Technology Transforms the Industrial Workforce

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Technology Transforms the Industrial Workforce

Manufacturing has evolved through three revolutions unleashed by applying new technologies to production:

  1. Steam powered manufacturing in the nineteenth century.
  2. Electricity fueled factories starting in the early twentieth century.
  3. Automation accelerated productivity beginning in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Now manufacturers are poised on the threshold of Industry 4.0, as the technologies of the Digital Revolution are applied to the factory floor.

For insights into how Industry 4.0 will impact the workforce and the competitiveness of companies, a Boston Consulting Group (BCG) report by Markus Lorenz, Michael Rüßmann, Rainer Strack, Knud Lasse Lueth, and Moritz Bolle examined how new technologies will affect manufacturers.1 Although the BCG study focused on Germany, the findings are relevant to all OECD economies.

Lorenz and his colleagues worked with twenty industry experts to explore ten “use cases” for the new technologies across 23 industries to determine how they would impact jobs and productivity.

  1. Big Data-Driven Quality Control. Companies can use algorithms to analyze quality-control data in order to discover the causes of defects and to figure out how to lower costs by reducing waste. This will mean fewer jobs for human quality-control workers, but it will create jobs for industrial data scientists.
  2. Robot-Assisted Production. Human-like robots will be trained to take over jobs (such as product assembly and packaging) using computer vision and sensors to enable the robot to see its environment and avoid injuring the people it interacts with on the assembly line. This will reduce the number of people employed to perform routine, repetitive tasks, but it will also create demand for robot coordinators who will oversee the work of robots and decide when to replace a machine that needs to be repaired.

  1. Self-Driving Logistics Vehicles. Autonomous vehicles will roam factories without human drivers, using algorithms, sensors, and navigation systems to move components, equipment, robots, and products. Fewer logistics personnel will be needed, but a small number of technicians will still be required to ensure the vehicles are taking the most efficient routes...

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