I, Data Center: An Interview with A Robotics Professional
December 19th, 2013 By: Bill Kleyman
Bill: Let’s take a quick look into the future. Where do you see robotics going over three to five years?
Scott: In the next three to five years, I see the adaptive capability advances of the current generation of industrial robots leading to more collaborative work with humans. ANSI recently revised their safety standard, which included allowances for robots and humans to share the same work space safely. This is something that is radically new. Previously, robots had to be locked away in cages and humans couldn’t come near them when they were in automatic operation. Well safety equipment has come a long way since the last ANSI revision, and robots have more awareness of their surroundings than ever before. Let’s face it, there are some things that humans will always do better than a robot. If we can develop processes that allow the robot to do 90% of the work and not seriously injure a human operator while they do the rest, we will start to see robots popping up everywhere.
Bill: A big push-back from some data center folks has been the conversation that robotics are here to replace the admin. Is that true? Or, do you feel that robotics is going to supplement the human and reduce errors, simplify easy tasks, and improve overall data center performance?
Scott: Yes and no. Surely some jobs in the data center exist solely because there are so many laborious tasks involved in running one. However the low-skilled tasks are really the only ones in danger of becoming obsolete in the face of robotics. A robot can perform a physical task over and over, without deviating more than a couple thousandths of an inch each time it does it. The thing is that it needs to be told to do it in the first place. Robots lack intuition and analytical problem solving skills. We can define parameters within software quite well and react any time something strays outside of them, but the real world likes to throw curveballs. Humans will always be around to make sure everything goes according to plan.
Bill: The future looks to really revolve around cloud, mobility and even more data center utilization. Do you see a future of a “lights-out” data center being possible? Is an environment that that requires absolutely minimal human interaction plausible? And, how are you and your organization preparing for the inevitable increase of robotics within the data center?
Scott: I absolutely do see a lights-out data center in our future. One of the biggest hurdles in creating a truly lights-out factory warehouse is all of the product deviation. If you only make one thing and you produce it by the thousands, it’s certainly much easier to make lights-out a reality. However most manufacturers are so diversified that it’s never that simple, and compromises have to be made along the way. What data centers have going for them is that there is already a decent amount of standardization involved. When data center products start to be developed with automation and robotic handling in mind, that standardization will only improve.
At DevLinks, we always welcome the challenge of putting a robot into a new setting. While we are an automation company that primarily focuses on manufacturing, we do have staff that have considerable IT experience and have even worked for some of the major manufacturers in that sector. Speaking the language would certainly make any data center integration we might do in the future that much more seamless. With that pooled knowledge and our extensive experience with process control and 100% accountability, I believe we would be well prepared for the task. It will definitely depend on whether we’re talking about new construction or adapting an existing data center, however. When we do have discussions about this topic, the general consensus is that it will be much easier to design a data center around the automation rather than the other way around. This is of course true of nearly any process you may want to automate. End-users who think about automation from the ground up almost always have better success than those who try to retro-fit.
Many data center and robotics professionals are predicting that the next couple of years will be big leaps when it comes to placing more robotics in the data center environment. Already, robotics designers are looking at ways that they can integrate their sophisticated robotics machines with the future data center model. These conversations are happening now and plans are already being drawn out. Just like any technology, there will be hurdles to clear. Still, by incorporating unbelievable levels of automation and data center optimization, you and your organization can be on the road to creating the true next-generation infrastructure.