been “working on semi-automated warehouses for e-commerce clients.” This “goods-to-person” picking system is based on tiny but customizable and agile robots called Skypods.  Amazingly, they “roam the floor and go up and down racks to pick up standardized bins of products.” 

They also provide a software, which controls the robots. This “fleet of robots uses the best of computer modeling and mathematics for fast order preparation with minimum resources.” Through this software the robots are well coordinated in the entire warehouse. 

Remarkably, the company shall be producing 4,000 robots annually starting this year. With such volume, there is no doubt that systems like this will be more prevalent in the near future.

To most of us, wage earners, there could be some perceived downside, that is, employment. This is so as human pickers, among others, will be rendered useless. However, this kind of a system does not come in cheap. So, probably, in the country we can take a sigh of relief.

But wait, automation and AI experts are not just good in developing systems, they are even better in finance. Rapid Robotics (USA), for one, recognized that. This robotics company is helping manufacturers in these difficult times and isn’t selling its robots. It offered its robots based on use at either hourly, monthly or annual rate. Therefore, without huge capital outlay, their robots come very handy.

So that as workers are still locked up in their homes, manufacturers, as Rapid Robotics claimed, found its robots affordable, easy and complete.

For us, the scenario will be different.  Just imagine the companies in the economic zones.  Foreign-owned, what about if they opt for robots, what will happen to our workers?  Competitiveness already an issue among them because of China’s rock bottom pricing strategies, it isn’t farfetched.  If that happens where will our workers go?

Lest we forget, five years ago, recognizing that robots will finally make their strides, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) advised developing countries “to redesign education policies and embrace the digital revolution.”  Supposedly, “this approach should be combined with supportive macroeconomic, industrial and social policies.”

So, we may ask, have we heeded UNCTAD’s call and prepared for this eventuality?

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