21 January, 2021

Knowledge is power in the digital age

20 June, 2018

Discussions around Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution continue apace within industry and Government, and the recently held Engineering & Machinery Alliance (EAMA) evening reception at the House of Commons very much continued this positive momentum. One of the most resonant points made during the evening came from Dr Juergen Maier, chief executive of Siemens plc, who led the Made Smarter review of industrial digitisation for the Government. He commented that while the UK manufacturing community needs to continue to forge ahead in embracing the fourth industrial revolution – projecting its capabilities around the globe as innovators and creators – there has been concern aired that new technologies will increasingly displace humans from the workforce. “I don't subscribe to the argument that the fourth industrial revolution is going to eat up all of our jobs,” he said. “As matter of fact, if you look at what's happening in our factories right here in the UK we are very much using cobotics to work alongside our people in our factories, and we are using virtual reality and augmented reality to support our people in our manufacturing operations.” Dr Maier added that UK companies are also using data analytics to allow people to make better decisions about the manufacturing process. He stressed that it’s really about the augmentation; all these technologies working with and alongside people within businesses. “I think our agility, our innovation and the strength that we have in those fields are going to be pretty good for us if we invest well in the fourth industrial revolution,” he remarked. However, he recognised that one very fundamental and important factor surrounding the issue of humans and the fourth industrial revolution is that of skills. “All of what I've described is only possible if we skill our people to be able to master the fourth industrial revolution,” he said, adding that the upskilling of people who don't fully understand the technology is critical. “They might be scared of the technology and worry about it, and therefore not know how to embrace it,” he said. “This might mean they are blockers to embracing and moving forward with this technology at pace. So, we the industry have a very big job to do in terms of upskilling our people. There are some great initiatives and training schemes available, but I think we need to make sure more of that is focused on digital skills and especially on industrial skills.” The argument for a greater focus on upskilling the workforce marshalled by Dr Maier does indeed make a tremendous amount of sense. Without the right knowledge base within the workforce to utilise the technology available to realise Industry 4.0, companies are in danger of falling at the first hurdle. However, with the right knowledge, the right attitude, the right motivation and a hunger for pushing the innovation envelope, UK industry has everything to gain – leading the world in creating a stronger fourth industrial revolution. Ed Holden Editor

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