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Delivering Industry 4.0-ready workers

07 May 2016

Neil Lewin, consultant – training and development at Festo, believes that the full potential of Industry 4.0 will only be realised if factory-floor staff believe in the concept and are properly trained to deliver it. 

Industry 4.0 has transitioned from being simply a buzz-phrase to widespread understanding and acceptance in an astonishingly short space of time. First promoted by the German federal government and used at 2011’s Hannover Fair to describe the conceptual workings of forward-thinking German manufacturing companies, the term is now commonly used to outline the many strands of increased digitisation that will lead to smarter factories and streamlined production.

It is certainly a topic that is exciting food manufacturing companies across the globe. Production environments, with components that communicate with each other and control and regulate themselves, bring the potential of much higher levels of customisation. With mass customisation comes increased efficiencies and bigger returns.

However, the value of Industry 4.0 will only be realised if it is fully embraced by shop-floor workers. The human operator will remain the key element of modern production, but can expect to be assigned ever more new tasks. Employees on production lines will be required to perform complex decision-making, enact swift troubleshooting, and oversee effective preventative maintenance strategies. If Industry 4.0 is to deliver smarter factories, it will need an army of knowledgeable staff.

Festo has been quick to identify the training opportunities that this brings, with its ‘Qualification for Industry 4.0’ approach. The role of the employee within the modern production environment will be transferred from that of machinery operator to fast-thinking problem-solver, requiring new levels of training and knowledge. The topic of education will become a key success factor in smarter industrial environments. For workforces to fully embrace Industry 4.0, performing new and different tasks such as working alongside collaborative robots, they have to understand what it means and know how to make best use of it.

The role of people in the success of the digitalisation of manufacturing is critical. Industry 4.0 creates an opportunity for traditional, higher labour cost regions to remain globally competitive and able to meet the ‘customisation’ demand. That is an exciting possibility for countries such as the UK, that struggle to compete with emerging nations on cost alone.

Obstacles to adoption
However, in tandem with technical competency, Industry 4.0 also requires a strong focus on change management. One of the biggest obstacles to adoption will be employee reaction and acceptance. If workers are concerned that Industry 4.0 will eliminate their jobs, they are bound to be resistant to it.

Huge efforts need to be made to ensure staff understand that Industry 4.0 is more of an opportunity than a threat.

That means managers also need to sharpen their skills. Change is not easy for all employees to accept, so leadership skills in change management will be critical. The effective handling of change management will ultimately differentiate between winners and losers in the Industry 4.0 revolution.

Practical training in the use of new technologies can be conducted using Festo’s cyber-physical research and learning platform ‘CP Factory’. The CP Factory is a modular learning environment that can be used to qualify personnel in the operation of a particular production process or technology. Different modules can be added for the qualification of underlying principles across areas such as assembly lines, fabrication, production planning, quality control, and lean methodologies.

The CP Factory pulls together mechatronics and network formation. The platform replicates the workstations of a real production facility enabling staff to learn how to program facilities, set up networks and optimise many other aspects such as energy efficiency. It can be used to test and develop cooperation between intelligent components, together with their interconnections, under real conditions. It is where Industry 4.0 starts to come to life and several UK institutes and academic establishments who want to be in the vanguard of Industry 4.0 technology are actively considering the use of the Cyber Physical Factory.

It is clear that Industry 4.0 is not restricted to the adoption of new technologies. It also requires a fundamental change in the way that managers and shop-floor employees carry out their roles within production environments. With ‘Qualification 4.0’, Festo is putting the necessary skills and competencies in place.

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