When Industry 4.0 came on the scene in 2015, it promised connectivity and seamless business processes between machines at production sites, along with point-to-point automation between remote facilities and the various functions along the supply chain.
The initial focus of Industry 4.0 was on business process automation, but as technology matured, a new focus emerged: the need to better perfect the human-machine interface so humans and machines could work more effectively together. This marked the start of Industry 5.0.
“Industry 5.0 is where we start to see a balancing of the choreography between humans and machines, and the dialogue between them increasingly intelligent,” said Rinus Strydom, chief revenue officer at IoT PaaS firm Particle. “Humans and machines equally help each other make decisions.”
Here’s how it works.
In the factory and other noisy work settings, OSHA requires that employers take appropriate steps to protect employees. This includes monitoring for auditory noise to ensure that employees don’t sustain hearing injuries.
In the past, employers had to manually log time-weighted averages and review historic sound data. This was a cumbersome process. Now with the help of automation and artificial intelligence, machines can do the auditory monitoring. Companies save time and resources because the process has been automated. The automated monitoring and artificial intelligence issue alerts when there is a case of auditory noise exceeding what the human ear can comfortably tolerate, and human operator-managers take action to eliminate the problem.
The results are reduced incidence of hearing injuries to workers and reduced risk of workers compensation cases for hearing injuries.
“Companies are able to solve for high-risk human tasks — like monitoring leaks of volatile materials, as well as high-cost/low-yield activities — like long travel times to remote monitoring sites, as well as mundane jobs like reading a meter or identifying data anomalies,” Strydom said. “By no means is this an exhaustive list, but from what we’ve seen, they’re among the most rewarding process improvements for workers, and often have corollary environmental and cost-saving benefits as well.”
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On the flip side, there are also challenges for Industry 5.0 automation and AI — precisely because of the human-machine interface. One of these challenges is employees’ natural fear that robots and automation will take their jobs away.
This happened at Mullerblaustein, a German timber construction firm that wanted to incorporate Industry 5.0 robotics and automation. The company’s managing director, Reinhold Muller, acknowledged that at first, employees were distrustful of the new Industry 5.0 technology. They felt that their jobs were being threatened. It was only after they witnessed first-hand the benefits of the new work processes, and saw that they still had a vital role to play, that they relaxed. They saw the advantage of robotics and automation that relieved them of many tedious tasks so they could do more advanced work. Obtaining employee buy-in is likely to be an initial challenge at other companies as well.
What steps can companies take to ensure a smooth transition to new types of automation and AI in business processes?
1. Identify the business processes that can benefit most from automation and AI
“One company used remote monitoring and AI and avoided an oil spill, because the remote monitoring triggered an alarm in the middle of the night,” Strydom said. “Beyond the physical cleanup and remediation work, the emotional toll of the leak across the company would have been immense.”
2. Actively engage employees in business process design
No one knows the ins and outs of a business process better than the employees who are engaged in it. These employees need to be actively involved in identifying how automation and AI can help their jobs and work processes. If employees are engaged in business process design from the start, they will be more accepting of the new processes that are implemented.
3. Commit training time for learning new technologies and processes
Companies that focus on the wellbeing and readiness of their workforces and the IT that supports their technologies do better. This means budgeting time for learning new work processes and technologies so employees can do them and IT can support them.