Industry 4.0: It's About Powerful People

Industry 4.0 is the face of the future

With all the talk about Industry 4.0, it is sometimes difficult to separate the value from the hype. As a standalone term, it can seem like a daunting, gigantic concept that can prompt reactive tactics and spending.

The average business might wonder if they’re lagging, or if they need to immediately invest in cutting-edge technology to stay competitive. The short answer is not necessarily, but the long answer is more complicated.

What is Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0 will undoubtedly have a significant impact on people in many ways, whether you’re thinking about how it will affect aspects of our everyday lives like shopping or major events like natural disasters that harm people immensely.

Bernard Marr, in the article The Fourth Industrial Revolution Is Here— Are You Ready? Explores the promises and potential perils associated with the transition to Industry 4.0 and highlights that “Indeed, one of the greatest promises of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the potential to improve the quality of life for the world’s population and raise income levels.” 

Many of us in the western world already enjoy the convenience and benefits of the connected world, new products, and services, as Marr also suggests. That said, it’s important to note what Industry 4.0 can do for people outside of things associated with our everyday lives, like purchasing new products. 

In the article How the Fourth Industrial Revolution can help us prepare for the next natural disaster, Scott L David highlights how Industry 4.0 technology will even benefit us at managing active disasters and possibly even preventing disasters. “The technologies and systems of the Fourth Industrial Revolution offer very powerful assets for responding to natural disasters. With nearly 6 billion mobile phone users worldwide, connected individuals have proven to be one of the most effective and efficient ways of strengthening resilience when disaster strikes. Likewise, social media, drones, satellite imagery and predictive analytics have all been tremendously helpful for coordinating responses and accelerating the recovery of individuals and communities in the aftermath of recent natural disasters.”

Is it all hype?

Industry 4.0 is mostly a marketing buzzword to easily identify a modernization of manufacturing and the interconnection of computers to be more efficient than ever before. In fact, manufacturing is leading the way in Industry of Things (IoT) spending and is expected to spend $189 billion by 2020. By 2021, more than 55% of that spending on IoT projects will be for software and services.

However, it’s easy to start thinking that a certain tool or software will move a manufacturing company to be competitive in Industry 4.0. Manufacturers can be disillusioned by the promises of artificial intelligence and what it can actually do.

Successful industry 4.0 strategies have one thing in common: they consider and incorporate the skills, expertise, and experiences of the people who work there.

What are the elements and applications of Industry 4.0?

While not all shop floors need a network of computers to be a smart factory, savvy manufacturers identify opportunities to support production with Industry 4.0 design principles.

Augmented management, where technology and data science support human potential, is the sweet spot of Industry 4.0. Connected machines can offer invaluable insights about efficiency, performance, and quality. This can be low-hanging fruit for manufacturers who want to make the biggest improvements with the least impact on their current operations. Knowing what needs attention with the help of automated, custom data analytics takes the load off over-worked managers by supporting their decisions with data.

It's about people

The biggest misconception about Industry 4.0 is that it’s about technology. It’s about people.

Companies that take a technology-first approach will be no doubt disappointed in what it can deliver realistically. The best way to leverage all the available technology is to look at people and desired outcomes first.

To be at the forefront of Industry 4.0, manufacturers must empower their workforce to make decisions based on data and support them in learning new technologies. These new concepts require new knowledge to support organizational goals. Here’s how:

  1. Develop soft skills: With the integration of any process or organizational change, soft skills are more important than ever before. Change often requires disruption of social relationships and habits for workers, so the development of soft skills such as communication and change management can make a significant positive difference. Middle managers, often thought as obstructions to progress, can be the biggest allies in this area.
  2. Develop digital skills: Digital skills, and sometimes even basic digital literacy, is a key element of modernizing a shop floor. Training workers must be included in any Industry 4.0 strategy and will ensure higher retention rates in the future. More importantly, empowering staff with digital knowledge frees up their time to make decisions and solve problems.
  3. Use augmented management as the catalyst: Now that machines are at the point where they can provide data, the key is to use that information wisely. While AI is amazing, no computer can consider all elements of a situation – environmental, emotional, physical, etc. – to make a decision better than a human being. Augmented management is the intersection of data science, artificial intelligence, and, most importantly, human potential. Technology simply supports the limitless capabilities of operators, managers, and engineers.

When building an Industry 4.0 strategy, start with why. Then ask who.

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