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Posted on : Thursday 2nd July 2020 03:54 PM

People Power: the Driving Force of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

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The technology that is powering the fourth industrial revolution is now widely available and the value is clear - sensor and automation technologies are bringing better opportunities to update brownfield manufacturing sites across sectors and geographies all over the world. Yet, many manufacturers are battling to fully integrate the technology of the fourth industrial revolution more fully into their organizations: 70 percent of those who have introduced the technologies are finding themselves tangled in ‘pilot purgatory’, a negative state in which companies keep launching pilots, but are unable to scale up across a single location - let alone an entire organization.


If many media reports are to be regarded, these technologies are soon to to take possession fully, and the world’s workforce have to have to make way for robot overlords. The future is a grim, people-free workplace, with fully automated, AI-driven lights-out facilities.


The reality paints a different picture. Successful technology implementations at manufacturing sites are usually not typically designed to replace workers, instead, give them new capabilities and tools. While our research shows that many manufacturing processes can be automated - as much 90 percent by 2030 - this is the automation of tasks, not jobs, freeing up the workforce to focus on innovation and tasks that require dynamic decision-making skills.


Perhaps the fear exists mainly because there are so few examples being shared of how technology adoption is actually taking place in industrial sites. With this in mind, a collaborative research effort was launched between McKinsey and the World Economic Forum to survey 1,000 global manufacturing sites all over the world. We sought sites so advanced in their use of technology, analytics, and, yes, robots that they could stand out as beacons among their industry peers. We found 16 - the “Lighthouse sites” of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in manufacturing.


While this number is small, the value created with technology is exceeding industry benchmarks with overall productivity increases up to 160 percent, and they are illuminating a common path to uncover these gains. In the spirit of collaboration and partnership with the WEF, these sites opened their doors to share what they know.


What comes forth from the lighthouse examples are the shared values of augmenting the operator and democratizing technology. Schneider Electric - a lighthouse site based in France - is giving employees an opportunity to produce their own solutions on the shop floor. This collaborative effort resulted in the quick adoption of the new technologies, with a focus on benchmarking and analysis to drive improvements. In the same way, Proctor & Gamble created a smart lab complete with demos of digital technologies and invited all of their operators and employees to see. There, they asked their employees to look at what problems automation could solve and identify opportunities the technology might give them to boost productivity.


Today’s innovative production tools and new ways of working have the possibility to reframe careers in manufacturing. Compared to dirty, dull, and dangerous, working at a manufacturing site can turn to be a day spent on innovation and real-time problem-solving. This wouldn't be the first time that a leap in manufacturing know-how led to a better use of human creativity. When Toyota’s lean production system principles swept across both the manufacturing and service sectors, the companies that were able to replicate the secret sauce did so by giving more responsibility to their front-line teams.


And so, in this current period of transition, we see an equivalent recipe for success - and a focus on reskilling. Tata Steel’s Dutch plant recognized that building the capabilities of great numbers of people was crucial in its digital transformation. Rather than hire an army of new data experts, it empowered its skilled workers with new tools - new sources of data at their fingertips for decision making. Tata created the Advanced Analytics Academy to pair theoretical background and practical work, and have trained over 200 engineers, translators, and data scientists.


The first-mover lighthouse organizations are already well on their way to delivering significant jumps in productivity, and they are establishing a new standard for an engaged workforce and job satisfaction. By strengthening and reskilling their workforce, they create new economic and societal value, and are on the cusp of capturing the huge potential value available from 4IR technology. To build on the success of these frontrunners, the time for action by other manufacturers is now. And the key to that success will be their people.


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driving force sensor and automation technologies innovative production tools lighthouse organizations

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