Automated factories are the future
A big part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are networked systems – systems that communicate via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or infrared – that can create an autonomous work process from start to finish.
Automated factories use technology that can “read” parts or packages, by scanning a QR code, barcodes, infrared pickups or photoelectric cells, and track them as they go along the production line. The information from those sensors feeds back to a central computer, which performs actions based on the information provided for each item.
Are robots taking over our jobs?
Robots are taking over mundane jobs, heavy lifting, precision and work in hazardous environments. But there is still a need for human intervention between the jobs that robots do, and those jobs operated by technical and operational teams.
In addition, because of the growing number of robots and automated systems in manufacturing facilities, more maintenance and technical work is required to make sure they are operating efficiently. This creates a real need for multi-skilled people who can operate, monitor and maintain machines, as well as repair them when they malfunction.
Technical work will include adjusting sensors and programs, changing the parameters that automated factories work according to, as well as doing in-depth fault-finding.
A new ability that will be in high demand in the near future is operating Cobots (also known as co-robots or collaborative robot), which are robots intended to physically interact with people in a shared workspace. They are used in manufacturing to increase efficiency and also to help people perform tasks that they otherwise cannot. Operating Cobots may involve different skills than operating a regular machine.
The human factor in factories
The truth is that businesses are going to employ fewer people to operate assembly lines that are becoming fully automated.
Businesses will prefer to employ people with technical skills or will develop technical skills in their workforce. As the industry is moving away from “one man, one job”, employees will need to be multi-skilled and technically savvy. This will enable companies to increase productivity and efficiency.
The new shop floor
In the past there was at least one person per machine or per part of the production line, but nowadays there are one or two people operating three or four machines at the same time.
The production lines on some shop floors are now organised in a square (instead of a straight line), so the input of the production line is very close to the output, and several machines are positioned next to each other. A single person can monitor the input and output of multiple machines.
Skills gap – the fundamental need for training
There is a significant skills gap between where the majority of the workforce is now and where it needs to be. While employers will be installing robotics and automated systems in factories, there will continue to be a need to develop the right skills to work alongside new technology in a factory environment.
Employers will need a multi-skilled workforce – people who can take care of a wide range of problems that may arise in the day-to-day operation of manufacturing.
These skills include:
- Mechanical skills
- Electrical skills
- Electronic skills
- Programmable logic controllers
- Automated factories
- IT / Systems
To help be ready for this change, which is already in progress, it is essential to adapt by creating re-skilling and up-skilling training plans for the workforce.
Businesses are upskilling technicians and machine operators to provide them with a basic level of understanding of the required skills, so they can perform basic maintenance on machines they work on and make sure production is running without problems.
Multi-skill training is essential to TPM (Total Productive Maintenance), which is a system of maintaining and improving the integrity of production and quality systems through the machines, equipment, processes, and employees that add real value to an organisation. TPM focuses on keeping all equipment in top working condition to avoid breakdowns and delays in manufacturing processes.
In order to face the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the skills challenge for the sector, manufacturers need to act now and provide their workforce with essential training that will ensure greater productivity and sustainable growth in the future.
EEF offers a wide range of technical and engineering courses that will provide your workforce with the right knowledge and practical skills, delivered at our dedicated Technology Hub in Aston or at your site.