Manufacturers facing dire worker shortages are turning to Industry 4.0 to attract the next generation of people who want satisfying careers at the forefront of a rapidly innovating sector. One report predicted over two million manufacturing jobs in the U.S. could go unfilled by 2030, while another from the Reshoring Initiative expected American companies to bring back about 350,000 positions this year. The good news for job seekers is that cutting-edge manufacturers are offering new opportunities to learn valuable technical and business skills, helping more people fully participate in the digital economy.
“This new generation of workers, whose entire lives are on their mobile devices, have completely different expectations from the employees who are walking out the door with 35 years of experience,” said Mike Lackey, global vice president of Solution Management for Digital Manufacturing at SAP. “Manufacturers must attract new workers by bringing data to the point of work with intelligent mobile experiences and intuitive machine interfaces. This improves workplace safety and the worker experience, as it creates greater business efficiencies.”
Connected Data Helps Meet Production Schedules
Unlike historical shop floor responsibilities, workers in Industry 4.0 factories won’t be limited to rote tasks on a single machine. They’ll be cross trained to manage multiple machines, using instantaneous and integrated information from their mobile device. They’ll collaborate much more across teams and departments.
“Industry 4.0 delivers what’s called ‘worker guidance,’ bringing information directly to the individual on the shop floor for faster and more efficient decisions,” said Lackey. “Manufacturing is all about throughput, quality, and managing costs. With the right information, the operator can make sure that the equipment and the processes are running optimally, reducing machine downtime, rework, and scrap. This is the purpose of SAP Digital Manufacturing Cloud, which brings business and operational data together for informed company-wide decisions while delivering process enforcement, complete traceability, and a record of the product genealogy.”
IDC analysts predicted that in response to the reality of digital disruption, 60% of businesses will embrace a decision-making model that combines the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and human judgment for more informed decision-making by next year. Connected data between the shop floor and other parts of the business, including sales, supply chain, and finance, also has company-wide implications in meeting customer commitments.
“You can’t promise an order if you don’t have the parts to make or finish the product,” said Lackey. “Similarly, in an automated line, you might have 200 pieces of equipment from 24 different vendors. If there’s a quality issue with a material or machine malfunction, integrated data with embedded machine learning can alert shop floor workers to correctly adjust equipment to the specified parameters, minimizing production slowdowns and keeping quality high. Connected data helps workers understand the impact of their decisions on the business while increasing their ability to make a valuable contribution in a more motivated and engaged way.”
Digital Improves Workplace Safety
Technology can make the workplace safer for employees, which is equally important for the worker experience and company compliance. While automation can increase the number of potential hazards, it can also keep people safe. Sensors can alert people when they’re entering a potentially dangerous area or in the moment if they get too close to a piece of equipment, preventing accidents.
Upskilled Workers Lead to Greater Employer Loyalty
Lackey expected manufacturers to invest more in training and development to reskill and upskill workers as Industry 4.0 transformation continues. A recent Gartner survey reflected that trend: researchers found that 84% of manufacturing professionals were upgrading their learning and development programs. It’s an ideal way to expand the pool of qualified employees who can make a valuable contribution to company growth. It’s also an opportunity for workers to gain skills in some of the coolest innovations.
“Factories are a hotbed of innovation, offering workers a potentially faster, more cost-effective route to a satisfying career, one that might not otherwise be in reach, given the rising costs of higher education,” said Lackey.
Done right, Industry 4.0 is poised to rejuvenate the manufacturing sector with a refreshing blast of innovation. Trained workers can point the camera on their digital device at a piece of equipment with embedded machine learning and make immediate adjustments using virtual 3D visualizations right in front of them on the shop floor. They can instantly connect with design engineers to quickly diagnose and fix problems or reach an external supplier to locate the correct replacement part. Manufacturers are hoping this next generation of workers come for the cool factor and stay for the career-building innovations.
Follow me @smgaler.
This also appeared on SAP BrandVoice on Forbes.