Automation trends for 2020
John Young, APAC Director at industrial equipment supplier EU Automation, takes a look at the trends set to shape automation in the year ahead.
With 5G’s rollout beginning to make waves, Tesla’s window-smashing launch of its Cybertruck and TikTok going from a fairly obscure social media platform to one of the most talked-about apps, 2019 welcomed a host of technological breakthroughs. But as we move into a new decade, what will 2020 mean for automation?
Over 20 years since Kevin Ashton coined the phrase ‘the Internet of Things’ (IoT), the manufacturing industry continues to develop ‘humanity’s nervous system’. Buoyed by a fast-growing economy, the tech-savvy Asia-Pacific (APAC) region has already paved the way for adopting innovations such as 5G and robotic process automation (RPA).
In fact, South Korea was the first market globally to launch commercial 5G, while a report by PWC reveals that APAC’s RPA market is expected to grow 203 per cent by 2021. So, where could automation take the region in 2020?
The environmental factor
If the past decade has taught us anything, it’s that we need to act fast if we’re going to protect our planet. The 2010s will go down as the hottest decade in history, with seven of our planet’s ten hottest years ever recorded taking place over the past ten years. But as our landscapes have transformed, so too must our attitudes towards consumption — an area where the manufacturing industry holds great responsibility.
Currently, most facilities work following a linear model of make, use and dispose. This creates a lot of waste, as products have just one lifecycle, and leftover energy and materials are left to waste. A circular model allows manufacturers to keep everything in the supply chain in operation for as long as possible, including the goods they produce and the resources used to create them. For example, manufacturers can look at redirecting unused materials, such as wastewater from washing vegetables in a food manufacturing plant, for other tasks such as equipment washdowns.
As well as looking towards the future, manufacturers should also focus on their existing equipment in 2020. If a piece of equipment was to break down or experience wear and tear, manufacturers will be able to benefit the environment, their production line and their pockets by sourcing new parts from a reliable supplier, rather than getting rid of the entire machine.
Even more autonomous
Back in 2016, MIT spin-off technology startup, NuTononmy, launched its robo-taxi driverless car service in Singapore. While many autonomous vehicle services remain in trial stages, there are a number of areas of automation that are beginning to step away from human control.
Collaborative robots, or cobots, took the robotics market by storm during the 2010s. Enabling human and robot workers to complement each other and carry out tasks in harmony, cobots relieve the workforce from manual, straining tasks without detracting from their own skillset. While cobots will continue to be a rising trend over the next decade, so too will automation with even greater autonomy.
Autonomous things can include drones, robots, ships and appliances, which exploit artificial intelligence (AI) to carry out tasks in place of humans. Currently, autonomous technologies are mainly confined to controlled environments, such as ‘lights out’ factories. In these environments, autonomous machinery performs continuously with minimal human intervention. Robots are capable of carrying out a number of tasks, from picking and packing to even building fellow robots.
However, the presence of autonomous technology will continue to evolve in the public realm, as well as increasing on the shop floor. As AI allows automation to deliver behaviours that act more naturally with people, we can also expect to see more of autonomous technology in public spaces, just like NuTonomy’s taxi service.
Believe the hype
While automating tasks that were once carried out by human workers has been a growing trend for a number of years, it’s set to experience a renaissance. One of Gartner’s top strategic technology trends for 2020 is hyper-automation, which takes automated processes to the next level.
Hyper-automation encompasses the totality of a business’s automation network under a single umbrella, meaning that not one, but many, automated technologies work in congruence to augment or replace human capabilities. These technologies could include RPA, AI, machine learning and business management software, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), which all work in sync to deliver a single solution. This approach refers to all the steps of automation, including the discovery, analysis design, automation, measurement, monitoring and reassessment.
The trend may have been kicked off with RPA, but Gartner states that RPA alone is not hyper-automation. While no single tool can replace human workers, hyper-automation’s belt of tools will allow better visualization of how key functions, processes and performance indicators interact to create business value.
As snappy social media videos and super speedy internet connections look set to dominate 2020, automation will also evolve. With environmental concerns at the top of many business’ agendas, it’s certain that material handling, asset management and maintenance will need to adapt. As automation continues to get smarter and technologies work closer together, we can also expect the evolution of a connected, hyper-automated production line to be on the cards for the future.
