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Automation/Robots - Top Industries

With advancements in technology, many jobs typically performed by humans are being replaced by artificial intelligence (AI) and robots. Industries that have been most successful when it comes to automation/robots in the workforce include agriculture, transportation, manufacturing, construction, and packaging and shipping.





Packaging and Shipping

Research Strategy

The research team started by consulting technological and industrial reports as well as databases like Industrial Robotics Association to find information about industries that have successfully embraced automation/robots in their workforce. The team further combed through trusted websites, articles, and blogs on the reasons why the identified industries have succeeded in using robots/automation and the types of robots they are using. From these resources, agriculture, transportation, manufacturing, construction, and packaging and shipping are the top industries that have been most successful when it comes to automation/robots in the workforce.

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Automation/Robots - Least Successful Industries

The McKinsey Global Institute released a 2017 report estimating that "between 400 million and 800 million [workers] could be displaced by automation" by 2030. Jobs that are immune from technological upheaval tend to require high levels of human interaction or adaptive expertise. The creative arts, therapy and social work, and education are three leading examples of such industries. In addition, workers in fields that face "unpredictable environments" are also harder to replace with robots or automation. The caretaking and healthcare industry is a top example.

Creative Arts

Therapy and Social Work

  • Therapists and social workers serve the most human of needs and are expected to deliver a certain degree of "emotional support and guidance" that robots cannot provide.
  • AI therapist technologies are in development, but concerns exist as to whether a robot can ever fully address the complexities of the human mind and behavior.
  • Therapy and social work require "human consciousness and empathy," which are two qualities that robots and automation currently lack.


  • While advances in technology certainly play an important role in the classroom, robots and automation haven't been able to replace the level of "people skills, empathy, and understanding" required to be a great teacher.
  • Elementary and secondary school teachers in particular require a human in order to adapt lessons to the vast array of student learning styles. Parent-teacher relations are an additional challenge educators face at these academic levels, and robots aren't equipped with the social intelligence required to navigate these situations.
  • According to Forbes, robots cannot replace human teachers when it comes to building trust and motivating students.

Caretaking and Healthcare

  • Robots and automation have failed to replace human workers in the field of caretaking for two reasons: First, they lack the "physical dexterity" and ability to anticipate that many tasks require when taking care of children, the elderly, or sick patients. Second, humans have expressed discomfort with the idea of "being cared for by robots."
  • The potential chaos of environments like a home make robots poor nannies and in-home caretakers for the elderly since automation tends to work better in "structured environments such as factories."
  • Healthcare workers like surgeons are frequently cited as unlikely to be completely replaced by automation since they require a unique combination of "caring for others, social perceptiveness, and dexterity" in addition to "creativity and negotiation."

Research Strategy

For the purposes of this research, we interpreted "using automation or robots in the workforce" to mean using technology to replace human workers. In many of the industries outlined above, technology acts as a useful supplement and has enhanced the quality of services delivered. However, robots and automation have not been able to successfully replace humans in these fields. We defined "leading" and "top" in terms of media consensus and were able to find a publicly available list of automation-proof industries. The creative arts, therapy and social work, education, and caretaking are included repeatedly across several media sources as the main industries immune from robots and automation since they require high levels of "empathy and creativity." From there, we searched trusted media sources and industry journals to gain a deeper understanding of why robots and automation haven't been able to replace a human workforce in these industries.
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Automation/Robots - Reasons for Failure

Many initial RPG projects fail — thirty to fifty percent of them, to be exact. Five of the top reasons for these failures are IT led instead of business led initiatives, a lack of business wide plan as the first step, failing to plan for post-RPG, focusing on complex tasks as opposed to simple ones, and neglecting to improve IT infrastructure.

Business Led vs IT Led

  • One common failure is allowing RPG to be fully led by the IT department, instead of a joint effort between business leaders and other departments, including IT.
  • The IT department does not lead the business normally, and it will not lead the business after the RPG implementation. Therefore, the business leaders must engage in the RPG by choosing which process to automate and in what order.
  • IT is still involved, but can focus on more intricate tasks, like developing RPG infrastructure and software, while providing support for the business leaders to manage the change.
  • According to a Deloitte survey of 400 business executives, it was found that organizations that are the most successful with RPG are those where "sponsorship [for the project] has risen to the executive committee."

Postponing Company Wide Planning

  • Another common failure in RPG implementation is starting with a small pilot project before completing business-wide planning for the full scale implementation.
  • This generally delays full scale implementation since stakeholders may see the value in the successful pilot but not be willing to approve funds to expand RPG implementation until a full business plan has been provided. By doing the business plan first or alongside the pilot, the time for full scale implementation decreases.
  • This can help avoid the project getting "stuck" as well, due to "IT issues, process complexity, unrealistic expectations and a piloting approach". Having a full scale plan before any implementation can avoid these problems.
  • Having a full scale plan can specifically avoid the common problem, cited by 62% of executives, of missing deadlines for implementation, since it will avoid projects getting stuck.
  • For one company surveyed by Deloitte, they found that 150 bots could complete the tasks of 400 human workers, thanks to a well planned full scale RPG. However, at a competitor that did not have a plan in place and allowed the system to develop organically, the same work was being completed by 500 bots.

