Industrial workplace 2025

Industry 4.0 – What happens to the humans?

| Author / Editor: Gerda Kneifel / Frauke Finus

With the viewpoint paper on Industry Workplace 2025, researchers at the WGP have used a new model to assess current and anticipated technological developments in industrial automation and deduce necessary responses on the part of firms and society.
With the viewpoint paper on Industry Workplace 2025, researchers at the WGP have used a new model to assess current and anticipated technological developments in industrial automation and deduce necessary responses on the part of firms and society. (Bild: IWF Berlin)

Prof. Peter Groche, leader of the Institute for Production Technology and Forming Machines (PtU) at Darmstadt TU, is certain that “the move towards autonomous production is a holistic challenge for society”. The Institute is a member of the Scientific Society for Production Technology (WGP), which this summer will publish its viewpoint paper on Industry Workplace 2025.

The first Industrial Revolution, which took hold all over the world from a starting point in Great Britain in the second half of the 18th century, led to societal upheavals on a previously unknown scale. It is true that mechanisation made it possible for the first time for many workers without special training to find work. At the same time, however, numerous well trained, specialised craftsmen lost the basis of their existence.

Like every Industrial Revolution, the fourth one will likewise be accompanied by great hopes, but also by anxieties – especially the anxiety for many of losing their jobs. Since all the industrial revolutions have had a strong influence on societal and many individual developments, it is necessary to examine thoroughly the opportunities and challenges presented by Industry 4.0. “For the goal is to create the most humane possible Industrial Revolution – or rather Evolution “, states Prof. Peter Groche, initiator of the WGP Initiative and leader of the Institute for Production Technology and Forming Machines (PtU) at Darmstadt TU. “With our viewpoint paper on Industry Workplace 2025, we have used a new model to assess current and anticipated technological developments in industrial automation and deduce necessary responses on the part of firms and society”, so Groche.

What role will the human being play in the future?

The VDMA study “Industry 4.0 – Qualification 2025” (Pfeiffer et al. 2016) has already indicated what smart factories with flexible, fully automated production processes could mean for employees – and thus particularly for operators of installations and machines. In this paper, experts envisage three possible future scenarios: In Scenario 1 (Growing Gap), the skills gap among employees will widen even more. A small elite of skilled workers and academics will add to their qualifications, while today’s skilled workers in the operative segment will need fewer qualifications. Scenario 2 (General Upgrade) describes the general raising of the qualification level, with increased demands made on workers. Finally, in Scenario 3 (Central Link), it is assumed that certain groups will require higher qualifications and will then occupy interface positions between the various hierarchical levels or functional areas.

“We have added a fourth scenario to these three, the scenario General Downgrade”, explains Prof. Jörg Krüger, leader of the Specialist Area at industrial Automation Technology at the Institute for Machine Tools and Factory Operations (IWF) at Berlin TU and also leader of the business area Automation Technology at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Installations and Design Engineering Technology (IPK) in Berlin. In this scenario, the qualifications of the firm’s employees generally sink. The WGP also surveyed “representative industrial stakeholders” (in total 45 manufacturers of installations machines and 75 machine users from the most varied sectors). In the process, it became clear that this fourth scenario can certainly be considered realistic. It was furthermore obvious that machine manufacturers and users have contrary views regarding the future of employees.

“Machine manufacturers tend to assume a General Downgrade, while the users see the need for rising qualifications,” said Krüger, summarising. “This is probably due to the differing views on the machines. Manufacturers tend to focus on the machine, whereas users focus more on the product and process side.” For this reason, manufacturers can simply see the increasing intelligence of the machines they make, while users look at the multifarious fault sources and process optimisation, both of which are currently still regulated by workers. In the users’ view, therefore, the dominant factor is the acquisition of knowledge of information technologies and process know-how. And they assume that this will remain the case in the coming 10 years and that the requirement for skilled workers, in particular for skilled workers with extendable specialist qualifications, will rise significantly. At the same time, many machine users anticipate a falling demand for unskilled workers.

Based on these results, the WGP authors have defined phases of automation in production, for which they have drawn on the phase model for automated driving. The aim is to give firms a kind of key for evaluating the state-of-the-art in their automation area and for estimating which responses will be necessary in the future – not least regarding the qualifications of their workers. For automation is not always necessary or even sensible, nor is it suitable at every point along the production chain.

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