Workplaces Get 'Smart'

18.05.18

It is estimated that almost half of all jobs could ultimately be lost to automation, with 7% of those losses coming by 2025. Whilst this prediction may sound worrying, we need to consider that these changes are more likely to take effect within more repetitive work environments. With increased automation and improvements in efficiency, we should see humans being able to free up productive time to focus on things machines can never drive forward, such as pure creativity and helping find better solutions to the problems facing our society and the planet we share.

As technology and innovation leapfrog us into Industry 4.0 and an ever-changing workplace, we look at the implications for the future workplace, what this means for ‘smart’ factories, and the technology enablers that are driving these fundamental shifts in the way we work…

Workplaces Get Smart

Future Workplace

As the factory of tomorrow evolves, so too will the office workplace. The future workplace may no longer need to be a physical place of work and we are starting to see companies thinking a little differently about how we work optimally, to help establish a competitive edge.

More companies are building on the seamless communications and IT infrastructure that, increasingly, allows people to work from somewhere other than the traditional place of work. Of course, this may only suit certain types of businesses, but this new kind of workspace thinking, which is no longer restricted to 9-5 or physically being ‘at the office’, can create a competitive edge in terms of a reduction in overhead costs, alleviating employee transport costs and winning back valuable commuting time. In a 2014 study by PGi – a leading provider of software services – found that 80% of remote workers reported higher morale and 82% said it helped lower their stress levels with a 69% reported lower absenteeism.

We are increasingly seeing organisations that no longer operate out of premises and simply source space when required, with global teams collaborating in new and novel ways. This type of approach, offering flexible working for staff, will increasingly help attract the most talented employees, from a global pool of potential resource. With the prevalence of mobile devices, remote management and storage, it is a logical next step.

The time is right to start to revaluate the status quo and look for opportunities to improve the way we work and the lives of our workforce.  

Smart Factory

Continual improvements and further automation is normal in the modern factory, but with the advancement of embedded sensor technology and real-time data, the drive for improvement accelerates. Machine-to-machine learning and analytical algorithms ensure that as more time passes and large data is amassed, then the improvement progress is exponential. As the connected world links smart cities with homes, travel and workplaces, the learning potential is enormous. 

A new study from Capgemini, a global information technology consulting company, says 76% of manufacturers either have an ongoing smart factory initiative or are working on formulating one. More than half of them, the study says, have designated $100 million or more on these initiatives. It estimates that smart factories could add $500 billion to $1.5 trillion in added value to the global economy in five years. These manufacturers predict overall efficiency will grow annually to 2022 at seven times the rate of growth since 1990. But it’s not just automation; many manufacturers invest large amounts of resource and cost to continually improving performance and reducing waste using tools such as Kaizen lean manufacturing initiatives. Just imagine a factory floor that was able to drive these initiatives itself through advanced machine learning; the productivity rewards would be huge!

Futurists have predicted that machines will match human intelligence in as little as 12 years. The evolution of technology in the smart factory will of course impact jobs for both white and blue-collar workers, but there will be new opportunities and many roles will evolve with the technology. The decision to put so much investment into technology is demonstrated in China where a 2025 programme will invest $3bn in advanced manufacturing, and in the European Union, where €7bn is being dedicated to a Factories of the Future initiative.

Technology Enablers

Below are a few of the key technologies we have identified as being able to help shape our future:

Next Generation Battery Technology

This is the pacing technology that is playing catch up with other advances. Beyond today’s lead acid batteries and lithium-ion batteries is where massive investment is taking place to advance solid state batteries to power electric vehicles. These could be more efficient (up to 5 times), cost effective and safer (especially for transportation). Dyson is investing £2bn, and BMW have chosen this route along many other car manufacturers.

Connectivity (IoT)

The productive use of big data and analytic services for continual improvement and building of historical learnings. This is at the core of M2M learning and only increases in value when linked to the wider smart factory and smart city.

Sensors & Interfaces

Augmented reality is a true collaboration between technology and human interface to achieve a new level of skills and value in the factory. It offers a genuine step change and becomes very powerful when coupled with asset performance (embedded sensors with real time data) and environmental measurements.

3D Printing

The revolution in 3D printing machines and materials continues to gather pace. Applications range from printing houses out of concrete to high end metal parts for the aerospace industry. This industry keeps adding innovation and value in key areas of flexible, low volume production.

Robotics/AI

The investment and advancement in this area is massive and was one of the main headline items at this year’s CES show. Chinese demand and advances in human–robot collaboration will increase their adoption to 25-45% of production tasks by 2030. Be prepared as this new generation of robot workers are already knocking at the door. It is estimated that 1.8 million industrial robots are in use in production today.

In summary, there is work to be done in developing our trust in AI systems and the decisions they make, as well as adaptive security that promotes confidence. The level of technological change in industry is exciting, and will be game-changing over the next 10 years, but it is important to be able to sift through the noise and hype in order to focus on value and genuine improvements to productivity and efficiency that technology can deliver.

Key Takeouts

Technology - Easily accessed and more affordable than ever, it can be tailored to suit business needs and user requirements. Technology enablers are revolutionising the future of production and the factory floor.

Value - Finding value is key for the individual, society, industry, firms and the factory itself. Technology drivers feed the thirst for data and with large data analysis comes value.

Machine to Machine Learning - Connectivity boom and machine-based algorithms take big data and knowledge based systems to a deep learnings level.

New Opportunities - With huge investment comes huge change; driving a vision of growth and innovation to open up a world of new opportunities.

To further discuss any of these topics, and how future workplaces might impact your business, get in touch with Ian Binder, Head of Industrial, at [email protected]

Ian Binder