If you’ve ever worked in software like me, you know that version numbers have great importance. It’s rare to see a “release 1.0,” because customers have been conditioned to believe that the higher the version number, the better, more robust and easier to use the application will be, so they’ll wait for 2.0 or 3.0, etc. When upgrades come, customers expect to find something really revolutionary about what the product does or how they can use it.
So what does that mean when we anticipate Industry 5.0? To me, this one is really exciting. Why? Because unlike previous “versions,” this one is not about technology or process – it’s about customers. Industry 5.0 promises to bring all the technological innovation brought by Industry 4.0 (and all the previous iterations) to bear on what truly drives competitive advantage and world-class performance: giving the customer what they want, when and how they want it. It’s an idea that’s been around for decades; in the 90s it was “build-to-order,” more recently it’s been labeled “mass customization,” and now we’re calling it personalization. Call it whatever you like, it’s been a long slow road to get here, but digitization and innovation in automation are finally tearing down the obstacles to flexible, nimble and responsive production environments.
One truly revolutionary aspect of Industry 5.0 is how work will get done. For the first time since machines were introduced to do physical labor, they – in the form of collaborative robots (cobots) – can automate more. As a result, people can do the kind of work they are best at doing – problem-solving, data interpretation for faster and smarter decisions and strategies for process improvement and product innovation.
We’ve waited a really, really, really long time to get here (200+ years). Of course, reinventing or reimagining manufacturing is not easy. After all, we’re talking about large operations, with huge machines and processes that have been refined and honed over decades to optimize efficiency, productivity and costs. Transformation requires disruption, and for most manufacturers the very idea of disruption – an event which causes the production of goods to be slowed or maybe stopped – is enough reason to dig in their heels and resist.
That’s not what’s going to happen here. In fact, in Industry 5.0, cobots give manufacturers what they need to meet today’s challenges like labor shortages while laying a path toward the demand-driven models we’ve all been waiting for, including the ability to:
- Automate more: With cobots able to move toward automating more tasks that require technical skills, like machine tending, manufacturers get 1) the assurance that operations can run efficiently, smoothly and reliably and 2) the runway to offer more training focused on those adaptive skills required for the new models.
- Scale up and down as business needs: Moving from one to two shifts or three shifts to one with people as the primary labor force is not easy – nor desirable. Cobots can work as much – or as little – as needed, and at around $35,000, ROI can still be achieved if the cobot is only in use for a single shift.
- Maintain dependable levels of quality and productivity: For many tasks, repetition is the name of the game. And doing the same thing over and over is not easy for people: Minds wander, fingers and hands become numb and mistakes get made – or worse, someone gets hurt. Cobots are well-suited to these tasks and can perform the same one over and over with a guaranteed level of precision and reliability.
Here we are at the dawn of Industry 5.0. Manufacturers recognize that success will come to those who are more responsive to market changes, able to deliver on customer preferences and cultivate faster innovation. Factories will be smaller, and located more closely to markets and design centers, accelerating new product introduction and strengthening competitive advantage. Production lots of smaller sizes and personalization become economically viable, increasing customer loyalty and reducing risk.
Smart robots and people will work in harmony – each contributing to the best of their inherent abilities.
The result? In Industry 5.0, manufacturers find new ways to ignite creativity and new fuel for innovation, and customers find it easier and easier to define the products they buy. That is, indeed, a transformation to be excited about.
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