Misjudging the After Effect

  • Organizations tend to focus on the implementation and forget about or misjudge what happens during the "going live" portion of the roll out, including things like deciding who will run the robot workforce or neglecting to plan for ongoing maintenance to the RPG.
  • By neglecting to plan for this maintenance, bots can function poorly, or even break, when changes occur that they have not been trained for. A common instance of this is changes to the user interface that the bot has not been conditioned to, because no plan for ongoing maintenance was created.

Targeting the Wrong Processes

  • By focusing on simpler processes that are repeated frequently, companies can save money, since simpler processes are more easy to transition to RPG than complex ones. Since these simple processes cost less to automate, more of them can be automated for the same cost that it would take to automate a more complex task. With more automation, a higher ROI is achieved.
  • By focusing on the simpler processes, companies can also avoid one commonly cited (37%) frustration of RPG implementation by executives, which is expectation around cost to implement being exceeded.

Lagging IT Infrastructure

  • Companies may find that their IT infrastructure must be updated in order for the RPG to work effectively.
  • Relying on old IT when implementing RPG can also lead to delayed modernization, since companies sometimes mistakenly believe that RPG implementation is also a "digital transformation", when in fact these are different and both need to be developed separately, but simultaneously.

Research Strategy

All reasons selected were determined to be top based on the findings of a top global RPG consultancy — Ernst & Young. From there, the research team further investigated each reason to find supporting evidence.
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Automation/Robots - Reasons for Success

The top reasons for success when it comes to automation/robots in the workforce include a boost in productivity, quality improvement, safety, happier employees, skill shifts, and high goals.

1. Boosting Productivity

  • As per a study conducted by Capgemini's, 37% of businesses were motivated to undertake automation in their workforce due to improved workforce productivity.
  • The same study revealed that 46% of businesses (employees and a high proportion of executives) claimed that automation improved their productivity.
  • Activities like communicating with customers, responding emails and comments on social media, providing assistance with marketing and branding, and selling products can be done by humans more efficiently only if they are not caught up doing the things that could have easily been conducted by robots.

2. Quality Improvement

  • Less than half (43%) of businesses were motivated to undertake automation in their workforce to enhance quality.
  • Businesses believe that automation is capable of managing around 45% of repetitive work, which provides workers with time to conduct more high-value tasks (e.g., forming new concepts, problem-solving, and locating solutions).
  • Due to programming for precise and repetitive motion, mistakes are less likely to happen in case of automation.

3. Safety

  • Automation technology decreases around "72% of the common causes of injury in manufacturing environments."
  • Safety is an important advantage of using robotics. Dangerous tasks that deploy heavy machinery, sharp objects, and machinery that operate at notably high temperatures are capable of wounding workers and can be delegated to robots/automation.

4. Happier Employees

  • Workers feel that they are valued when banal duties are automated, which in turn, results in them being happier in their role. They are also 31% more efficient than unhappy workers.
  • Workers are likely to be pleased with engaging in work that does not irritate them, as certain tasks that employees do not desire, such as dangerous tasks, repetitive motion, and menial work, are frequently assigned to robots.

5. Skill Shift

  • A study by McKinsey revealed that automation accelerates the shift in skills that the workforce needs.
  • The demand for cognitive, physical, and manual abilities has been diminishing for about 15 to 20 years, which is expected to continue with automation. Demand for basic data-input and processing skills in the United States and Europe is anticipated to fall by 19% and 23%, respectively. Meanwhile, demand for manual and physical abilities in the United States and Europe is projected to decrease by 11% and 16%, respectively.
  • This fall will lead to higher demand for more technological, as well as social and emotional, skills.
  • Automation leads to a refocusing of capabilities as opposed to a decrease in the workforce. For example, it enables airline personnel to devote their concentration to transactions that are more intricate "while kiosks streamline the check-in process and reduce wait time for customers."
  • Also, automation assisted workers (both human and robot) at Amazon in concentrating on the tasks they do best, facilitating Amazon to expand both its human and robot workforce by about 50% in the year 2016.

6. High Aims

  • In response to a survey conducted by McKinsey, 38% of organizations established aspirational goals to gauge the results of their automation efforts, while about 48% of them set attainable targets.
  • This approach involves "bigger bets for bigger rewards" and managing risks.

Research Strategy:

To identify the top reasons for success when it comes to automation/robots in the workforce, we leveraged whitepapers, reports, surveys, and studies published by credible consulting firms such as McKinsey, Capgemini, BCG, PWC, KPMG, Deloitte, and many others discussing the factors that play role in the success of automation/robots in the workforce.

