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There’s more than one way to calculate ROI for autonomous work

When it comes to industrial technology, return on investment (ROI) is everything. Otherwise, why spend the money if it doesn’t offer some kind of positive return or outcome?

According to a recent survey of over 160 construction, agriculture and mining leaders, expectations for autonomy ROI are high. Of the 87% who say their organizations made autonomy investments in 2022 — and the 94% who say they plan to continue their autonomy investments over the next five years — the majority also expect to fully recoup their investment costs in under five years. 

Nearly half (48%) anticipate achieving a full ROI in as few as one to three years, while another 26% expect it to happen in four to five years. Either way, that makes for a quick payback!

ROI comes in many forms. How do industry technology professionals measure ROI, and what sorts of results have they seen so far? Here’s what the survey revealed.

1. Time savings

When you automate tasks and workflows, workers can save time by redirecting their attention toward tasks that aren’t as dangerous, dull or repetitive. 

In fact, time savings is one of the top reasons that surveyed leaders invest in autonomous work. Almost half (49%) report that they get more work done in less time thanks to current autonomy investments, and 45% expect their future investments to help them get more work done faster.

2. Improvement in consistency & quality

Because autonomy provides consistent, accurate and uniform results with much less variation than a human worker can provide, it naturally boosts quality, which can improve ROI. 

Autonomous technology also prevents costly and time-consuming rework due to deviations and reduces the errors and flaws that result from manual work — both of which positively contribute to the bottom line.

3. Labor cost reductions

Depending on how you integrate autonomous work within your organization, it can make a vast difference in labor requirements. For example, fully autonomous applications call for little to no human intervention, allowing workers to leave equipment and focus on more important aspects of a project.

“There’s a cost associated with not only hiring, but also sourcing and training the workforce,” says Giri Baleri, director of product management and strategic marketing, off-road autonomy, at Trimble. “By taking the operator out of the machine, you obviously don’t need to dedicate that labor to that job.” 

But autonomy can bring another labor benefit, too: expanding your labor pool. Depending on the skills required to complete a certain task once autonomy is involved, you may be able to employ someone with a more basic skillset by equipping them with the right tools and technology.

The ability to complete more work with fewer people is one of the top reasons why industrial technology leaders invest in autonomous work. With the investments they’ve made so far, 53% can get more work done with fewer people; 47% expect to get more work done with fewer people after future autonomy investments are made.

4. New revenue opportunities

When autonomous work allows processes to be completed faster without sacrificing quality or safety, your team can take on more jobs — and expand their capabilities. This opens doors to new revenue possibilities.

“If you’re a construction contractor, simply having technology as part of your portfolio can differentiate you and help you stand out from the pack, which naturally creates new revenue opportunities,” explains Baleri. These new opportunities could come in the form of your ability to take on more work, offer new services or present fast-tracked schedules to customers.

Leaders in construction, agriculture and mining are experiencing this right now, with 42% building a stronger competitive advantage thanks to current autonomy investments, and 31% generating additional revenue.

When it comes to future autonomy investments, 40% expect to build a stronger competitive advantage down the road; 30% expect to generate additional revenue.

5. Safety improvements

From medical and administrative expenses to lost time and slowed productivity, on-the-job injuries are costly. Improving safety and reducing the potential for injury or accidents is another way that autonomous work provides ROI.

“Autonomy means you don’t have to put operators in harm’s way,” explains Baleri. “In construction, we hear that the most common cause of injury is someone trying to get in and out of a machine on a site. If you can minimize the number of times this happens, you could minimize safety issues and increase return on investment.

What else are industry tech leaders saying about autonomy?

Trimble and Industry Dive surveyed 160+ C-suite executives, directors, managers, and supervisors in construction, agriculture, and mining on autonomous work. How do your experiences with autonomous work compare to what they shared? 

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