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North American companies rush to add robots as demand surges

Source: Reuters

Nov 11 (Reuters) – Companies in North America added a record number of robots in the first nine months of this year as they rushed to speed up assembly lines and struggled to add human workers.

Factories and other industrial users ordered 29,000 robots, 37% more than during the same period last year, valued at $1.48 billion, according to data compiled by the industry group the Association for Advancing Automation. That surpassed the previous peak set in the same time period in 2017, before the global pandemic upended economies.

The rush to add robots is part of a larger upswing in investment as companies seek to keep up with strong demand, which in some cases has contributed to shortages of key goods. At the same time, many firms have struggled to lure back workers displaced by the pandemic and view robots as an alternative to adding human muscle on their assembly lines.

“Businesses just can’t find the people they need – that’s why they’re racing to automate,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation, known as A3.

Robots also continue to push into more corners of the economy. Auto companies have long bought most industrial robots. But in 2020, combined sales to other types of businesses surpassed the auto sector for the first time – and that trend continued this year. In the first nine months of the year, auto-related orders for robots grew 20% to 12,544 units, according to A3, while orders by non-automotive companies expanded 53% to 16,355.

“It’s not that automotive is slowing down – auto is up,” said Burnstein. But other sectors – from metals to food manufacturers – are growing even faster.

John Newman’s company is one of them. Athena Manufacturing, which does metal fabrication for other manufacturers in Austin, Texas, now has seven robots, including four installed this year. It bought its first machine in 2016. Newman said robots have helped Athena respond to a surge in demand, including a 50% jump in orders for parts used by semiconductor equipment manufacturers.

The machines also allowed Athena to move to an around-the-clock operation for the first time last year, he said. The company employs 250 but would have struggled, he said, to find workers to fill unpopular overnight shifts.

Reporting by Timothy Aeppel in New York Editing by Matthew Lewis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Pharmaceuticals

Digital solutions offer key to better organisational efficiency and coordination in healthcare

Executive Chair of InnoScot Health, Graham Watson analyses the huge value which existing tech can realise for NHS Scotland

Healthcare innovation headlines are often made by the most impressive technologies – the likes of artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive medicine immediately spring to mind.

They capture the imagination, and rightly so given the exciting possibilities they offer and positive results which they are already producing, but of course they are not the entire solution. Instead, they represent effective pieces in the bigger puzzle that will eventually become the future of healthcare.

What also creates news headlines is spending that seeks to address the most pressing NHS concerns. Yet, such solutions do not always achieve the required result.

Akin to a leaking pipe, you can patch the hole in the short-term and the dripping immediately stops, but that does not mean the patch is necessarily an enduring solution. You might need to invest in an entirely new pipe.

In other words, by focusing on short term solutions, we may be left less able to focus spending on longer-term transformational change.

Grassroots thinking is also required then, and what is often less talked about is what is available in the here and now that can produce lasting results.

If the NHS is to do more with less and fundamentally work smarter, then we need to look at the tools that are already at our disposal and which do not require significant fresh resource – just more targeted approaches to how they are implemented and used.

That includes digital solutions for better leveraging of data to ensure that patients receive coordinated, seamless care; information shared quickly and securely between health professionals throughout the care journey; and digitally trained clinicians being increasingly unburdened of administrative processes allowing them to better focus on caring for their patients.

In essence, greater efficiency, systemic sustainability, less siloed systems, and giving back to clinicians that which they increasingly have less and less of – time.

If that digital shift in processes is managed effectively and then continuously monitored to identify potential improvements, it also likely translates to improved staff retention with clinicians able to make more confident decisions amid today’s challenging, often pressured work environment.

Secure and centralised cloud-based systems offer real time analytics, providing an at-a-glance dashboard of patient progress, including diagnoses, tests, and treatments, in tandem with the best possible accessibility across Scotland’s often nuanced healthcare system.

Most people are now familiar and comfortable with storing sensitive information securely in the cloud given just how much of our day to day lives are now kept there – and clinicians are no different, making NHS adoption a relatively straightforward culture change.

Indeed, there are great clinician-led examples already making waves, underlining the vast potential for existing solutions to be leveraged. Dr Matthew Freer, a consultant anaesthetist, is also CEO and co-founder of Infix Support – a cloud-based tech company focused on improving the efficiency of surgical operating theatres and tackling patient wait lists. His role in honing a more intuitive system for operating theatre utilisation is considered to be a game-changer.

