As a fifth-generation cookie manufacturer, I not only ate a lot growing up, I was also exposed to the growth and challenges of modern manufacturing. When I was young, the sheer size of the machines used to impress me, but as I grew older, I became even more impressed by the new technologies entering the factory. The equipment changed quickly, new processes and technologies were implemented at the same rate to keep up with the growing demands of our changing customers.
The adoption of new technologies in our factories has not only been a key factor in the renewal of our practices and habits on the floor, but also drove us to develop a new learning culture. We didn’t want to miss the boat.
Some call it the fourth industrial revolution, others, industry 4.0, whatever you call it, the manufacturing revolution has started. The idea of Smart Factories and the connectivity between production lines has changed the dynamics in factories forever. Industry 4.0 promises to reshape the way things are made, it now combines the physical and the digital world.
As the IoT wave reaches the factory, connecting machines together and making data available in real-time, managers are able to see at any time the status of their operations and are using it to make decisions. Regardless of automation, factories will need people to operate equipment on the floor. They will always need to be a part of the equation for a complete picture.
People are what drive a company forward. Culture teaches people how to act, think and feel to be able to work together towards a common goal.
As employees, we will have to evolve with our environment as well in order to stay relevant and continue to bring value to the organization. We all know that sensors, big data, artificial intelligence and robotics will replace or change some positions, but having access to this information will also increase the skill level required for existing jobs and create new ones. With a new era comes new work frames.
The employee in the industry 4.0 era will go from routine manual work to overseeing and supporting advanced equipment and solving complex technical problems. Workers that were packing products by hand will now mostly have to:
Employees will need to be more flexible and be able to adapt to different situations on a daily basis. I don’t believe operators will ever be removed from factories nor do I think that complete automation will justify the investment required to achieve it.
Over several years working on the factory floor, I had the chance to work closely with a number of our most experienced employees. They saw the changes and technological improvements through the years. The revolution not only facilitates their operations, but also creates a new working environment, and different learning patterns. Manufacturing companies will need to develop tools, systems and processes to support them in this digital transition in order to:
With these tools and systems, manufacturers will not only be able to connect their machines together, but also their workers.
Industry 4.0 will inevitably create learning 2.0 in factories. The industrial revolution is shifting the role of employees, who, in the past handled the products, are now operating the robots that handle the products. Producing quality products still falls back on the skills of the workers adjusting and maintaining the robots.
We need to learn, we need to match the speed and degree of changes happening in our factories.
Developing our employees in factories will be the key to success in the transition towards industry 4.0, companies need to develop a sense of urgency in creating a learning culture in their smart factories.