By Elodie Bugnicourt (Ph.D.) and David F. Nettleton (Ph.D.)
The world has gone through 3 well re-known industrial revolutions linked respectively to steam machine appearance in the 19th century, mass production at the beginning of the last century culminating with the Ford model for work division, the use of electronics to programme manufacturing machines in the 70’s and now we are seeing the rise of the 4th industrial revolution.
In a recent blog article, we discussed some technical aspects related to this change of paradigm in the industry based on cyber physical systems, artificial intelligence based modeling tools, internet of things, etc. . Let’s now focus on what implications it may have for us in social and economic terms. Indeed, thanks to the new set of customizable tools now available to factories in virtually any sector, massive improvements are expected in the productivity, reliable quality, reduced scrap, and therefore also costs of our goods, as well as in cases to reach new unique features that were not accessible without smart manufacturing.
In the context of a decline in European growth due to the transfer of production assets to low labour cost countries, it has become clear that our 2nd sector is in high demand for innovations. While we cannot (or do not wish to) compete with costs, we have to compete thanks to our intelligence, i.e. knowledge transferred into breakthrough innovations across the board, human cognition and machine learning tools, among others. And there, the EU is well positioned with a very fair number of highly educated young people and highly experienced older ones, unluckily currently both with high unemployment rates. The use of Industry 4.0 is expected to be a great catalyst for repatriation of our smart factories to Europe, and therefore to create highly skilled jobs for young people from the “digital generation” and older experts who can add value as consultants.
A recent European Parliament briefing report , highlighted a shortage of skilled workers and the need for the intensive education and training of qualified personnel in digital and e-skills in order to cover the shortage in Europe of the expertise necessary to run the smart factories of Industry 4.0. This involves setting national targets, establishing centres of excellence, reinforcing standardisation, providing funding and boosting digital skills development. Manufacturing work is adapting from being manual labour centric to tasks such as programming and control of high performance machines, and employers also look for added value from personnel who are creative and have decision-making skills as well as technical and ICT expertise. A multistakeholder partnership has been created, called the “Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs” to potentiate ICT education and make it better aligned with the needs of industry. This coalition includes multinational companies such as Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Software AG together with local grass roots companies and stakeholders in individual EU countries.
IRIS’s view of the Industry 4.0 components proposes a holistic solution, including monitoring and control systems, as well as prediction modeling to assist in the best decision making.
Let’s not forget the positive influence that Industry 4.0 can have on our satisfaction as consumers as the smart factories will be equipped for making mass production but of smaller batches tailored to our “individual” needs. It can also better equip our society to deal with our environmental challenges. Indeed, the ability to work in optimal processing conditions will help to optimize energy usage and reduce non-recuperable waste resources, as a consequence of minimizing production scrap !
So, ready, steady go, for Industry 4.0!
 Davies, R., Industry 4.0 Digitalization for productivity and growth. European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS), Briefing September 2015.
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