Production workers of the future move from manual to digital
One of the notable trends in heavy industries has been the move towards digitalization. This has an inevitable effect on the roles of current industrial production and maintenance workers. The change brings about questions regarding company core activities and responsibilities, says Mikko Mäki-Rahkola, the Development Manager IT at Pesmel, an internal logistics solutions supplier.
Digitalization brings its own set of requirements for the workers on the factory floor. The need for manual labor lessens, and at the same time specialization in maintenance and upkeep becomes more relevant. In the future looms the idea of a fully automatic factory, where there might be only one worker in charge of the whole production facility. Still, the need for workers who have specific maintenance insight on the different parts of the automated facilities, will exist for a long time due to lack of self-maintaining or self-repairing equipment in sight.
“Let’s say there were a hundred workers on an assembly line in the beginning of the 20th century. Today, there are only ten assisted by automatic equipment and software. In 2030, a single person may oversee multiple production facilities and lines remotely without any workers participating in the physical production process”, Mäki-Rahkola says.
In contrast to the ever smaller number of workers needed for the production, the amount of maintenance staff will increase, as there are more automatic devices which require professionals to keep them in working condition.
For production facilities where the machinery is custom built for its particular use or for which the maintenance requires more specialized knowledge, this maintenance staff will be increasingly hired from a specialized contractor, most often the equipment provider. The kind of maintenance, which requires only basic knowledge of the equipment or the production process in question could still be handled in-house.
“In 2030, a single person may oversee multiple production facilities and lines remotely without any workers participating in the physical production process.”
“Industrial equipment maintenance will be performed by humans for tens of years to come. Regarding the question of how they receive information for the task at hand and how they will perform the tasks, I believe that we will see significant changes in ways of working”, Mäki-Rahkola says.
The benefits of IoT implementation realize over a lengthy period
The rate at which the aforementioned change becomes topical for companies depends on their speed in investing to new technology. And, Mäki-Rahkola mentions, what works for one company might not work for another – the solutions regarding the Industrial Internet need to be tailored for the needs of the client.
“The maturity of discussion and customer-vendor dialogue around IoT solutions is still quite low today and very technology driven. As a result, the actual IoT solution business integration might get fully left for the client, who then has to find out how they can best utilize the provided tools and information. The fact is, that a solution that brings 100 units of extra benefit for another company might bring none to some other”, Mäki-Rahkola says.
Even though the interest towards the Industrial Internet and the possibilities it brings has grown considerably over the past few years, the actual change happens incrementally instead of sudden huge leaps.
“Many industrial operators are playing it safe at the moment, and waiting to see how the current trends develop. Also, the investment cycles, especially in heavy industry are long and can easily span over a decade or more”, Mäki-Rahkola reminds.
The evident and instant benefits from investing into the research concerning the Industrial Internet cannot always be calculated straight away, and it is always easier to follow other companies’ examples than to be the one doing pioneer work in the field.
“I believe that you have to have faith in your vision, take controlled risks and believe in the fact, that your clients will appreciate the added value when they see it.”
Despite the long cycles, according to Mäki-Rahkola, we are going through an interesting and accelerating period in the development of the industrial business. Even though the digitalization process takes time, if someone develops a truly disruptive operating model or a product, there might occur a sudden surge forwards in the way we understand IoT.
“It would be interesting to see what this kind of a disruption might entail, but as the environment differs radically from the commercial markets, there is a higher threshold for these kinds of disruptions to emerge”, Mäki-Rahkola says.
To sum it up, it is challenging to envision how the factory floor of the not-so-far future will look like, but what is certain is that the role of the workers will certainly be different. The digitalization of manufacturing and maintenance doesn’t remove the human factor from the process, it merely transforms it into something completely different.
Mikko Mäki-Rahkola works as Development Manager IT at Pesmel