6 Ways Businesses Are Automating in 2020
Business automation can substantially affect operations, profits and customer satisfaction. Company leaders have the best chances of succeeding if they apply technological solutions to meet long-standing or emerging needs.
Here are six exciting examples of businesses seizing automation trends this year:
Improved Grocery Fulfillment
The COVID-19 pandemic was a major driver in encouraging people to shop for necessities differently. More people tried online shopping and curbside pickup options, and many now prefer those alternatives to in-store shopping.
Texas grocery chain H-E-B recently improved its online grocery operations with the addition of several automated microfulfillment centers.
The setup offers several possible configurations and aims to bring supermarket goods closer to the customers who buy them. It also facilitates filling online orders with in-store merchandise without interfering with the people shopping in those locations.
Faster, More Thorough Cleaning
The managers of highly trafficked buildings like sports stadiums and airports recently realized they need faster ways to clean often-populated spaces.
Public health guidelines associated with the novel coronavirus stipulated more intensive, detailed approaches to sanitizing spaces. One automation trend gaining momentum over the last several months relates to using robots to automate disinfection measures.
At San Diego County’s Sharp Grossmont Hospital, two robots disinfect an operating room in 12 minutes, versus the hour-and-a-half required for a person to do it. Those machines use ultraviolet light, but that’s not the only way to automate the process. At least two sporting venues experimented with using drones to fly above the seats and sanitize them before people arrived.
Enhanced Equipment Inspections
Technology has helped the all-important task of equipment inspections proceed with fewer human errors and other issues that can slow down the quality control process.
For example, inspectors often use optical comparators that project a magnified part silhouette on a screen, then measure the dimensions against the prescribed specifications. Some digital optical comparators take fully automated measurements and send the results to an Excel file.
The right tools can help humans excel in their jobs, and many companies find the same is true when they invest in robots. A Dallas, Texas, facility called Axis Machining found that robots assist with part inspections, sanding, deburring and more.
The extra help keeps operations running smoothly with a smaller labor force. The company’s owner found the robots especially helpful when all workers on a shift had to quarantine due to COVID-19 earlier this year.
Smoother Returns of Items Left in Hotels
As people hurry to pack up and leave their hotel rooms before it’s time to check out, many leave their phones, keys and other small, easy-to-miss items behind. The Whitehall Hotel Chicago is one hospitality establishment relying on business automation to reunite guests with their items faster.
The system uses artificial intelligence and GPS tracking to recognize an item and see where a guest left it. Once a housekeeper finds something left behind, they place it into a bag with a barcode attached. They scan it with a specialty app to facilitate tracking the item.
Doing that also allows automatically generating a shipping label for the hotel to use when sending the guest’s property back to them. Keeping the lost possession in a sealed bag also promotes cleanliness.
Contactless, Voice-Activated Gas Station Payments
Many individuals are well-accustomed to using the Amazon Alexa assistant to check the status of shipments, handle their banking needs, order a taxi and take care of other necessities with only their voices.
ExxonMobil collaborated with Amazon and a financial tech company to let people automate paying for fuel by uttering a voice prompt.
The high-tech option — tapped for introduction at 11,000 gas stations in the United States — allows people to say “Alexa, pay for gas” as they approach a gas station pump.
A system works in the background to confirm the pump’s number and the station location. Then, the payment happens securely through a generated token. People must sign up for Amazon Pay before using this service, but otherwise need not take further action to avail of it.
Increased Exposure for Small Businesses Through a Vending Machine
The COVID-19 pandemic hit enterprises of all sizes hard, but many smaller ones faced exceptional hardships. One of the many issues is that formerly busy streets in town centers are much quieter, causing nearby shops that benefit from the foot traffic to suffer. Relatedly, some businesses have not yet reopened, meaning interested persons cannot support them in typical ways.
In Carlton, Australia, the #AutomaticMainStreet initiative relies on automation to sustain those businesses and encourage people to buy from them. It involves a vending machine that dispenses treats sold by the area’s outlets.
The goodies range from a local bookseller’s titles to vouchers for meals, theatrical events and wine tastings that buyers can redeem once those establishments resume operations.
No Single Solution for Embracing Automation Trends
These six examples show that companies pursue various methods for using business automation. It’s not enough for enterprise leaders to simply decide they want to automate processes without exploring the specifics.
Decision-makers can expect the best outcomes with automation when they take the time to see where shortcomings or new requirements exist, and how specialized technology could address them.
Giving employees or customers long enough to adjust to and feel comfortable with the tech is also crucial, particularly for increasing adoption rates.