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The robots are coming to a shop floor near you!
“The workplace of the future” presents interesting ideas on the future role of human labor in manufacturing. But as changes are already taking place on the manufacturing floor, the ideas in the book reflects an evolution. The question is, will robots replace your job?"
Manufacturing is alive and well, but it is undergoing major changes right now. Interconnected machines, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, and data analytics are all a part of the (digital) evolution, known as The Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a global development that shows no signs of slowing down. Just look at a factory in the near future. In this environment, machines know when they need maintenance; the warehouse knows what is coming and when to expect it; and robots pick the components, updating inventory lists automatically.
Naturally, these advances in engineering and manufacturing technology also impact how we work and interact on the shop floor, at the (home) office, and in interactions with customers, end-users, and other stakeholders.
In his book, The Workplace of the Future: The Fourth Industrial Revolution, the Precariat and the Death of Hierarchies, Jon-Arild Johannessen sets a chilling vision of how robots and artificial intelligence will completely disrupt and transform working life.
Author Jon-Arild Johannessen, who is a professor in Leadership at Nord University and Kristiania University College, Norway, contests that once the dust has settled from the Fourth Industrial Revolution, workplaces and professions will be unrecognizable and we will see the rise of a new social class: the precariat. We will live side by side with the "working poor", known as the precariat – people who have several jobs, but still can’t make ends meet. There will be a small salaried elite consisting of innovation and knowledge workers. Slightly further into the future, there will be a major transformation in professional environments. Johannessen also presents a typology for the precariat, the uncertain work that is created and develops a framework for the working poor, as well as for future innovation and knowledge workers, and sets out a new structure for the social hierarchy.
Will robots replace human jobs?
As mentioned, the future looks a bit grim and dark in “The workplace of the future”. But how does it look like in the real world?
If we take a look at a real-life example at BAE Systems, they refer to this evolution as the Factory Workplace of the Future (FWoF). The goal is to develop a world-class digital manufacturing infrastructure – creating a competitive edge in this new industrial era.
Developments over recent years have meant that BAE needed to reimagine the way they use technology. It’s about using the latest innovations to make their manufacturing processes more efficient and effective. It means building products with zero defects and getting them to customers as quickly as possible.
This new technology is already in use in parts of the organization. Augmented reality and virtual reality are assisting with assemblies and advising on maintenance, while RFID – radio frequency identification – technology is an established part of BAE’s supply chain. The BAE Systems FWoF team is investigating how to integrate RFID information to update their inventory lists when the product arrives into or leaves the facilities.
Additionally, the team is reviewing how to introduce cobots – robots that work with humans – to help with assemblies and data analytics. Not replace human hands. Not yet, at least.
Simply put, increased automation with robot technology will not replace human hands, but it will require workers to develop a different skill set. The future will require employees at BAE to adapt to the increased use of robotics, artificial intelligence, and other technologies. Human ingenuity and skills will be a critical part of that.
Humans are still a part of the manufacturing shop floor
With this in mind, BAE Systems is taking steps to fill a gap in the labor market, maybe to avoid the rise of the precariat? One thing is certain. A new generation of manufacturing employees in this advanced age will be at the forefront of cutting-edge technology in state-of-the-art factories.
Conclusion and recommendation
A fascinating and thought-provoking insight into the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, The Workplace of the Future will be of interest to professionals and academics alike. This is a must-read for all with an interest in the future of manufacturing and robotics.