Technology And The New World of Work

Tim Sowell’s thinking over the past few months has resonated with me. He’s looking at the blend of technology and humans that will build the plant of the future.

Some years ago when I was laying out the initial editorial stance of Automation World, I was attacked by Lean practitioners (consultants). They said there was little use for automation. It just replaced people and made plants less intelligent and flexible.

My reply was that they missed the point. Some things needed to be automated—maybe for safety reasons or for repeatable quality. Some things would always require people (no matter what some dystopians are trying to sell us today). The smart managers and engineers architect blended manufacturing using the best of both automation and people.

I still believe that.

Sowell’s latest blog post, New World of Work will be center to Factory of the Future, takes a look at a similar idea. Much deeper than my musings, of course, his thesis needs to be digested and considered when you are out architecting your next manufacturing or production line.

He talked of a discussion with some colleagues discussing the future from a variety of views. “Sure enough we ended up aligned on the core that the ‘factory of the future’ will be around what two companies labeled ‘New World of work’. I have mentioned this many times in this blog around ‘smart operational work’.”

We were able group companies who looked at the future thru “new technologies” and how they could apply them, (I seem to visited a number of this type in the last month) vs those companies that we believe will be the leaders with the successful approach of “how they must operation, work” in the new world.

Sowell New World of Work

They defined some characteristics of the new world:

  • Brand loyalty at customer reducing, so “Brand Promise” is key
  • Agility to satisfy is key
  • Shrinking mid tier market as the larger companies continue to consolidate to address the supply of new products and service markets. (especially in consumer products).
  • Dynamic workforce where workers rotate locations/ roles, experience in a role will be less than 2 years.
  • Supply chains with limited inventory requires transparent/ agile manufacturing across the sites.
  • “Constant Change” in assets, process, people, products is the natural state in the 2020.

Then they defined some fundamentals of the “new world of work.”

  • New ways of working with dynamic workers that share, collaborate and are connected but assume experience from the system, they trust the system
  • New Processes around agility, new product  introduction that leverage the skills and approach of the “digital Native” collaborative worker, combined with new technologies to enable new processes and operational awareness. The ability to see situations early, continue to learn, and act fast to changing conditions is key.
  • New technologies provide the opportunity to deliver these new ways of working, with new processes. The likes of leveraging the data, through “big data” to use the past to determine the future in a natural manner. The industrial internet of things (industry 4.0) will enable smart devices providing new levels of embedded autonomy in machines and processes, shifting workers to “exception based” management, but with greater responsibility.

Think about the ease of younger people who move between physical and digital seamlessly. There is no hesitation to communicate and collaborate. If they don’t know something they will search for an answer. As we learn to blend technology and people seamlessly, we’ll see this new world of work evolve.

Sowell concludes, “The natural state of the new world is one of ‘change’ and the systems and culture must be able to ‘master’ naturally.”

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