Friday, February 4, 2022

Remoting the physical job

Old news: Remote work on software and administrative tasks is routinely applied in projects.
New news: Remote work on physical jobs is, or will be, moving to projects from operations and production
Other news: Is this outsourcing by another name?

Assisted robotics
So, what we're talking about here is assisted robotics.
  • In production, we've been flying airplanes, taking pictures, sniffing bombs, and assisting robotic fulfillment in warehouses for years ... very successfully (measured in human jobs displaced and quality of outcomes)
  • Robotic-assisted medical procedures are more common place than they were
But in one-off projects, assisted robotics has been a costly thing
But, it's coming!
  • Designing building a new antenna for spacecraft? Need to work in a 'clean room'? I can operate a lot of the machine tools and assembly tools from home, or least from a remote project office, and I don't have to put on a 'clean suit' to work on the antenna!
  • Building cable bundles and other physical assemblies: do it with human-assisted robotics. Did I mention: no errors, ever! And perfect solder joints.
  • Working on bio-tech, or chem-tech? Hazardous? Bring on the assisted robotics!
There's a pattern here:
  • Multiple robots do most of the work
  • Humans intervene to stop and start the work, and to trouble-shoot when the robot gets stuck
Computing the RoI
  • There's capital investment (CapEx) in the robotic machinery (Hopefully, you can make business of designing and building one-off space craft antennas)
  • There's overhead expense to train the workforce to be a robot's assistant
  • And there's project direct expense to add project-specific instructions to the robot's operating system
  • And don't forget that although robots can work 24/7, without fatigue and frustration, the human handlers do need time off or shift rotation
  • But overall there's less labor input and higher quality output (less rework, etc) that drive the 'return'
Outsourcing by different means
Did I just say that humans are to train robots to take their jobs away?
Ooops! That may not be the right message
Is this just a different outsourcing problem?

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