Solving the Productivity Puzzle With Advanced Robotics

The government is turning to technology businesses to help solve the UK’s productivity gap. A major concern for businesses and government alike, poor productivity hits the bottom line, which means less money to reinvest both within business and the wider economy.

It’s a challenge that the UK’s Industrial Strategy seeks to solve and the government is looking to technology firms for the solution. Firms like REPL are rising to the challenge by applying a pioneering spirit and advanced solutions to the productivity puzzle.

The Deep Roots of UK Industrial Inspiration

Electronics Engineer Works with RobotBritain is poised to: “take a leading role in a new industrial revolution as significant as the last”, claims the government’s Industrial Strategy website. But to do this, it needs businesses to invest in research and development that will: “turn exciting ideas into strong commercial products and services.”

As the government says: “our ability to innovate – to develop new ideas and deploy them – is one of Britain’s great historic strengths … We need to do more to ensure our excellence in discovery translates into its application in industrial and commercial practices, and so into increased productivity.”

But what does this look like in real life? And how can businesses take ideas from concept to solution?

Innovation is the Key to Enhanced Efficiency

One of the first and best known innovators in the area of productivity was car manufacturer Ford. His assembly line process increased accuracy, continuity and speed so that:

  • Production speeds increased by as much as four times
  • A complete car left the line every 10 seconds each working day
  • Ford could: “cut prices and double the daily wage to $5, produce a superior product and still make a profit”

The lessons learned from Ford have been applied around the world and in technology that didn’t even exist in Ford’s day. With the fourth industrial revolution well under way, digital technology sits behind many of the machines and processes that keep businesses and the economy running.

The key to enhancing productivity, lies in enhancing the efficiency of processes that sit behind this new wave of tech.

In line with the UK’s industrial strategy, digital technology consultancies like REPL are continuously seeking ways to enhance the operations and efficiency of technology.

Productivity and Technology – Two Sides of the Same Coin

Any business that uses software expects it to do its job without any glitches, bugs or other failings. The requirements of software also never stand still as customers and business demand more functionality that requires development. To ensure a high quality product, technology providers undertake regular software updates backed up by testing.

However, manual testing:

  • relies on huge amounts of people power
  • takes a remarkable amount of time
  • and can result in human error.

None of which is good for productivity or cost.

Making the Most of Automation

At REPL, we’re extremely sensitive to these issues. And we’re always looking for ways to innovate, maximise efficiency and speed up the realisation of our customers’ investments. We’d been researching ways to reduce human intervention in software testing using automation when an opportunity to put theory into practice presented itself.

REPL was invited to work with a global retailer on a major project. Every few weeks the retailer upgraded its point of sale software across the world. REPL needed to run automation scripts and tests to ensure the code was correct and that there weren’t any bugs or issues. Once perfected, the software was handed back to the retailer to be rolled out across its stores.

This was a time consuming task that took 13 people 50 days to test a release. And it came at a cost for our client in terms of time and money.

A major part of this testing process was to ensure that payment, fuel and loyalty cards could be taken – possibly the most critical aspect of any business. And one that’s closely linked to productivity and the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Much of the testing was already automated, however one stage couldn’t be completed without human input – putting payment, fuel and loyalty cards into payment devices and then entering PIN numbers.

REPL was tasked with automating this part of the testing process with the objective of reducing costs without compromising on quality.

By working with a specialist robotics provider a card robot was built that included a multiplexer so it could hold up to 16 cards at a time. This enabled one robot to replace multiple humans and it also delivered a number of other highly beneficial outcomes:

  • Automated testing could be run unattended overnight using previously dead time
  • Testers were freed to complete more interesting tasks in parallel
  • The time to test a release reduced to half the time
  • The number of testers reduced from 13 to 9
  • File analysis outputs reduced from four days to just one day
  • Testing delivery was reduced by 30% and it’s expected to reduce further to 80-90% as more of the process is automated

This success is now being replicated across other retailers and other suppliers so they can also implement this advanced form of testing in their own development cycles. Enhancing efficiency for businesses and by doing so, supporting the UK economy.

This ground-breaking work was achieved through collaboration and innovation, two of the pillars of productivity. In the same way that Ford’s inspiration took car manufacturing to new heights, REPL are pushing the frontiers of digital technology.

REPL is a pioneering technology company specialising in the retail sector. Find out more about how we work here.