More Than Machines:
How Industry 4.0 Can Augment Your Human Workforce
Robots are coming and not all employees are ready. Discover three clear ways they can help your human workforce.
By Jochen Apel, Head of Digital Industries at Nokia
As seen in Forbes
On Olkiluoto Island, Finland, four hundred meters underground, Finnish company Posiva Oy is building a sustainable facility in which remotely operated robots will transport hazardous waste through underground tunnels and store it safely for thousands of years.
While the storage facility, called Onkalo, is benefiting from Industry 4.0 to protect employees and the environment, its focus on automation, artificial intelligence, and digitalization is another example of how many assume the 4th Industrial Revolution will limit opportunities for human workers.
While robots might perform repetitive tasks faster, more accurately and consistently, in truth, these new ways of working will give rise to streamlined, agile technology-augmented workforces that are safer, happier, healthier, and better equipped to perform their jobs.
Offloading the hazardous and harmful
Augmenting a workforce with Industry 4.0 technologies can create more favorable experiences for its human crew. In mining, autonomous dump trucks are taking over monotonous work in open-pit mining – with work now being performed from a remote operations center at a safe distance from the open pit rather than from the cab of the truck.
In manufacturing, robots are taking on physically strenuous tasks. Exoskeletons and collaborative robots — called "cobots" — can help with or handle heavy lifting tasks. With speed and agility, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) can accurately deliver parts and tools to the skilled workers who need them and also handle potentially dangerous materials.
These technologies, and many others, not only increase operational efficiency and productivity, but they can also help protect the health and well-being of employees — empowering them to stay longer in positions they prefer.
Boosting engagement and productivity while eliminating the mundane
Just as these automated machines can take on the complex and dangerous, so can they handle the menial and repetitive. Doing so frees human workers to focus on more engaging, creative, and valuable work.
Automation can benefit many tasks, such as end-of-shift clean-up, documentation, and tool supply or re-stocking. Automated robots can take over time-consuming and redundant tasks, relieving pressure on human workers and supply chain congestion by quickly and safely moving goods and clearing backlogged goods from warehouses and other storage spaces.
Technologies like augmented and virtual reality can also help companies instruct new workers with more engaging on-the-job training and troubleshooting, shortening ramp-up or downtime periods while improving outcomes.
Better work experiences attract employees
The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a significant labor shortage. In Canada, 55% of entrepreneurs report difficulties finding employees, 26% say they needed help retaining them, and 64% say the labor shortage limited growth.
Technology is critical to dealing with this shortage. Industry 4.0 applications and devices allow companies to do more with less as they look to hire. Such technologies can also help attract, recruit and retain much-needed talent and improve the work environment.
According to a study by Dell, 80% of Gen-Z workers want to work with cutting-edge technologies, and 91% take technology into account when deciding between employers.
Making the augmented workforce a reality
It takes a particular kind of network to support the Industry 4.0 technologies that can augment a workforce: low latency, ultra-fast, robust, and reliable. Private wireless networks are essential to connect devices, sensors, and technologies on-premises to bring pervasive broadband and mobile flexibility to operations.
In contrast, like optical and IP networks, fixed connectivity provides critical connectivity that links individual facilities to more significant hubs, corporate data centers, or the public cloud.
Ultimately, Industry 4.0 isn't just about technology. It's about driving efficiency and profitability while ensuring employees are happier and more productive — no matter the industry, sector, or business.
Beyond a modernized network, there are demonstrable benefits to workers from Industry 4.0 workforce augmentation. Automation and robotics aren't about replacing the workforce but enhancing it, providing work, life, and business benefits to all involved.