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October 16, 2023

Robots to the rescue? An interview with Smart Robotics CEO Johan Jardevall

Why robots aren't replacing us, and the human motivation benefits they bring

Once the topic of sci-fi, we are increasingly witnessing the integration of robots into all aspects of our lives, from assembly lines to the service industry and surgical rooms. Their presence is undeniable. Yet, a pressing question remains: What is the role of humans in this automated world? Do we still have a place? The answer might surprise you.

In our interview with Johan Jardevall, CEO of Smart Robotics, we look at the relationship between ‘man and machine.’ We discuss the invaluable human touch that machines can't replicate and the subsequent impact on human motivation and job satisfaction. Moreover, we look at balancing the integration of robotic tasks with human roles, ensuring a seamless and rewarding collaboration for companies and people.

Neil: Over the past few years, human-robot collaboration has gained significant traction. Can you describe how your company envisions this collaboration and the tasks where humans and robots work side by side?

Johan: Our robots work in warehouses alongside human workers. The robots carry out the more menial and repetitive tasks, while the human workers get to oversee and ensure that the entire system works. Human workers are also there to train the robots and handle any objects that the robots can’t deal with. With the current labor shortage happening at the same time as consumers expect faster delivery times for orders, it is important that human workers handle the things they are needed for and that they can rely on robots to help carry out the tasks they are good at.

Neil: How do you ensure a balanced dynamic where collaborative robots complement human efforts rather than replace them entirely?

Johan: This is happening quite naturally. There are tasks, especially repetitive and heavy tasks, that robots do very well. Robots are also quite far from being able to handle all objects or tasks in a warehouse, and they need to work alongside human workers for an efficient flow. Very specific examples include warehouse picking staff who get paid an additional 10%-20% to also oversee robots whilst picking items the robots can’t pick.

Neil: In what ways have robots contributed to reducing errors in tasks, and how does this impact the overall product or service quality?

Johan: A good example of this is item damage. Human workers, under pressure to keep up with a high-speed production line, make mistakes and sometimes damage items they are handling. Robots are trained to handle items at the speed of the line, and that includes gentle handling. This reduces the risk of item damage significantly, resulting in fewer defects and a higher-quality end product. Additionally, robots don't get distracted, don't need breaks, and will operate at the determined capacity for as long as they're needed, ensuring consistent product quality and reducing costly errors.

Neil: It's interesting to hear about reported increases in employee satisfaction when robots are part of the workflow. Why do you think this is the case, and how does it benefit a workplace culture?

Johan: Indeed, the rise in employee satisfaction is quite notable. When robots take over the most boring, repetitive tasks, human workers get to do more fulfilling and interesting tasks, including robot supervision and process optimization. This shift naturally leads to better job satisfaction as employees find their work more engaging and meaningful. Beyond that, it fosters a workplace culture of innovation and collaboration. Employees appreciate the support of robots in making their jobs more efficient, and this collaboration encourages a sense of camaraderie and a shared commitment to excellence, ultimately benefiting the overall workplace culture.

Neil: How does your company ensure smooth integration and successful training for people?

Johan: By making the robots as smart as they possibly can get. The more the robots can handle and the better they are at communicating what they need from their operator, the easier they integrate. If an operator gets to do more because of a robot being difficult to manage, it won’t get integrated at all and just be seen as a burden. We ensure that the robot can learn how to handle exceptions and get out of tricky situations and only have to ask for help occasionally. And when help is needed, we ensure that it is very clear to the operator what they need to do and that it is easy to resume the robot’s operation.

Neil: Can you share some examples about how robots have expedited processes for your clients?

Johan: Robots, such as our Smart Palletizer in collaboration with Karter's Kompakt AMR, have significantly expedited processes for our clients. For instance, in the realm of warehouse optimization, this solution automates end-of-line palletizing, a traditionally labor-intensive task.

By seamlessly coordinating the stacking and transportation of pallets, our clients experience a remarkable reduction in production downtime and manual labor costs. Moreover, the speed and precision of these robots enhance overall operational efficiency, ensuring that goods are palletized and transported swiftly to their designated locations. The result is not just a faster workflow, but also a tangible improvement in productivity and an impressive return on investment, often realized within a year. This collaboration embodies our commitment to providing easy-to-implement, future-ready solutions that streamline warehouse processes and drive tangible benefits for our clients.

We also have cases in the food industry where multiple palletizing stations were installed, not just one. The integration of multiple robots amplifies benefits.

In other cases, we have robot picking stations integrated with an Autostore output port, this has increased throughput and reduced the risk of item damage which can occur during manual operations.

Neil: As advancements in robotics continue, where do you see the future of human-robot collaborations heading? What roles do you anticipate humans playing in a workplace increasingly populated by robots?

Johan: In the ongoing journey of technological advancement, the future of human-robot collaborations appears incredibly promising. We envision a workplace where humans and robots become seamless partners, each capitalizing on their unique strengths. Humans will take on roles that require creativity, critical thinking, complex decision-making, and empathy - qualities that are inherently human and cannot be easily replicated by machines.

Meanwhile, robots will excel in handling repetitive, strenuous, and precise tasks, providing invaluable support to their human counterparts. This synergy not only boosts productivity but also fosters an environment of continuous learning, where humans work alongside intelligent machines to achieve new heights of efficiency and innovation. Together, they pave the way for a workforce that is not just more productive, but also more fulfilling and future-ready.

Neil: Any industry remarks or other comments you would like to add?

Johan: In considering the future of human-robot collaborations, it's essential to emphasize the significance of the longevity and durability of effective robotics and automated systems. Investing in robotics and automation isn't just about the present; it's about ensuring your warehouse is equipped for the long haul, adapting to evolving needs efficiently and sustainably.

In the ever-advancing landscape of technology, human-robot partnerships will continue to flourish, with humans assuming roles that demand creativity, empathy, and complex decision-making, while robots excel in repetitive tasks. This synergy is not only productivity-enhancing but also future-ready. As industries embrace these collaborative possibilities, they must prioritize robust, enduring robotic solutions that can evolve with changing demands, underlining the imperative of longevity and sustainability in future-proofing the workplace.

Neil Hodgson Coyle
Neil Hodgson-Coyle
Editorial chief at TechNews180
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