Last year, InnoScot Health revealed the results of its independent survey of NHS Scotland workforce attitudes towards innovation, finding a marked enthusiasm to engage with new approaches and utilise technology to aid processes.

A total of 88% ranked big data and analytics – using gathered data to uncover hidden patterns and correlations for better decision-making and greater efficiency in healthcare delivery – as one of the most important areas for innovation in the future.

Also ranking 88%, digital apps – delivering information for patients, care providers and researchers, real-time patient monitoring, collecting community and clinical health data, and more – was a further prime focus for the workforce.

During this time of recovery and renewal, rapidly scalable digital innovations shaping the future of NHS Scotland must be integrated into its constantly evolving systemic architecture – exactly where they can have greatest impact – breaking down barriers, improving lives, and enhancing organisational efficiency.

When negativity can often predominate in NHS-related headlines, it is encouraging to note that we have a workforce responding positively and saying it is ready for a modern, agile, and sustainable health care system.

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Business

Why fintech is the catalyst for a new and bold generation of investors

Source: Finance Derivative

By Jeremy Baber, CEO of Lanistar

Investing has evolved since the days of safe blue-chip stocks and government bonds. There’s a new wave of bold investors who have been inspired by the accessibility and ease-of-use offered by fintech innovation. According to Charles Schwab UK’s Investment Forces report, this new generation of investors is taking a bolder approach. Dubbed ‘Gen T’, this generation is taking a pass on the slow game, and the influence of fintech has helped them gain the confidence to do so.

A new way to invest

Investing in stocks has been a route to growing cash for hundreds of years. Since the opening of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange in 1602, the fundamental principles of investment have essentially stayed the same. Investors balance risk and reward to maximise their return on investment. What has changed, particularly in the last decade, is that the ability to invest has become a much more democratised process, with many more people able to educate themselves on investment strategies and access a wide array of online investment platforms. Fintech has been a crucial component of this change.

What fintech offers consumers is an intuitive, tech-fuelled approach to finance with a focus on simplicity. At its core, fintech is consumer-centric, placing the user at the heart of all its products. It has also brought on a new wave of technological innovation to the financial world, producing the next generation of apps and platforms. Consumers today not only have access to a wide array of investment platforms that are simple and easy to use, but they also have greater access to financial education resources. A strong example of the broader range of investment options available today is micro-investing platforms, which allow their users to invest small sums into a diversified portfolio of assets that might include stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), or even cryptocurrencies. This market continues to grow year on year, valued at $19 billion in 2023.

From the fintech wave has emerged a new way to invest. Investment platforms make use of the latest innovative technologies, like real-time data and analytics and automation, to deliver a hyper personalised customer experience that makes investing simpler and easier than ever before. In simple terms, these platforms are built using the fintech model.

Staying financially literate in a chaotic world

Whilst ‘Gen T’ are demonstrating behaviours closer to professional traders, according to Charles Schwarb UK’s report, they also harbour strong concerns over whether investment strategies will lead to heavy losses. Where 50% of boomers said they were unsure of how to adapt their investment strategies to avoid losses, 74% of millennials and 73% of Gen Z said the same. In this way, whilst investing has become easier and more accessible, younger and more inexperienced investors are feeling the heat of today’s turbulent financial markets.

Just as fintech helped to democratise access to investing, it also needs to ensure that all investors – from teenagers to old-age pensioners – are financially literate enough to know what they are investing in. The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation found that just 67% of UK adults were financially literate. This places the UK 15th out of 29 OECD countries for financial literacy. At a time where living costs are sky high and many people are struggling with their finances, it is crucial that financial services providers help to educate their customers and increase the UK’s financial literacy rates. In its customer-centric and highly personalised approach, fintech can lead the way with helping the UK to become more financially literate.

Some fintechs have already started to turn the wheel on financial literacy, providing educational resources within their apps and products. Data and analytics are also key to financial literacy, helping consumers to understand their specific spending habits and support them in making extra savings. When it comes to investing, there have been examples of apps that allow customers to set aside their savings to create portfolios, promoting a sustainable method of investing. Ultimately, where fintechs will deliver the most value to consumers is in providing a truly personalised and simple way to understand their finances.

