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Technologies tipping Industry 4.0 17/10/2017

Science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury once said, ‘Living at risk is jumping off a cliff and building your wings on the way down.’ Though this is an inspiring thought, it's unlikely that construction or even cognitive thought would be at the forefront of someone’s mind when faced with a precipice. Sometimes we need a push to tip us over the edge. Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director of EU Automation explores the top three tipping points in the realisation of Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0 is still a burgeoning concept. However, rapid socio-economic developments and changes are causing disruptions to business and society and the fourth industrial revolution is beginning to take its first few steps towards the steep drop. There are three major tipping points that could push Industry 4.0 in the direction of becoming a fully realised concept.

Data

An influx in the use and subsequent abundance of data can be attributed to the advancement of Industry 4.0 and has called for businesses to review their systems. The rise in data volumes has led to the coinage of the term, big data. This has caused a greater need than ever for companies to store and gather information and, in doing so, make better use of it. Companies are now making use of historic data with advanced analytics, thus enabling cognitive machines to self-diagnose and configure. The use of cyber-physical systems to detect issues increases productivity and quality. Businesses are also turning to smarter energy consumption by using product lifecycle platforms and cloud computing.

Connectivity

The age of economic globalisation has also been a driving factor in Industry 4.0. Global supply chains are becoming increasingly common, but are accompanied by efficiency issues due to distance and time zones. The Industry 4.0 solution for this is to create a virtual global factory — a network of businesses from multiple regions that can resolve issues of connectivity between businesses and also for the relationship between the customer and the supplier. 

The increasing use of technology such as Remote Database Access (RDA) and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to collate and distribute information supports the concept of the Internet of Things as a potential global digital infrastructure.

The customer

The end customer’s evolving needs have also energised Industry 4.0. Innovative technology, such as 3D printing, enables the conversion of a digital design into a physical product. This is rapidly materialising at an industrial level. Consequently, products can become customised to the individual, though they are made at a mass production level. 

The use of a digital system to design and create products creates flexibility for both business to business transactions and the end user. The combination of the customer’s human input and dynamic data analysis and response may mean that in the future a digital ecosystem is created whereby human decision is augmented through algorithms.

It is now time for businesses to take the leap for Industry 4.0 and one thing is clear. If you’re going to build wings for your leap of faith, you’re going to need a well though-out plan and a team that is invested in the upgrade. 

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The robots are coming 18/04/2017

In 1994, American scientist Marvin Lee Minsky, released a whitepaper which famously asked the question, ‘Will robots inherit the earth?’ While it may still be some time before we replace ourselves with androids, automation is having a significant impact on the way we work. Here, Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director of obsolete industrial parts supplier, EU Automation, predicts the impact of robotics on the job market.  

A recent report released by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), predicted that by 2030 up to a third of UK jobs could be affected by automation and robotics. But, are robots really taking our jobs?  

There has been much speculation on the true impact that robots will have on the workforce. While there is no denying that some job roles, particularly those involving manual labour, will cease to exist as more industries adapt automation processes, the benefits and bigger picture are often overlooked. 

The potential application of automation varies between sectors. Research by the McKinsey Global Institute found that while 59% of manufacturing activities have the potential to be automated, the level of automation in customer service roles is as little as 30%. In 2011, a study by the International Federation of Robotics found that one million industrial robots had directly created nearly three million jobs. This surge in employment can be attributed to one key factor — an increase in productivity as the result of using robotics. 

One of the key benefits of using industrial robots and automation is their ability to improve a businesses’ productivity, which leads to greater profitability and the creation of jobs. An example of this is the effect of the common ATM or cash machine. Many people feared that the widespread introduction of the ATM in the 1970s would see bank tellers lose their jobs, when in fact employment figures rose as ATMs reduced the overheads of many branches, meaning more could open. If productivity significantly increases demand for a product or service, job growth can be a direct result. 

Job transformation

Robots do not have the ability to perform creative jobs yet, and while machine learning allows them to adapt their working patterns, most industrial processes are only partially automated. Human labour will always be required to program, install, monitor and maintain robots, creating a range of new job roles, departments and companies. 

Automation will eliminate very few job roles in the next 10 years, but it will force employers to redefine them. With re-definition comes the need to upskill the workforce, something which is integral to a business. 

As digital processes and automation become more prevalent on the factory floor, the skills needed to be an engineer are expanding. Not only do engineers need to be able to use smart devices proficiently, they also need to be able to work alongside automation daily.

For an organisation to truly benefit from automation, it must evaluate and rethink all its processes, which may lead to changes in its culture. This activity can be challenging, but it is vital that both the employer and workforce work together to achieve the goal. Without the backing of employees, automation is rarely productive. 

Despite automation continuing to filter into our daily lives through self-service tills and driverless cars, we’re still a long way from robots overthrowing the human race. The aim of technological advancement has always been to benefit humankind and it’s important that we don’t forget this. 

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