Much has been said about smart factories and Industry 4.0. How technology will usher in a new era of hyper-productivity, long-term cost savings and greater efficiency. This vision is fast becoming a reality, with a host of new roles now emerging thanks to technological advances.
To prepare, manufacturing leaders must get to grips with incoming advances now and adjust their business and talent strategies accordingly.
Those that do, are predicted to be up to seven times more productive, in part, due to more data. Productivity is constantly optimised in a smart factory. If one element is slowing down output, Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems will identify and flag it.
Predictive maintenance will reduce equipment downtime and potential issues can be rectified before they hit production timelines. Machinery at risk of breakdown can be serviced before they fail. Remote sensors and diagnostics can alert human operators about problems – something that’s especially useful in remote locations.
This will require data-literate workers who can work with AI to spot anomalies and act on insights. Data scientists will build the machine learning algorithms powering predictive maintenance and oversee the AI’s work to ensure it’s working as it should.
Automation will take over a lot of the manual work done by humans. This should free them up to focus on more strategic and uniquely ‘human’ tasks. Some work will still be completed by humans, with the help of ‘co-bots’ (an intriguing take on co-workers) who work alongside them and do the physical activities that humans cannot do.
This will also level the playing field. Nearly three in four women don’t see manufacturing as a viable career. This is partly due to an expectation of manual labour and repetitive work – giving it a tiresome reputation. With robotics, that won’t be the reality for human workers anymore.
Of course, someone will have to act as a go-between for humans and robots to work effectively together. Deloitte predicts the emergence of ‘Robot Teaming Coordinators’ who’ll help humans get used to their robot co-workers.
The Internet of Things (IoT) will provide data and insights on machinery, operations, and productivity. Workers could even don wearable devices to monitor their stress levels and health. Augmented reality goggles could relay instructions to assembly line workers, or warn of potential dangers (for example, live cables).
This means that IoT engineers will be in high demand as smart factories gain momentum. It’s worth investing in IoT capabilities (including talent) now, as their scarcity will only grow. Of course, upskilling current employees is another option.
Blockchain will help organisations track products throughout the supply chain. Because it’s an immutable record of everything that’s happened, it’s more secure compared to current record keeping. This makes pharmaceutical and food compliance easier, reduces fraud and can prove sustainability.
In order to achieve this, manufacturers will need to boost Blockchain-literacy across the company. Although user-friendly interfaces will be developed, it’s still helpful to have a basic understanding of what Blockchain is.
Therein lies the crux for manufacturers. All employees, from the factory floor to senior management must be digitally literate in Industry 4.0. Technology will underpin every facet of manufacturing. Workers who don’t understand digital basics will be at a huge disadvantage in the future and it’s up to manufacturers to prepare now or risk falling behind the times.
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