From the editor: The rise of the machines

Sunday April 16, 2017
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Apr. 16, 2017 - Automation in its various forms, whether it’s process, support or industrial related (to name a few), is designed to improve productivity and create efficiencies; free workers from boring, repetitive or unsafe work; and improve overall quality of life.

Last December, Gartner released a report that predicts smart machines will enter mainstream adoption by 2021, with 30 per cent implementation by large companies.

“The use of smart machines by enterprises can be transformative and disruptive. Smart machines will profoundly change the way work is done and how value is created. From dynamic pricing models and fraud detection, to predictive policing and robotics, smart machines have broad applicability in all industries,” said Susan Tan, research vice president at Gartner. “For service providers, smart machines represent opportunities to help enterprises assess, select, implement, change and adapt talent, and for IT and business processes, the opportunity to successfully adopt smart machines for business benefits.”

But the evolution of advanced robotics and artificial intelligence has also spawned a growing fear that hundreds of thousands — potentially millions — of jobs will soon be replaced by swift, efficient robots.

Earlier this year, Dominic Barton, managing director of global consulting firm McKinsey & Co., made national headlines when he boldly noted 40 per cent of existing Canadian jobs will disappear over the next decade or so due to automation. He urged the federal government to rethink skills training in two critical ways: figure out what to do with older workers whose skills are no longer sought after, and help students upgrade their skills over the course of their careers so they stay relevant.

Not only does the rise of smart machines propel the era of connected manufacturing, this digitalization has also created a rapid change in manufacturing processes that has a snowball effect on other facets of the industry, in particular by redefining tomorrow’s manufacturing worker.

As our Backstory contributor, Mark Humphlett, writes in Why manufacturers and suppliers must train the next generation, today’s manufacturers need to revise their recruiting policies to properly adapt for these jobs of the future.

“Manufacturers need those young people who live technology, breathe social media, and instinctively know how to collaborate and build consensus among groups. It’s not the same skills that were required in the post-war, golden era of manufacturing, when a strong back, an ability to follow directions, and a desire to provide for your family were the main prerequisites,” he says.

Far from stagnant, the global manufacturing industry is at the mere beginning of a truly exciting time. Despite all the intricate machinery and technology this new world brings, humans — or rather the changing workforce — will continue to be the backbone of this business.

This column was originally published in the March/April 2017 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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