Blog Post: Sustainability in Production
Industrial activity is up there among the top contributors of greenhouse emissions, which cause climate change. According to the U.N. Panel on Climate Change, we, as global community, must reduce our emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 in order to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius and subsequently avoid the worse impacts to our planet. To do so, the industrial sector must find ways to be more environmentally sustainable with its use of resources, emission of pollutants, and production of waste This is an area where our industry, with our industrial-grade technology and applications, can help improve and make production processes more sustainable and environmentally-friendly. Automation can conserve resources Automation in the industrial sector has, in recent years, been an investment many are making for increased productivity and long-term cost reduction. Moreover, many have pointed to how automation can conserve energy and natural resources, which as a result would reduce the amount of carbon emissions industrial activities release into the environment. Namely, automating certain processes with better monitoring, control and execution can avoid any waste of resources by detecting and preventing mistakes in the production process. While many have championed automation’s role in promoting sustainability, some critics have pointed out that automation and the resulting efficiency and productivity could in fact lead to overproduction and thus more waste. This concern is legitimate. We can see in fashion how sewing robots have accelerated the pace of fast fashion, making manufacturing more expedient and thus allowing brands to produce new collections faster. The downside of this is that the waste produced, for which fast fashion is infamous, grows as a result. AI can prevent overproduction Since technology is the one creating this problem, it is fitting that technology can offer a solution. In the case of fast fashion, many are advocating the use of artificial intelligence and big data to predict trends, anticipate consumer behavior and avoid unnecessary production of clothes that will not sell. Other sectors that put out consumer products can adopt the same approach. Microsoft News highlighted how Dutch whey protein producer, DVNutrition, implemented the use of AI in its production process to avoid any waste. According to the report, DVNutrition used data-driven insights and predictive analytics to inform decisions to “slow down and even stop production just as its storage tanks fill up” so that it would not overproduce. Such technological applications require both software and hardware technology to be of a certain standard to be effective in conserving resources used. This is where we in the industrial PC market come in. Smart robotics, a prime example of factory automation and AI, shows how software and hardware go hand-in-hand for a high-functioning application. The software may allow the robot to engage in deep learning and know how to make decisions, but the hardware, especially the data storage and processing modules, ensures that these processes happen without any lags or glitches. The precision that many robotic applications have come to possess are a direct result of advancements in both software and hardware.
Blog Post: Digital Infrastructure
Digital infrastructure is made up of the hardware and software that create an ecosystem of connected and communicating machines and devices. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for solid digital infrastructure is more apparent than ever. Whether it is monitoring, tracking or responding to detected coronavirus cases, governments rely on their digital infrastructure, as much as their health care professionals, to contain the pandemic in these dire times. The basics of digital infrastructure When we think of infrastructure, the first things that come to mind are likely roads and bridges. This is actually a good way to understand digital infrastructure—thinking of it as the connectors of the digital world. After all, so much of technology is about the transmission of data from one place to another and then using the data in applications to solve problems. Some of the basic, physical structures that are essential components of digital infrastructure are telecom towers, data centers, and even end-user devices. Meanwhile, the Internet, the Cloud and networks make up the non-physical aspects of this ecosystem. A digital line of defense In what has been dubbed the “digital age,” we all know how important digital infrastructure is to our lives. Everything from the GPS system in our cars to online shopping is an example or a result of the presence of digital infrastructure. In the context of COVID-19, digital infrastructure can act as a digital line of defense against the spread of the virus. With a good monitoring and reporting system set up, a few key countries have been able to keep their COVID cases and deaths to a minimum. Take Taiwan for example, where Cervoz is headquartered. Taiwan has gone over 200 days without a locally transmitted case, and the government has credited what it calls the “Taiwan Model” for this success. A key component of the model is, as outlined on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website, the use of technology to build a “multilayered epidemic containment network. Briefly put, Taiwan is using QR codes to facilitate the filling out of traveler information, phone signals to monitor those in quarantine, and AI and big data to assist physicians with diagnosing the disease. With these tech applications, Taiwan is a prime example of how good digital infrastructure can make meeting such an unexpected challenge more effective. Of course, Taiwan is not the only place where such a digital line of defense has been implemented to successful results. All around the world actually governments are turning to apps as a means for tracking and reporting of potential cases of the virus. Both China and South Korean have used app-reporting systems to much success. This is just the beginning Moving forward, governments and corporations should invest heavily in digital infrastructure in order to make the most of what technology has to offer, especially with 5G technology rolling out. Whether it’s COVID-19 containment, traffic control, virtual schooling, or AR/VR entertainment, all of these possibilities rely on steady and stable digital infrastructure. At this point, to not invest in digital infrastructure would be like not investing in roads and bridges—it just doesn’t make sense.
