In previous offerings, I’ve referenced the Industry 4.0 evolution/revolution as it relates to reliability and maintainability (R&M).
During this evolution my list of tools and technologies focuses on four “zones of uncertainty” (when companies know about the new tools and technologies, but were not sure when, how much, and how fast to implement them). In the R&M space, I estimated that there were initially “zones of uncertainty” about 30 years apart until around 2010. For the next ten years, the “zone of uncertainty was about precision maintenance, Internet of Things, real-time data, big data, edge computing, more comprehensive analytics, prescriptive maintenance, augmented reality, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and 3D & 4D printing. Then, about 2020, there was the next “zone of uncertainty.” With ongoing technology improvements, COVID, and changed expectations about work, along with the already recognized need for more human factors in Industry 4.0 tools, I see the big challenges as deciding:
• How fast and how best to integrate digital asset-management transformation, especially when so many companies don’t appear to trust the plant-floor data to make tough decisions. This is further exacerbated by not enough focus on the people (technicians/trades) side of the business. This was the most mentioned item of concern in my 2010 R&M survey. It was frequently stated that if this is not improved, the reactive-maintenance percentage (31%) will stop improving. It has.
• Human factors will play a larger role in gaining worker acceptance, making technologies more useful, improving cognitive skills and decision making, and helping workers be more productive in a safe and meaningful way. As a certified human-factors practitioner, I’ve seen the benefits of proper ergonomic applications in reduced accidents and medical visits. At that time, technology and automation were primarily focused on production throughput. Ergonomics was focused on the physical aspects of human interaction, such as reducing repetitive-motion injuries and lifting stresses. Today’s emphasis is more on the collaboration of machines and technologies with humans (while keeping people at the center). This defines the intent of Industry 5.0, which is people-centric. It still supports robots and automation, but also involves sustainability and resilience/reliability.
• Changing your business model to be able to keep up with the high rate of change.
Now that we have many more digital tools and technologies, there is a shortage of workers. At the same time, too many plant-floor workers still don’t have the needed digital and computer skills to efficiently and effectively function on the plant floor.
The success of transforming your workforce to Industry 4.0/5.0 is about how you can best meet your current workforce at their level of digital and technology skills to initiate a positive transformation. Whether Industry 5.0 is new, or old values renewed, the time to start was yesterday. It will cost you less to retrain your current workforce and they are more likely to stay. EP
Based in Knoxville, Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, and a research professor in the College of Engineering. Contact him at [email protected].
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