By John Young, APAC Director, EU Automation
Why Alibaba Cloud is doubling down in Southeast Asia
Alibaba has announced expansion of its cloud business within Southeast Asia, with the introduction of a digital upskilling programme for locals alongside acceleration of its data centre openings.
This doubling down of its cloud business in Southeast Asia comes as the company faces stiff competition at home in China from rivals including Pinduoduo Inc and Tencent and seeks to up its game in a region considered to be the fastest-growing in cloud adoption to compete with leading global cloud providers AWS, Google and Microsoft.
Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and second biggest revenue driver after its core e-commerce business, finally turned profitable for the first time in the December 2020 following 11 years of operation, thanks largely to the pandemic which has spurred businesses and consumers to get online.
Southeast Asia growing demand for cloud
In 2020, there was a noticeable increase in interest towards cloud in SE Asia, with the population embracing digital transformation during the pandemic and SMEs across the region showing increased demand for cloud computing.
Such demand has led to the expectation that Southeast Asia is now the fastest-growing adopter of cloud computing with the cloud market expected to reach US$40.32bn in Southeast Asia by 2025 according to IDC.
And there are plenty of players vying for a slice of the cloud pie. While AWS, the cloud arm of Amazon, is the leading player in Southeast Asia (and across all of APAC apart from China), Microsoft and Google are the next two most dominant players in Southeast Asia with Alibaba coming in fourth.
“There is no doubt that during the past year we have seen the acceleration of digital transformation efforts across all industries,” explains Ahmed Mazhari, President, Microsoft Asia. “Asia now accounts for 60% of the world’s growth and is leading the global recovery with the digitalization of business models and economies. Cloud will continue to be a core foundation empowering the realization of Asia’s ambitions, enabling co-innovation across industries, government and community, to drive inclusive societal progress.”
Alibaba’s commitment to Southeast Asia
At its annual Alibaba Cloud Summit, the Chinese company announced Project AsiaForward, an initiative designed to upskill local developers, small-to-medium-sized companies and connect businesses with venture capital. Alibaba said it would set aside US$1bn over the next three years to develop digital skills in the region, with the aim of helping to develop 100,000 developers and to help grow 100,000 tech startups.
But that’s not all. The company, which recently opened its third data centre in Indonesia, serving customers with offerings across database, security, network, machine learning and data analytics services, also announced it would unveil its first data centre in the Philippines by the end of 2021.
Furthermore, that it would establish its first international innovation centre, located in Malaysia, offering a one-stop shop platform for Malaysian SMEs, startups and developers to innovate in emerging technologies.
“We are seeing a strong demand for cloud-native technologies in emerging verticals across the region, from e-commerce and logistics platforms to FinTech and online entertainment. As the leading cloud service provider and trusted partner in APAC, we are committed to bettering the region’s cloud ecosystem and enhancing its digital infrastructure,” says Jeff Zhang, President, Alibaba Cloud Intelligence.
What other cloud providers are pledging in the region
This pledge by Alibaba to upskill both individuals and businesses follows Microsoft’s announcement in April that it was planning to upskill Malaysia’s population and would invest US$1bn over the next five years to build a new data centre centre in Malaysia.
This is the latest in a long line of pledges to the region by the US tech giant, which is fast accelerating the growth of its cloud datacenter footprint in Asia, expanding form seven 11 markets, and recently adding three new markets across Asia – Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan. Back in February, it announced plans to establish its first datacenter region in Indonesia and to skill an additional 3 million Indonesians to achieve its goal of empowering over 24 million Indonesians by the end of 2021.
And recent research by IDC shows that Microsoft’s most recent datacenter expansions in Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan alone are set to generate more than US$21bn in new revenues and will create 100,000 new jobs in the next four years.
Also last month, Tencent announced it has launched internet data centres in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo to add to its second availability zone opened in Korea last year and plans to add an internet data center in Indonesia, and Google has also been pushing into the enterprise space in Southeast Asia for several years now.
Expanding data centers allows cloud providers to boost their capacity in certain countries or regions.