The future of manufacturing: humans will innovate, technology will facilitate

By Rob Hiron, Account Director, Kronos Incorporated. 

Technology has undoubtedly been – and will continue to be – a powerful force in revolutionising the manufacturing sector. Machinery and automation have been instrumental in speeding up production processes and helping workers do their jobs more effectively, and the increasing pace of automation in the modern age is very much front of mind for a large number of professionals in the sector.

The automation debate is a captivating one, but for some it conjures up images of a world where their roles become obsolete, superseded by the ruthless efficiency and unwavering energy of machines. Despite these fears, this is a long way from the truth. The future world of manufacturing will always need the flair for innovation that only a human brain can provide: in effect, it will be people that provide the vision, and the technology that will then help to accomplish it.

A driving force for growth and change

The developed world has come a long way since the early days of the Industrial Revolution. Innovations including the assembly line brought much greater efficiency to the manufacturing process, and more modern inventions such as integrated electrical circuits have enabled us to break new ground in what is possible in the sector.

Workforce management and planning software have also been hugely effective in building the manufacturing floor of the future, including relieving managers of the mundane, time-consuming administrative tasks that were such a burden in the past. For example, using today’s AI-powered and automated solutions, processes such as shift scheduling, shift swapping or holiday planning can now be done with relative ease, giving managers and leaders the freedom to focus on how they can add further value to the business.

Alongside this, the rise of mobile has seen the proliferation of devices such as tablets being used on plant floors, providing greater flexibility for workers and allowing managers to spend more time with their people and come up with new ways to drive improvement.

As emerging technology continues to enter the manufacturing sector – think AI and machine learning – there is a huge amount of potential for this trend to continue.

Rise of the machines – should we be afraid?

As is the case with many major changes to the way people work, such a rapid increase in the presence of technology has inevitably been met with scepticism by some. As automation becomes more prominent, many workers feel that their roles will gradually diminish in importance. While it’s true that technology will bring more efficiency, the reality is that shop floors need people, not least in the essential tasks of monitoring, assessing and maintaining equipment.

With today’s technology and that of the future being more sophisticated than ever before, there is also an opportunity for human workers to learn new, advanced skills and for fresh talent to enter the industry and make its mark. The potential of these openings is even more prominent as the sector faces an ongoing skills shortage which needs to be rapidly addressed.

Essentially, workers and emerging technologies will coexist peacefully if we’re ready and willing to make the most of the opportunities they present.

People: always the greatest source of innovation

Emerging technologies have huge potential, but regardless of how heavily automated the manufacturing sector becomes, the biggest source of innovation and intelligence will always be people. Many responsibilities will always need the input of a human brain, especially when it comes to optimising new technology and coming up with unique ways of doing things.

Emerging technologies like AI and machine learning may have the ability to improve itself autonomously, but at the end of the day, it cannot be used to its full capabilities without people being there to make sure it runs smoothly. 

In short, people will innovate, and technology will facilitate. A major theme at this year’s KronosWorks. It’s the philosophy and ethos that will drive an industry and a company forward will always come from humans, and the technology will be a partner to help guide this journey.

With all of this in mind, it is vital that management works side-by-side with both people and technology to move the manufacturing sector forward, striking a balance between human and technological input that helps pave the way towards a successful future.

Collaborate, innovate, illuminate

Media headlines might focus on the fears that people have about automation and other emerging technologies, but with the right approach to the management of people and the adoption of new tech, workers in the manufacturing sector have everything to gain.

Machines and software may shake up the old ways of doing things, but within this evolution are so many opportunities for employees to grow their skillset, free themselves of administrative headaches and contribute more readily to the wider goals of the business. A collaborative relationship between humans and technology is the future for manufacturing: once this has become clear to every employee, the possibilities for growth are vast.

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