Industry 4.0 has evolved from the need for increased flexibility, quality, efficiency and speed – It is a vision of changes in technology and the convergence of the digital and physical world. Manufacturers are starting to embrace the concept of the smart factory, either on a small or large scale. Whilst most of the technology used has been around for some time, it’s implementation is starting to make more commercial sense with the falling costs of sensors and the affordability and availability of cloud computing.
But there are still doubters, those who resist change and can only identify the negatives in a plan rather than appreciate the possibilities. Some are of the opinion that jobs will be lost as robots replace people, that the quality of a product will be compromised due to lack of supervision, or that the brand will be adversely affected due to customer reaction. In some specific cases this may be true but let’s also consider the advantages:
Robots replacing people
People will not be replaced fully by automation – yes people will be redistributed, but this will be one of the advantages automation brings. Where there is currently a repetitive, dangerous job being carried out by a human who is exposed to risk, there is an opportunity for automation. Safer operations will surely improve an employee’s quality of work life and possibly give them the opportunity to move into a higher skilled role. Resultant improved staff morale and a better skilled workforce can only be good for business. The key is to keep the staff in the loop, letting them know of any planned changes and setting out the impact and benefits for them as individuals and the business as a whole.
As already demonstrated, the human is not being taken out of the equation, therefore a level of supervision on any production line will still be evident. What will be minimised however is the error rate that can arise due fatigue, or distraction, or ill health. Subject to the robot being correctly programmed and the quality of the materials being used, the automated production line will keep on churning out the same product to the same specification every time, with minimum wastage.
Impact on the brand
Consumers’ expectations are driving automation – how else can a bespoke product be ordered online and delivered the following day ? Automated processes can cut down on errors, enable faster deliveries and speed up the restocking process – autonomous fleets of delivery vehicles are not too distant a vision. All of these factors contribute to a company’s ability to review and make improvements to customer service, giving the end used exactly what they want. It may well be that it is the failure to consider automation that will impact the brand due to a perception of outdated processes or obsolescence.