Industry 4.0: From the designer’s and operator’s perspective.
How smart research factories can help shape the roles of designers, operators and machines in the coming fourth industrial revolution.
What is Industry 4.0?
Traditional manufacturing industries are currently at the beginning of a digital transformation that will be accelerated by growing technologies. Companies and their industrial processes need to adapt to this rapid change if they are not to be left behind by developments in their sector and by their competitors. They are calling it ‘Industry 4.0’ and it’s expected to transform the future of manufacturing. Industry 4.0 is the next stage of the digitalization of manufacturing driven by 5 disruptions: The rise in data volumes, the emergence of analytics and business intelligence capabilities; new forms of human machine interaction such as augmented reality systems; improvements in transferring digital instructions to the physical world such as advanced robotics and 3D printing and the development of machine learning.
Smart research factory
The bmvit (Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology), with Technical University Vienna are planning to build a smart research factory where new methods and processes will be researched and developed so that they can later be taken up by companies in their regular production. “It is about the development of prototypes and product technologies, processes technologies and processes up to market maturity.” This initiative is an exciting prospect for the manufacturing industries and has caught our imaginations here at Schindler Creations. As a design agency who places the user at the center of our processes, we see the importance of such research factories to understand what the implications are for us as designers and more importantly for machine operators. Therefore, one of the main questions for these smart research factories is to understand what the implications and the new roles for designers and machine operators are as we move into the fourth industrial revolution.
One of the main concerns when talking about automated or smart machines has been ‘do we need people anymore?’ What becomes of the machine operator who’s manually been doing tasks that the machines will now do automatically? This was a point stressed by Swiss bank UBS in a report launched in Davos. It notes that there will be a “polarization of the labor force as low-skill jobs continue to be automated”.
There is the assumption that smart factories will make machine operators redundant. It is true that the new technologies will relieve production employees of certain work procedures, such as the acquisition, evaluation and utilization of data for control of processes. In return, other work procedures will be added, for example the supervision of a larger number of machines and processes connected in networks, or cooperation with software engineers and representatives of other disciplines that are integrated into the production networks. As such, it doesn’t necessarily make machine operators redundant, but it does mean that their role will change.
Humans will remain the most important factor in a smart factory. They are highly flexible and can master a wide range of tasks in a short time. Machines on the other hand are often inflexible, yet work quickly, precisely and powerfully. In bringing these two worlds together, technology must be able to adjust itself to changing conditions and human intervention.
For these smart research factories, this relationship and growth of both machine and operator is a central concept that needs to be addressed. Research factories are an ideal context in which to explore and prototype this new man and machine work relationship. The workflows, technologies and business models must be built upon the strengths of both human and machine where both complement each other.
At Schindler Creations, we are not only concerned with designing easy and intuitive machines and their subsequent interfaces, but also work holistically to understand the ‘actors’ (people, products, services, platforms) and practices (ideas, rules and activities) involved in potential products, services and technologies. This leads to not just designing products (e.g. the physical machines), interfaces and services, but also business models, workflows, and experiences relevant to new activities within companies.
If these research factories are to be the prototyping and development for the future of Industry 4.0, then it could be beneficial for designers to work within these research factories. Designers can help evolve the smart factory as an industry that is human centered with all the promises and potential of the new capabilities of the smart factory. Designers are well placed to facilitate and design the new relationships between operator and machine to build on the specific strengths and qualities of each. For example, a company can generate enormous amounts of data to better predict future work productivity, but will need factory worker to react to the data. As designers, we need to create a platform, or environment where the machine and it’s operator complement each other and in fact support each other in their tasks.
Smart research factories are an essential place in which to develop this understanding, to develop working relationships, workflows, back and forth holistically between man and machine. For designers and researchers this represents an incredibly exciting challenge to help shape the next industrial revolution.