DECEMBER 18 — The image of robots taking over the human race is a common one, popularly explored by Hollywood and recently the subject of a Black Mirror episode, “Metalhead.”
Robots have been a fixture of popular imagination for decades and as technology evolves, fiction seems closer to reality for many.
Sixty per cent of Malaysians surveyed by Randstad Workmonitor expressed concerns about losing their jobs to robots.
Such fears are misplaced; automation and robotics are fundamental to job-creating and job-enhancing opportunities.
McKinsey predicts that automation will create as many as 890 million new jobs by 2030, more than double the number of jobs that could be automated.
The real risk lies in companies and workers failing to prepare for the future of work.
Malaysia’s push towards Industry 4.0
As the government prepares for a transition to Industry 4.0 (Industry4WRD), the workforce must shift towards employment that requires different skill-sets.
However, only 27.8 per cent of the workforce (4.17 million people) are considered highly-skilled.
Furthermore, the Malaysian government’s recent announcement to reduce reliance on foreign workers over the next five years should spur companies to embrace both worker upskilling and automation solutions.
SMEs reliant on manual labour will be adversely impacted as they face labour shortages.
Robotics and automation can help fill this gap, as robots take over labour-intensive tasks.
Collaborative robots (cobots), in particular, offer an attractive solution for SMEs.
Complementary nature of cobots
Cobots, robots designed to work alongside people, are changing the way we work.
Unlike traditional robots which were exclusionary, these machines are more like co-workers, handling risky, repetitive and manual labour while the person focuses on higher-value tasks.
At its core, cobots encourage a real effort to design a more inclusive working environment.
Car audio-visual and navigation devices manufacturer, PT JVC Electronics Indonesia, created a safer work environment with the adoption of cobots in its factories.
The cobots relieved workers from handling high-risk tasks such as soldering and separating cut PCB parts, which emit hazardous fumes and dust particles.
While business owners may initially fear the cost of automation, this should not be the case with cobots.
The implementation of cobots does not require a revamp of the workplace and the costs for maintenance, employee training, and safety barriers are significantly lower than for industrial robots.
With SMEs accounting for 98.5 per cent of businesses and expected to contribute 41 per cent of GDP by 2020, incorporating automation is bound to further boost profits.
Malaysian government’s drive towards Industry 4.0
Acknowledging the benefits of robotics and automation, the government’s recent 2020 Budget outlined an RM550 million plan to accelerate Malaysia’s embrace of Industry 4.0.
The smart automation matching grant, for example, provides funding to 1,000 manufacturers to automate their work flow.
By 2025, the aim is for the manufacturing industry to be 30 per cent more productive as compared to 2016.
While these government initiatives aim to equip Malaysians with the technical skills required for Industry 4.0, the private sector has a key role in accelerating this shift.
The courses are conducted by certified instructors and offer a wide array of core and advanced training modules which include cobot scripting, industrial communication, and interface usage.
Since the Academy’s launch in 2017, more than 73,000 users from over 130 countries have participated in the training sessions and have reaped enormous benefits.
A workforce ready for Industry 4.0
Developing a skilled workforce is crucial for Malaysia in order to accelerate towards an Industry 4.0 economy and boost its competitiveness.
Universal Robots’ bid to make robotics accessible to all is a step towards enhancing workplace productivity and employee satisfaction, in a balance between embracing automation and upskilling workers.
While popular culture might portray robots as a threat, robots can work in tandem with workers to create a more efficient and happier workforce.
*Darrell Adams is Head of Southeast Asia and Oceania, Universal Robots
**This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.