We also thoroughly scanned through industry-related articles and journals published in news and media sources such as Forbes, BusinessWeek, RoboticsTomorrow, Cronofy, Information-Age, BusinessNewsDaily, etc.

Finally, the reasons that lead to success of automation/robots in the workforce that were highlighted in multiple sources were identified as the top reasons.
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Robotics Companies Failure

Robotics companies mostly fail due to high consumer expectations, people being afraid of robots stealing their livelihood, no product market fit, the lack of features/attributes, operational hurdles, un-strategic cost planning, and the complexity of the designs.

Reason #1: Consumer Expectations Are Too High

  • Consumer expectations, mainly influenced by the pop culture, have set the bar for robotics companies very high, as they are constantly being compared to “Rosie the robot from the Jetsons, C-3PO from Star Wars, and the machines in ExMachina.” [2]
  • The problem arises when consumers experience a real robot, either at work or at home, and see the difference between the reality of the technology and their expectations.

Reason #2: People Are Afraid Of Robots Stealing Their Livelihood

  • Many people are afraid that robots are going to “take their jobs,” “kill us all”, or “somehow cause a world seen in The Terminator.”
  • Even though the commercial and industrial robotics industry is attempting to assure workers that robotics deployments will help them optimize production and not take away their jobs, if the robotics market share falls, the anti-robot voices are expected to rise.
  • Most senior executives are focusing on automation but employees do not agree with that type of thinking, as it makes their work harder and poses a possible reduction of pay.

Reason #3: No Product Market Fit

  • Robotics are not useful in everyday life, as most product engineers aren’t guided by market need but focus on solving mechanical problems, which results in lower sales.
  • Unless the robotics companies do not indulge in automating household jobs for individuals, they stand to lose their market as companies are not interested in buying robots for high-tech jobs.
  • Linkedin reports that “most service and consumer robot companies struggle to either identify or deliver on a clear value proposition.”

Reason #4: Lack of Product Features or Attributes

  • Robotics companies are likely to minimize development time by focusing on just one aspect of the product scope. However, this reduces the economic value the robot can provide to the business.
  • Most machines fail more than 2-3% of the time, which makes them unprofitable for business owners.

Reason #5: Operational Hurdles

  • As seen in retail stores or warehouses that are optimized for efficiency and effectiveness, adding a robot that can’t work in the business without someone following it creates operational hurdles.
  • Additional employees equipped with working knowledge of the robot are required to maintain it, keep it in good working order, and make sure it is charged, which creates extra headcount.
  • There is no intense need for social robots or floor-roaming bots outside of hospitals and hotels. This lack of market demand forced investors to rethink their investments in the space, which creates operational hurdles for the robotic companies.

Reason #6: Un-strategic Cost Planning And Assumptions

  • The assumption among hardware robotics startups is that China is the lowest-cost sourcing market, which leads them to choose suppliers without a total cost of ownership analysis and proper supplier qualification.
  • This un-strategic sourcing leads to problems with the estimation of the cost of freight, duty fees, insurance, shipping lead-time, travel time, language, and time-zone challenges.
  • Due to poor estimation and lack of strategic planning, Rethink Robotics closed its doors on October 2018, after an $18 million round of funding.

Reason #7: Robots Are Complex To Design And Create.

Research Strategy:

To identify 5-7 of the top reasons why robotics companies fail, we scoured through industry reports and media publications from Robotics Business Review, Linkedin, Forbes, and Hackernoon, as these are most likely to analyze the whole industry and address the patterns across multiple companies. All the included reasons were present in two or more of the visited articles.
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Automation/Robots - Innovation

The strategies a robotics company can use to innovate in an industry where automation isn't widespread or is lagging include robotics for wide adoption in manufacturing, overcoming skilled worker shortage through robots, and making tasks more efficient and uniform.

Robotics for a Wide Adoption in Manufacturing



Overcoming Skilled Worker Shortage Through Robots


  • Although Welding Industry still uses manual processes to fuse pieces of metal together, there are efforts to adopt robotic welding. The use of automated equipment reduces waste and delivers fast, high-quality results without direct human involvement.
  • Further, distressed with the shortage in the skilled labor, the welding industry is facing a need to look for more automated systems.


Making Task More Uniform & Efficient



Research Strategy

  • To obtain the insights on the ways/strategies a robotics company can do to innovate in an industry where automation isn't widespread or is lagging, we examined multiple credible news articles and industry reports. We combed trusted magazines, websites, and articles like CNBC, Znet, washingtonpost, BBC, mind commerce, and Deloitte. From these sources, we expected that they will share key insights on multiple industries, their pace of adopting robotic automation, and strategies they are employing. From these resources, we identified manufacturing, food service and welding as industries where, despite the slow adoption of robotic automation, there are strategies to adopt robotic technology. The strategies used by companies in these industries to automate include robotics for wide adoption in manufacturing, overcoming skilled worker shortage through robots, and making tasks more efficient and uniform.