The current COVID-19 pandemic has thrown up significant and unexpected challenges for every industry, including manufacturing. This is the time to accept the challenges and embrace new opportunities. The pandemic has introduced us to a ‘new normal’ which involves:
Working in local geographies
Most of these will hasten the adoption of the Industry 4.0 principle of cyber-physical systems and local availability of parts with limited transportation. Smart manufacturing is expected to gain ground. Smart manufacturing is where manufacturers utilise cloud technology to store and access vast amounts of data that can be used in manufacturing applications within a factory or across an entire supply chain. Some benefits of smart manufacturing include:
Smart manufacturing processes provide greater access to data across an entire supply chain network. Real-time data outlines what a manufacturer needs and when. They supply what’s needed, thereby reducing waste and any downtime associated with missing parts.
Innovation and higher quality products
When productivity is improved, it saves money. It could then be invested in product development. Smart manufacturing data shows where customer needs are and businesses can find opportunities for new products or re-imagined products of a higher quality.
Increased manufacturing jobs
Smart manufacturing is a way to attract the younger, tech-savvy, skilled workforce since more technology-based manufacturing jobs will become available. By utilising smart manufacturing data and apps, employees can recognise new opportunities and increase productivity.
Manufacturers can reduce their carbon footprint by reducing waste. Energy intensive industries have the most to gain in terms of energy savings that will not only reduce energy waste but also make products more affordable.
The skills that could be required to bring about an Industry 4.0 transformation is to think about IIoT in context of an autonomous assembly line. It could include 3D printers and other Additive Manufacturing techniques running alongside Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) lathes and newer machines capable of executing highly variable, multi-step processes using robotic vision and Artificial Intelligence. In addition to this, we may have collaborative robots that work alongside humans. This calls for not only multiple skills sets but, in many instances, the blending of those skills. These skills will cut across silos and specialisations to create a whole new category of technology professionals – ones who understand the convergence of operational technologies and information technologies.
The five most important skills required will include:
Cybersecurity – Cybersecurity is already a major concern for companies that, to date, probably have not had to think much about it. When few of the older machines have been turned into data-generating network endpoints and linked together with new equipment, which in turn is tied into backend ERP systems and supply chains, a company's attack surface expands exponentially.
Data scientists – The IoT deployments fuelling Industry 4.0 will generate vast quantities of data. All that data will need to be captured and analysed so it can be used to improve machine performance, reduce resource consumption, assist in quality control, make supply chains more efficient and introduce new products and services.
Networking – Connecting machines to each other and to the command & control systems that will oversee them will require the skills of a highly-skilled network engineer. They will have to be up to date on WANs, edge networking and fog computing as well as next-gen 5G networking technologies, Wi-Fi and the low-power LAN protocols that IoT devices often run on.
Software engineers, application developers & programmers – These jobs will be required in various forms from one end of the Industry 4.0 ecosystem to the other. Manufacturers will need skilled manpower to write and modify programs for machines as well as develop new interfaces for their human counterparts to interact with them.
Architects – IT architects will have a role to help systems engineers on the operational side meld the physical and logical worlds. People in this role will be required to understand the full dimensions of a company's existing business, its processes and its digital transformation goals and then figure out how to tie it all together using technology.
It is imperative now that we utilise this opportunity to prepare skilled manpower for the future of the manufacturing industry. The world belongs to the workforce which has the skills to survive through multi-skilling and skills for integrating specialised skills.