New renaissance in manufacturing
Smart manufacturing is changing the way we look at automation and manual work. Gary Mintchell, an acclaimed writer, advisor and speaker on technology and manufacturing, shares his views on what are the pros and cons of the digitalization that is currently revolutionizing manufacturing. What will be the role of humans in the process of manufacturing goods?
Mintchell views the development as a natural part of evolution in industrialization. People have always tried to lighten the burden of manual labor with technical solutions and innovations. This has freed their time to focus on other things and has also made work more secure.
“What we are really doing is making things safer – we have removed people from potentially dangerous locations in various sides of manufacturing, for instance in painting and automotive plants. We have always focused on an ergonomic way of doing things in order to prevent repetitive stress syndrome and all that. Current technological developments allow us to focus on how we can further use things like robotics, working alongside people, to make processes more effective and, furthermore, how we can have people and technology working together safely.”
New types of jobs will emerge
With smart manufacturing reducing the need for human labor, some jobs will probably vanish – but new ones should also emerge. The challenge with this is that we don’t yet know what those future jobs could be. Mintchell thinks that new types of employment come from the visionary people that develop new products and services, of which we may not know about today. On the other hand there are actually a lot of jobs that require people skills or relationship skills. That is likely to stay that way.
“I think that people will be displaced from one kind of work and hopefully they will be put into another kind of work that is more human. Work that requires more of the entire human being – not just their hands or their back.”
What will smart analytics mean for manufacturing businesses’ efficiency or their supply production chains? Well, those are also going through a paradigm shift. By harvesting all the data in a plant it is possible to monitor the performance in real time, noticing what works and what doesn’t minute-by-minute. No more monthly reporting that lets you know what happened in the past when it’s already too late to change it. Smart analytics can help reduce the very costly stoppage times and provide better tools for planning all turnarounds and downtime in plants.
“Maintenance people are learning that there is this existing technology in their plants that they didn’t know about that has the ability to monitor things and stop wasting time. No more sending people off to lubricate some bearings or replace some valve just because it’s always been done every five years – no matter whether it actually needs to be done or not. Less money and time wasted.”
Helping and empowering people to adopt new tools
The biggest hurdle with these smart analytics is that people might not know how to use them. Properly capitalizing on industrial internet requires a change in human behavior. This won’t happen overnight.
“It’s about how we can help people become better business managers. How we can use these technologies for business problems, not just for control problems.”
It takes some time and effort to motivate people and explain the advantages of the tools at hand. Unfortunately there are even examples where the technology is there but it has been deliberately switched off because people still believe they can spot things better with their own eyes than with the help of technology. The innovations can’t help you if you don’t let them.
“There is, for example, a technology called HART (Highway Addressable Remote Transducer). Many of the instruments in plants are enabled by HART which is a digital technology over an analog signal. Some people are only using the old fashioned analog signal and have not even turned on the digital part that would provide valuable information to them.”
One way of getting people to use the technology is improving the user interface. According to Mintchell, a lot of effort is being put towards this as we speak. Overall, it has a lot to do with our willingness to try and learn new things and open our eyes to the possibilities of the new era.
“It’s about how we can help people become better business managers. How we can use these technologies for business problems, not just for control problems. Instead of thinking about automation as the end, automation is just a platform where we can control things better and enable people to make the appropriate decisions. I think we are on the verge of a new renaissance in manufacturing.”
Gary Mintchell works as an advisor and speaker. He is also the editor of The Manufacturing Connection: http://themanufacturingconnection.com/
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