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The role of people in the successful digitalisation of manufacturing

Author : Neil Lewin is a Festo Didactic Learning and Development Consultant

02 February 2017

UK manufacturing sectors are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit the high calibre, skilled workforce they need to drive innovation, particularly engineers and scientists.

Industry 4.0

For example, the UK’s largest manufacturing sector – the food and drink industry - faces some challenges in skills shortage and an ageing workforce.  Currently 16 percent of total manufacturing turnover, the sector employs over 400,000 people, but it needs to attract around 120,000 new recruits over the next 10 years.

The next few decades will deliver yet more exciting change and opportunity for users of industrial automation, particularly across the following three key areas: technology, services and people. Not surprisingly, people will be perhaps the most critical area - and yet the area where the fundamental principles will remain largely unchanged. People want to feel valued, and to provide value themselves; they want to contribute to their organisation and to society. 

Meanwhile, the accelerating pace and rate of change across technology might contribute to higher levels of stress for many employees. Business leaders must be mindful of this in their organisations, helping bring their workforces along with change and giving them the appropriate skills. It will also be essential for successful business leaders to continuously improve and develop their own leadership competencies, to ensure their organisations enthusiastically engage their employees and to consistently demonstrate first-rate change management capabilities. 

Industry 4.0, and its uptake for the purpose of controlling machinery, is largely still to come. It should not be viewed as a single step change; it is an evolution that is accelerating. But, if Industry 4.0 is to deliver smarter factories, it will require engaged and knowledgeable staff. Festo has been quick to identify and address the training needs, with its ‘Qualification 4.0’ approach.

CP Factory

As the role of employees within the modern production environment transitions from that of simple machinery operator to highly skilled and quick-thinking problem-solver, new levels of training and knowledge will be fundamental. Education will become a key success factor in smarter industrial environments. For workforces to fully embrace increased digitalisation, 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. 

Festo’s involvement in this field started with the development of a training hardware system called the CP (Cyber Physical) Factory. Starting in 2017, the automation specialist will be running a two day ‘what and how, Industry 4.0’ seminar, which addresses the impact and opportunities arising from the digitalisation of manufacturing in an interactive workshop. It brings together technical and non-technical manufacturing leaders within OEM machinery builders’ and end user producers’ companies, and further courses will address specific technology topics either as open courses or customised in-company specific programs. 

Workshop participants can answer whether Industry 4.0 is fact or fiction, marketing hype or a technology breakthrough creating opportunity for manufacturers. Using the Festo Cyber Physical training factory, participants explore key technology developments and assess the impact on their organisation. Technical evolution and innovation create disruptive change, creating new products, services and business models but potentially leaving behind late adopters and those lacking the vision or resources to invest. The workshop participants consider the critical success factors to manage the change within their workforce and the tools for Management 4.0.

While it may be challenging to quantify the benefits of investing today in Industry 4.0 technologies, it is important to understand that in order to unlock and maximise its potential productivity gains and return on investment, it is critical to focus on people and help them address the challenges they will face. The role of people in the successful digitalisation of manufacturing is absolutely vital.

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