There’s a billboard that I drive past every day that always makes me stop and think.
It says, “Robots can’t take your job if you’re retired.”
You know that the “robots are taking over the world” concern is real when you start seeing fear-mongering ads about job insecurity plastered onto a 672-square foot sign. It’s certainly an “us vs. them” message.
While the pervasive fear of a takeover can influence our daily lives, no industry is more impacted by the robot revolution than manufacturing.
The good news is that it’s not all bad news.
The emergence of manufacturing trends such as smart factories is indeed changing the traditional makeup of manufacturing — for the better.
Here’s why the smart factory revolution is here to stay, and why you and your workforce should embrace it, not fear it.
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What is a smart factory?
A smart factory is essentially a highly digitized, connected production facility powered by smart machines. In other words, it’s the ultimate intersection of machinery, automation, and optimization.
With almost daily breakthroughs in AI, neural nets, machine learning, and self-optimization, manufacturing is a natural space to unleash the power of the smart machine.
While the financial benefits of a constantly optimized mechanical labor force are pretty clear, the impact it will have on the very human component of the workforce is still unknown — which makes it seem scary.
Enter the fear-mongering anti-robot billboards.
Industry 4.0 has arrived
Let’s be clear, smart factories aren’t just a fad. They are most certainly here to stay.
Here are a few stats to illustrate how permanent this change to the manufacturing industry is:
- The projected global smart manufacturing size is expected to grow to $480 billion by 2023
- The projected sales of collaborative robots (co-bots) is projected to reach $12.8 billion by 2025
- The industrial IoT (Internet of Things) could add $14.2 trillion to the global economy by 2030
Many have described the smart factory wave as the inevitable outcome of the fourth industrial revolution, also known as Industry 4.0.
Powered by a relentless search for peak mechanical efficiency, smart factories are the resulting convergence of AI, robotics, analytics, and the ubiquitous “Internet of Things.”
They are the pinnacle of operational efficiency and can run largely autonomously. Smart factories even have the wherewithal to self-correct and self-optimize their own already extremely efficient processes.
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You may be thinking to yourself, but where are the humans in all of this?
I’m so glad you asked.
Unlike the aforementioned billboard would have you believe, humans still play a crucial role in the manufacturing industry.
Here’s how robots and humans can co-exist in the manufacturing space, and bring out the best in each other.
Reading between the lines: A place where human intuition excels
No matter how advanced AI technology becomes, humans actually excel at communication. It may seem surprising, but it’s true. Here’s why.
Turns out, humans are uniquely skilled at understanding the highly nuanced meaning of words and ideas. Which is useful when you’re personalizing your customer journey or responding to requests.
A recent article in Wired examined AI technology’s inability to do the same.
“We’re able to take concepts we’ve learned, and combine them in different ways, and apply them in new situations,” says Melanie Mitchell, a professor at Portland State University. “These AI and machine learning systems are not.”
Essentially, when it comes to conveying ideas effectively, it’s humans 1, robots 0.
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The importance of internal communications for manufacturing workforces
Since we know that humans are far better communicators than robots, it naturally follows that they should be equipped with the right tools.
Effective internal communication for your manufacturing workforce is essential to running your factory like a well-oiled machine and ensuring the safety of your frontline workers. Making sure communication is a two-way street will give everyone a chance to voice ideas and concerns freely. This, in turn, makes for a more engaged workforce.
When you run a business with as many moving parts as a manufacturing facility, juggling operations can be a daunting task.
Between measuring productivity and tracking time for your manufacturing crew, keeping them motivated, and providing them with the right communication tools, it can seem almost impossible to get it all right.
But by understanding what humans are uniquely good at, and combining that skill with efficiently of a self-correcting automated machine, the production possibilities are virtually endless.
About the author
Jessica Ruane is Beekeeper‘s Content Writer, where she creates content aimed at teaching companies how to unleash the potential of their frontline workforce. She especially enjoys providing tips and telling stories around operational efficiency, leadership, and the changing landscape of the digital workplace.