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Blog - robotics and integration in FM

“If machines are capable of doing almost any work humans can do, what will humans do?”

As AI and robots threaten the prospect of mass unemployment, with a predicted 5 million jobs being lost to automation by 2020 in every industry and geographical region, what does this mean for facilities management?

This report comes at a time when the FM industry is gearing up towards automation and integrated systems. Buildings like the Edge in Amsterdam are providing an example for the potential of technological developments, with 28,000 sensors monitoring everything from room or hot desk occupancy to humidity levels, and making adjustments accordingly. Espresso machines remember personal preferences for drinks and send an alert when running low on coffee beans. In this way the building runs efficiently, providing cost savings and increasing worker productivity though a tailored working environment and streamlined processes, reducing the requirement for human interaction.

On a more easily achievable level, integration of applications such as CAFM, BMS and space planning software allow system communication and the creation of shared data, enabling actions to be generated directly between the systems. This is especially true when integrating with an IoT network of sensors. For example, a sensor placed next to an asset can take readings and monitor its condition. Any changes in the data received can be flagged to the integrated CAFM system, and an engineer dispatched to assess the asset without needing to log a job via the help desk and wait for it to be processed by an operative.

In this way, FM has lost some processes to machine-to-machine interaction, but the benefits gained are great. Potential asset problems are identified and dealt with before breakdown occurs, reducing downtime and customer inconvenience; calls to help desk can be reduced, allowing staff to focus on managing contracts and ensuring task completion in line with SLAs; and robotic porterage in healthcare, for example, means AGVs or Automatic Guided Vehicles  (such as at the new Royal Adelaide Hospital) can deliver fresh bed linen to patient rooms once the room has been identified as vacant. An alert is then automatically sent to a housekeeper to prepare the room so time is not wasted waiting for or collecting linen, and rooms are made available more quickly. Where porterage in this case has been replaced by an AGV, patients benefit from a more efficient discharge transportation service and personal care.

While robotics and automation are replacing some FM processes, the rapid progression of technology is ultimately improving service and reducing costs and the FM industry must continue to evolve in order to take maximum advantage of this.
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