Earlier this year, Americans learned about NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars after a 290-million-mile, seven-month journey from Earth.
More importantly, Perseverance performed perfectly, sending home exhilarating video footage as it landed. And NASA added to its collection of robots exploring Mars.
But what most of us don’t know is that the wheels on that successful rover were manufactured in part thanks to the efforts of Scot Forge Co., an Illinois-based company with strong ties to Wisconsin.
How did they make that happen? They have successfully integrated the use of artificial intelligence, robotics and human beings working at the plant.
Most Americans interact with artificial intelligence daily. For example, oftentimes when Americans fill prescriptions these days they talk to robots driven by artificial intelligence. They are literally having conversations with automated programs and not humans.
We now live in a brave new world and are more dependent upon artificial intelligence than any of us could have imagined just five years ago. Many Americans enjoy the interaction with technology as they create playlists of their favorite songs.
What’s not to like?
In a lead Harvard Business Review article, authors H. James Wilson, global managing director, and Paul Doherty, chief executive officer of technology, both at Accenture, delineate many of the problems and pitfalls that can occur when human beings must interact daily using artificial intelligence and robotics.
For example, many major companies now use chatbots to answer routine questions by customers and even employees. That is an efficient, cost-saving concept but, like any new technology, can become a disaster. Personally, I have received multiple answers to the same question from a website chatbot, which made me very suspicious.
So, if your company chooses to go down the path of extensive use of artificial intelligence, there are many caveats to consider during the implementation process.
Your company’s culture
Employees do not necessarily embrace new technology because it could threaten job security and, more importantly, requires them to develop a whole new set of skills to survive in their positions. Most employees, like most human beings, are reluctant to change habits. That can only be overcome if the organization has a culture of trust. Scot Forge is an employee-owned company, which means the employees financially benefit from the cost savings rendered by integrating new technology.
Focusing on the advantages to employees
Mercedes-Benz wanted to offer customers the opportunity to select individualized S-class sedans, which was next to impossible with their traditional rigid manufacturing processes. Therefore, Mercedes replaced some of those robots with AI-enabled cobots (collaborative robot), enabling their employees to guide robots to do undesirable tasks like lifting heavy parts of an automobile. As a result, they were in control while reducing the physical demands of their jobs.
Rethinking traditional job titles
AI and robotics have upended the traditional top-down types of management-driven job definitions. What’s now needed is employees who have a wide range of skills and an openness to taking advantage of interactions with machines. The authors of the article call these “fusion skills.”
Scot Forge IT operations and development manager Dave Fallon pointed out that they have created teams working with students from the Milwaukee School of Engineering Data Science Department. The students were looking for projects, and Scot Forge needed their talent to create new data-driven solutions to perplexing problems. That included analysis of chemical components needed to reengineer the forging process, simplify it and reduce costs.
Scot Forge’s willingness to assemble teams from across its company to work with MSOE students allowed them to create new and innovative ways to forge metal. This approach would be anathema to traditional top-down companies requiring rigid job descriptions.
We are still at the dawn of this technology revolution, and most companies have not even scratched the surface of what’s possible. But as you go down this path, step back and slowly identify those processes or products that can be reimagined through interaction between humans, artificial intelligence, and robots.
Do not pronounce grandiose goals but select small visible projects that people can work on collaboratively and then point to those results and celebrate throughout the company.
Most importantly, share the financial success with the employees who made interaction with New Age technology possible.