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Digital Augments Safety as well as Skills

Digital Augments Safety as well as Skills

In the new Spotlight on Smart Manufacturing, Fujitsu’s Business Director, Julie Carugo, makes a very powerful point. She stresses that the interaction of humans and machines within increasingly digital factories has to be seen holistically. We need to ‘realize that worker safety is a key element in digital transformation. Much of the discussions around smart systems, especially in manufacturing, focus on technology and customers. They are important, of course, but the people who do the work, whether on the factory floor, or out in the field servicing products, or in the offices working with digital devices, are an essential part of getting digital transformation right. You can’t do all this all with machines alone!’

That’s a great definition of what Fujitsu means by ‘human-centric’ technology. It must supplement, augment, and support PEOPLE as well as deliver commercial outcomes. And the most important element within that approach is protecting their wellbeing and health and safety.

Skills are valuable – they must be protected

I’ve written before about the ‘skills gap’ and the generational challenges that many sectors face, where older workers with long experience and deep skills are retiring, while millennials are reluctant to enter industries that they perceive to be either ‘heavy’ or subject to job losses because of automation and robotics. It’s a difficult problem across the entire manufacturing sector, as well as utilities and general engineering.

But, as the varied articles in the Spotlight point out, smart manufacturing based on the digital factory is actually a new frontier for the sector. It gives manufacturers the chance to attract people for two compelling reasons: it’s at the cutting edge of how we make and service things, and it’s cleaner, safer and more rewarding for someone with skills and intelligence than ever before.

Julie’s argument extends beyond protecting life and limb, it shows that a positive, proactive approach to wellbeing and safety within a factory environment enables manufacturers to attract the right people and retain them. The technology not only keeps them safe, it also allows them to be more creative and to learn a craft.

Now, ‘craft’ might sound like an old-fashioned world in the context of digital transformation, but the fact is that technology frees the worker to become a specialist, a craftsperson, rather than just a unit of labor.

Let robots do the heavy-lifting

Robots have been thought of as replacements for people. Scare stories about the ‘rise of the robots’ and the potential loss of millions of jobs have not come true. And they’re true. The point of a robot has always been to do the heavy work, or the repetitive, mindless tasks that require constant dexterity or force. Robots don’t get tired, and they don’t get Repetitive Strain Injuries. If something goes wrong, a component can be replaced. If a person gets injured, there are long term – and very personal – consequences.

Robots also don’t get backache. The productivity that’s lost due to human back problems is immense. In 2016, the UK government estimated that 8.8 million working days were lost because of it. Think of all the lost productivity and associated costs that go with that statistic!

Technology can design a better workplace as well as workflows

The point is to put the human at the heart of the digital factory. So, robots can do the repetitive and heavy jobs. They can also interact with human workers and become part of the ‘team’. That allows more focused work groups and more intuitive workflows. Technology can be used to design the factory floor, allocate tasks to different sections, and ensure that machinery and raw materials are in the right place, and can be moved about safely. There is even work going on to create work garments that can monitor how a person is lifting something or how they flex their body to carry out specific tasks. The data can monitor stress and strain, as well as heart rate and exertion. That can head off problems or send out alerts if something goes wrong.

Wellbeing, health and safety, and a human-centric approach to making things, must be at the heart of the smart factory. The Spotlight on Smart Manufacturing brings together a wide range of views that I found fascinating.

Download spotlight on smart manufacturing here.

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