Blog Post: Automated Retail Stores
Something as mundane as grocery shopping has become a rare occurrence for many of us in recent months. In countries that have been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, shopping for food may be the only time a week people venture outside their homes. Once inside the grocery store, shoppers race against the clock to grab what they need and get out. The fewer the human interactions the better. Nowadays, no one really wants to be outside, if they don’t have to. Already during this pandemic, many at-risk groups of people who cannot travel outside are getting their groceries from driverless cars where available. Even once shelter-in-place restrictions are lifted, people may still enjoy the in-store shopping experience, but they may demand a faster check-out process. Post-COVID, it is likely that retail shopping will never be the same. This is a change that demands a lot from us in the industrial PC market. A failed attempt in 2017 Unmanned stores, to some extent, have been in existent since as early as 2017 in China. The problem back then was that there were glitches, and the unsatisfactory customer experience deterred businesses from further investing in them. The overall consensus was that the technology was not there to make these stores a real “just-walk-out” experience. Since 2017, however, more R&D and experimentation have gone into these stores, and it is safe to say that the technology for these stores has significantly evolved. Now, as the global situation highlights the importance of automated stores, they are once again popping up—this time all around the world. To ensure that these stores avoid a second failure to launch, our industry has a lot of work to do. The storage and memory solutions for off-the-shelf sensors and computer vision camera are typical solutions for identifying customers and their purchases. What may be an improvement this time is a number of services such as a live bot connected to a remote customer-service team to make the experience more human and thus familiar. Implications for the IPC market Regardless of how automated and unmanned these stores end up being, they need to operate in a way that delivers on the promise of convenience—or there’s no point in switching from the traditional ones. To do so, the network connections, information transmission and data analysis capabilities all need to be present to make the store of the future a reality. Research on these new stores in China seems promising: the autonomous retail business in China is forecast to have a CAGR of 110% between 2017 and 2022. Nonetheless, only time will tell if autonomous stores will trend globally and become a mainstay. As an industry, what we can do is continue to invest in R&D that makes the in-store experience smoother. Advancements like 3D NAND technology can store more data and speed up transmission. Mini PCIe expansion cards can strengthen the networks needed for any in-store communication amongst robots and any external, remote communication with staff. A variety of form factors and interfaces will also be helpful in making machines more compact and the store not overcrowded by machinery. We may not be the businesses rolling out these stores (the Amazons and Alibabas of the world), but as the component manufacturers, our contribution will determine whether this time autonomous stores are successful or not.
Blog Post: Automated Guided Vehicles
November is the month of sales in the calendar year. Consumers get their pick of promotional events and discounted goods with Singles’ Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. The latest numbers from Alibaba’s Singles’ Day sales just last week showed a 26% y-o-y increase, something that is very much in line with the observed trend of an increase in online shopping during the pandemic. During what has been a difficult time for most businesses, it certainly appears e-commerce giants have been prepared for the virus and are reaping the profits as a result. How did they do it? It is probably impossible to credit one strategic decision as the only reason that e-commerce platforms like Amazon and Alibaba have turned the pandemic from a challenge into an opportunity. Logistically, however, the use of AGVs (automated guided vehicles) definitely played an important part. AGVs are portable robots used in warehouses and logistics centers to move inventory and other materials around. They have been around since the 1950s, and for good reason: AGVs cut labor costs and increase efficiency. Advancements in AGVs, which we have witnessed in conjunction with the rise of e-commerce, have made them more intelligent and therefore more productive. Alibaba, for instance, has reportedly been able to increase production rate by 300 percent since incorporating AGVs into its workflow. The bots can haul up to 500 kgs in shelves and packages, and travel about 5 feet per second. What’s more relevant in the time of social distancing is that operators can communicate remotely with the AGVs via a wireless network and give them instructions without stepping foot into the warehouse. During the pandemic, this technology allows warehouses to implement social distancing policies while still operating normally and meeting delivery schedules. How AGVs have evolved As previously mentioned, AGVs are not a new addition to warehouses. However, they used to be a costly investment with rigid limitations that smaller operations couldn’t really afford or justify. Such is no longer the case. The technology that AGVs now feature have made them a “must-have” in the logistics industry. These include better sensors, longer-lasting batteries, and more powerful software for machine-to-machine communication and navigation. One example we like to use at Cervoz is that of the solid-state drive (SSD). Previously, AGVs used hard disk drives (HDD) for storage. As operational needs have grown to include more tasks and better performance, SSDs soon replaced HDDs as the storage of choice. SSDs have a number of features, including higher IOPS and shock and vibration resistance, that have allowed AGVs to communicate faster within their networks and work better. This is very much just the beginning of the increasing sophistication of AGV technology. The future of AGV technology Research from Gartner points to the power of 5G technology to further revolutionize AGVs and improve their capabilities. 5G promises more connectivity and data processing prowess, both of which are crucial components that keep an AGV network running. In fact, industry experts are predicting that strengthening the AGV network will be amongst the prioritized first wave of 5G technology applications. In a recent interview with CNBC, Alvin Liu, president of Tmall Import and Export (a part of the Alibaba Group) underscored the importance of its logistic infrastructure in facilitating the company’s growth and penetration into previously untapped markets. Liu’s comments reflect a common understanding amongst those in e-commerce that logistic capabilities could be the deciding factor in this increasingly competitive market. As warehouse automation continues to grow, the AGV market will undoubtedly grow with it. To stay competitive, e-commerce companies, big and small, need to consider how to further implement AGV technology into their logistic infrastructure and which suppliers to partner with.