Supply Chain Automation Will Promote People, Not Replace Them.

By Mary Iannuzzi on September 16, 2019


The manufacturing sector is particularly sensitive to the effects of automation. One robot replaces multiple line workers. American jobs disappear. Technology marches on and AI renders humans obsolete in much of the workforce.

Scary predictions like this flood the discussion around jobs and robots, but how worried should supply chain professionals really be? Below are four reasons to relax (a feeling unique to non-robots) and prepare yourself to take advantage of a changing supply chain process.


1. Machines Love Routine

Most humans don’t. One might call it sym[bot]osis. Supply chain requires some task-based, repetitive work. It also presents unique challenges and offers an endless supply of undiscovered opportunity. The most rewarding part of supply change is finding new ways to help your company thrive. This kind of positive change is the result of creativity and communication, two areas where humans strongly outperform AI.

When you find a novel logistics solution or a great new vendor, you deliver lasting value. Let technology do the routine tasks you hate and spend your time innovating to help scale your company.


2. Machines Can't Deal With Unpredictability

AI will soon be able to make predictions more accurately and farther into the future than humans. Even so, chaos still finds a way. Production rate changed? AI can handle that. Cartel hijacked a truck full of your solar panels? Difficult conversation for a robot to have (Yes, this has really happened). It takes interpersonal skills to appease the emotional reaction to unpredictable failures. It takes quick, inventive thinking to solve them in full. We all know how frustrating it is to have a customer service robot try to solve your unique problem. The same is true on a B2B level. Humans affected by supply chain problems want human supply chain professionals solving them. 


3. Growth Brings New Opportunities. 

This is not a new idea. The most popular example is the emergence of the ATM. Bank tellers feared total irrelevance if a machine could dispense people's money. ATMs did reduce the number of tellers needed per branch, but they also made bank operations cheaper to run. The end result: banks opened more branches and hired even more tellers. Additionally, teller wages have increased. While robots and AI will steal some supply chain jobs, the savings incurred will most likely lead to growth (and, in turn, new jobs). The economy almost always proves more resilient than doomsday predictions would have you believe. 


4. If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them. 

Research shows that countries with the most robots have the lowest rates of unemployment. This is only a correlation, but the trend strongly suggests that job loss due to technology can be avoided if action is taken to adapt. Additional research shows that the presence of robots has no effect on the difficulty of finding a job after a recession. Supply chain automation should be seen as no more a threat than a hammer is to a builder. Begin brainstorming ways to increase your productivity with new technology as a tool (or even a co-worker). Being proactive will solidify your place as a valued employee and won't leave room for ideas about replacing you with tech. Case in point: a builder who refuses a hammer for his trusty rock probably deserves the boot.


Automation will change jobs in the supply chain industry, but it is not as large a threat as it is often made out to be. Technology shouldn't make you irrelevant, it should make you better. Focus on developing the human strengths that robots can't compete with (at least not in your lifetime). A robot might try to steal your job but, if you are prepared, it's more likely to make your job easier or promote you to a better one. 


Looking for supply chain solutions? Michigan Manufacturing International partners with American companies to source custom mechanical components and assemblies. Warehousing and inventory management programs such as Just-In-Time and Kanban are a standard benefit of sourcing with us and offered at no extra charge. Our supply managers live and work in five low-cost regions, maintaining decade-long partnerships and ensuring quality before parts leave the supplier. Our business model offers a single partner solution to sourcing abroad, providing the cost savings of purchasing internationally with the ease of buying from an American supplier. 


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