Fintech’s enduring role

Times have changed, and with a new era of investing being ushered in by an array of new apps and products, the financial services industry must take steps to protect its customers. Whilst it’s a good thing that investing has become easier and more accessible, those who are signing away their savings must be protected. Regulation will play a key role, and the FCA has already enacted some encouraging work in its Consumer Duty regulation brought on in July 2023.

How we as an industry choose to enact this protection will be crucially important in the next decade. I am confident that just as it played a large role in democratizing investing, fintech will be a significant player in the continuing to shape the investing market in the future.

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Business

The Future of Financial Services: Personalised experiences powered by AI, secured by privacy

Source: Finance Derivative

By Erin Nicholson, Global Head of Data Protection and Privacy at Thoughtworks

Over half (51%) of European consumers want more personalised financial services, but a
significant minority (22%) are less comfortable sharing data for this purpose compared to last
year, according to a report by Twilio. This highlights the core tension in today’s financial
landscape: personalisation and privacy.

Consumers crave tailored financial advice and products. They want their banks and financial
advisors to understand their unique needs and goals. Yet, data privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA make leveraging personal data for such purposes a challenge. These regulations restrict how financial institutions can collect, store, and use customer data.

As a data protection and privacy specialist, I am fascinated by bridging this gap. I question how we can achieve personalisation for clients while remaining compliant with these regulations?

The answer lies in a three-pronged approach utilising Artificial Intelligence (AI): leveraging both predictive AI and generative AI (GenAI) and also leveraging Privacy Enhancing Technologies. This approach empowers financial institutions to personalise the client experience while safeguarding sensitive data.

AI-driven lead generation with privacy at its core

Traditional prospecting methods often rely on incomplete data or outdated strategies. Sifting
through vast datasets to identify potential clients can be a time-consuming and inefficient
process. Here’s how AI can help:

Predictive AI can analyse anonymised or aggregated data sets to uncover patterns and trends. This data can be used to create a “probability-weighted list” of potential clients, highlighting those with a higher likelihood of being receptive to specific financial products or services. This approach provides valuable insights without requiring access to sensitive personal information.

Cross-selling reimagined: connecting the dots without data sharing

Cross-selling within a financial institution can be a powerful strategy to deepen client
relationships and drive revenue. However, identifying potential connections between existing
clients and those who might benefit from products offered by different divisions has always been a challenge due to data silos and privacy concerns.

Here’s where GenAI comes in.

GenAI, Federated Learning, and Homomorphic Encryption unlocks the power of graph-based
algorithms. These algorithms can analyse connections between data points without actually
sharing the underlying sensitive data itself. Imagine a system that can identify potential
cross-selling opportunities between different client segments, allowing banks to recommend
relevant products or services while maintaining strict data privacy boundaries.

The power of combining personalisation and privacy

This two-pronged AI approach offers significant benefits for financial institutions:
Increased efficiency: AI streamlines prospecting efforts, allowing institutions to focus
resources on qualified leads.
Enhanced customer experience: Personalised recommendations based on anonymised
data insights foster stronger client relationships.
Reduced regulatory risk: Minimising reliance on sensitive data minimises regulatory risks
associated with data privacy violations.

The broader potential of genAI

GenAI’s potential extends beyond initial client acquisition and cross-selling. Imagine, for example, using genAI to create educational content tailored to each client’s needs and financial literacy level. This empowers investors to make informed decisions based on clear and relevant information, ultimately strengthening the client-advisor relationship.

Responsible AI adoption: a critical priority

While genAI offers exciting possibilities, responsible adoption is crucial to ensure the protection of the public’s data. Here are some key considerations:
Focus on high-value use cases: Identify genAI applications that deliver significant value
while minimising complexity and cost.
Ensure data security: Implement robust security measures to safeguard sensitive
customer data from potential risks associated with genAI models.
Combat bias and factual errors: Be mindful of potential biases in training data and
incorporate human oversight to prevent biased or inaccurate outputs.
Leverage Privacy Enhancing Technologies: PETs such as Federated Learning and
Homomorphic Encryption will enhance the utility of your data without infringing on
privacy.

By embracing AI in a responsible manner, the financial services industry can achieve its
personalisation goals while ensuring customer data remains protected. This paves the way for a future where personalisation and privacy go hand-in-hand, fostering a more secure and
empowering financial landscape for all.

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