Digitization and societal trends are also changing the way we work: how we work, where we work and our role as humans. What will our work places look like in future? How will future requirements be implemented? One of our Future Teams is working with these ideas.
What does Future Team “work station of the future” do?
Erich Eicher: We are working on the future appearance of the logistics work station. We are researching how the role of the person will change at work and how much impact this will have in the context of intralogistics.
Thomas Johaim: Right, because every logistics solution includes work stations – from goods-in to picking to returns and packing stations.
Erich Eicher: New technologies can also be used for work stations in the back office: Connecting work stations better, for example, with social media or communicating through chats, rather than emails. The internet allows for gamification, a topic holding a lot of potential.
What influencing factors determine the way we will work in the future?
Thomas Johaim: Data and information that we provide in the right quality and at the right time have a great influence on the operator and, at a higher level, on the entire warehouse. Information is already provided today, but the way this information is presented will change, and will be reduced to that which we truly need.
Is it just about speed and efficiency or is it also about health?
Thomas Johaim: The decisive questions are: How can I motivate people to perform well, provide high quality and stay healthy at the same time? And: How do I design work processes to be as pleasant as possible?
What role do digital assistants play?
Digital assistants can help us to improve performance in that they measure activities and give feedback. A personal trainer could then optimize the sequence of movements. Employee shortcomings could be detected, for example, difficulties reading written instructions. In this case, the employee could be offered training.
How can we interact with a digital assistant?
Erich Eicher: In the future, a digital assistant will be a hologram, but at the moment, it is a video or an animation or just a written instruction. It’s important that we also learn from errors that occur. We either already know to how correct the error or, when we want to correct an error, then we proceed step by step. The simplest version would be a text we have to acknowledge. The second version would be a video with a friendly speaker who could react interactively to speech. After the instruction to correct the error, the digital assistant explains how to go about correcting the error. With a hologram, it would work just the same, except it could point to where we need to intervene. The simplest form of digital assistant would be a supervisor, a real person somewhere in the network, to whom you could turn and communicate with. This variant is interesting for large warehouses with hundreds of work stations.
Is the vision of the future for an autonomous warehouse, free from people?
Erich Eicher: The Future Team did consider this. There are already suppliers who carry out troubleshooting remotely. The robot picks, an error occurs, it switches to a central assistance service, e.g. at the robot manufacturer’s headquarters. A person navigates the robot manually, thereby correcting the error remotely. So really, everything is possible. I think in future, the 24/7 principle and the advantages of not needing infrastructure for employees will assert themselves. This will also allow lower production costs.
In what areas is man superior to machine?
Humans are superior to robots in their cognitive abilities to understand and interpret data correctly as well as in their versatility and flexibility.
Thomas Johaim: Robots are still limited in the products that they can reasonably grasp. This will keep getting better and better, however, and in the near future, robots will be able to grip fragile products and various weight categories. Today, a human being is still 100 percent flexible when it comes to recognizing a situation and responding to it, especially if a situation is not often repeated. Using artificial intelligence, robots can learn scenarios and know what must happen in a specific situation. Exactly how a human would do it.
Is the smart worker a human being or a machine?
Thomas Johaim: Over the course of the next ten years, the smart worker will still be human. Because of their ability to interpret data, humans still have a certain superiority. After that, the machines will take over (laughs). Until that day, the mission is to support the human smart worker with assistants and gadgets that help them avoid physical tasks and routine work, so they can become more of a supervisor and leave the heavy lifting to the machines.
What is your personal vision of the work station of the future?
Thomas Johaim: A work station that is functionally operated. Depending on the function, this could be by an employee or a machine. With very flexible and modular modules, these functions must integrate seamlessly.
Erich Eicher: In my vision, there are no desks. Instead, we only act in virtual spaces. The new generation will have social needs that are different from ours. Social interaction will be replaced by network interactions. With an international network, there is nothing standing in the way of growth, since we need no offices and parking spaces and can use resources globally.
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KNAPP Future Teams
Our Future Teams deal with trending topics, the associated technologies and their feasibility for logistics. The tasks range widely, from in-depth research to drawing up concepts to feasibility studies. Based on the results, a functional model is developed or the decision is made against pursuing a technology further.