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Machine operators, fast-food workers and back-office employees are among those who will be most affected if automation spreads quickly through the workplace. (Photo: iStock)
Machine operators, fast-food workers and back-office employees are among those who will be most affected if automation spreads quickly through the workplace. (Photo: iStock)

Covid-19: Machines take up human jobs as automation accelerates during lockdown

  • With the extended lockdown and work-from-home, many firms have been forced to speed up process automation
  • Immediately, businesses are likely to migrate to chatbots and backend processing automation solutions

MUMBAI: Companies are increasingly turning to automation to manage supply chains and production functions as lockdown and the need for social distancing in the wake of covid 19 outbreak make human intervention and supervision difficult in many cases.

According to industry experts, routine jobs which require lesser human skills have been witnessing a takeover by machines with artificial intelligence (AI), industrial robots, service robots, and robotic process automation (RPA) playing an active role.

Companies like ABB and Honeywell, both leading industrial automation service providers, have been reporting higher demand for a lot of remote monitoring services by their Indian clients since the lockdown began 25 March, as companies look to avoid risk of machinery or equipment failing in the absence of human supervision.

"Our monitoring systems continuously collect data to set warning limits and troubleshoot potential issues. In times like these (lockdown), remote assistance services and condition monitoring measures play an important role in making informed decisions and ensuring uninterrupted services," Sanjeev Arora, president, motion business, ABB India, told Mint.

With the extended lockdown and work-from-home, many enterprises have been forced to speed up pending automation of processes in a human resource starved environment.

Honeywell has used AI and machine learning (ML) to create new learning models that helped device operators make better and accurate decisions. The company has integrated AI/ML algorithms in its existing Enterprise Performance Management applications applying it to areas of asset performance, alarm management, process advisors, advanced process control for manufacturing clients.

"As the world emerges from the grip of the pandemic, business leaders in sectors, including manufacturing and retail, will look to bring their supply chains closer to key markets. This will cause a move toward greater global diversification and technology-enabled demand responsiveness using big data, AI, and cloud technologies," noted technology research firm Forreseter in a recent report.

“Automation adoption across the business process management sector has been the highest over the past 4-5 years both for customers and internal efficiency initiatives. Automation comes with costs so businesses were walking the line between efficiency and cost which at the Indian wage rates was still possible," said Leslie Joseph, principal analyst, Forrester.

However, with the effect of the pandemic unlikely to wear off soon and availability of human workforce likely to be stretched, companies may now be forced to automate faster.

On an immediate basis, businesses are likely to migrate to simpler solutions such as chatbots and backend processing automation solutions which are less capital intensive than large scale industrial automation. But in the long run,experts feel more critical human functions are likely to go the machines.

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