Vice Presidents of Kalmar Frank Kho and Lasse Eriksson recently outlined a vision in which the automated future of container handling is still deeply intertwined with human workers.
Kho and Eriksson stated: “We often talk about unmanned container terminals, but it is important to realise that there is in fact no such thing.
“Our industry – container handling – is a tremendously complex field that will always require high-level thinking that automated systems simply can't provide.
“Yes, automation is the clear way forward to improve safety, predictability and business performance at terminals, but we will still be needing people at terminals in the coming years.
“No matter how “intelligent” a machine or system is today, how well it performs is always determined by the operator’s or steering system’s skills outside the system itself.”
Read a technical paper by Timo Lehto, Jari Hämäläinen, and Heimo Poutanen of Kalmar on how open interfaces can standardize terminal automation
The logical question following on from Kho and Eriksson’s observations is how, if man and machine are interdependent in the future supply chain, can machine and human intelligence best combine?
Despite not having the “answers yet”, Kho and Eriksson state that it is the time start asking the right questions.
Such questions fall into the realm of how we structure machines, software and operations now in order to make them responsive in their future operations with humans and other machines.
These questions are precisely the reason why PTI has focussed its next event on AI and automation, as we bring together the key voices across the supply chain to discuss best practices, policies and potential for the future.
Kho and Eriksson were also keen to stress that we as an industry need to view the supply chain as a unique interdimensional body, rather than a simple production line, emphasizing that as soon as we are awake to potential disruptions the quicker we will move as an industry.
Thereby, the spectre of disruption renders the human element imperative to smooth operational practices.
Kho and Eriksson concluded: “In this context, human-machine interfaces have an important role. Interfaces need firstly, to provide an intuitive way of steering the system and, secondly, make complex system processes understandable to users.
“Ultimately, humanised automation is about creating the right framing for the questions we are asking, and understanding our world as it is today.
“It is about how we can get better results when we address human factors in the core design of our systems, instead of getting lost in sci-fi fantasies of completely unmanned terminals.
“So let's stay on track and remember for whom we are designing our systems. We are designing them for ourselves – the humans.”