Ready or not, Industry 5.0 is here. While many manufacturers are still busy developing methods for interconnecting new technologies to improve efficiency and productivity — the guiding principle behind Industry 4.0 — the next phase of industrialization is already upon us.
But Industry 5.0 is not akin to Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel explaining that his guitar amplifier is louder than standard models because “this one goes to 11.” It’s much more than simply bumping up industrialization one tick higher on the dial. It’s the next step in the evolution of manufacturing.
To grasp the full picture of Industry 5.0 and its implications, one must first understand how the initiative is defined.
The term Industry 5.0 refers to people working alongside robots and smart machines. It’s about robots helping humans work better and faster by leveraging advanced technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data. It adds a personal human touch to the Industry 4.0 pillars of automation and efficiency.
In manufacturing environments, robots have historically performed dangerous, monotonous or physically demanding work, such as welding and painting in car factories and loading and unloading heavy materials in warehouses. As machines in the workplace get smarter and more connected, Industry 5.0 is aimed at merging those cognitive computing capabilities with human intelligence and resourcefulness in collaborative operations.
The Danish company Universal Robots staked its claim as the first provider of industrial robots that work safely and effectively alongside humans. Whereas industrial robots have traditionally operated separately from workers and behind safety cages, the company’s robots were first deployed alongside human workers in 2008 at Linatex, a supplier of technical plastics and rubber for industrial applications. (1)
The pairing of human and machine workers opens the door to countless opportunities in manufacturing. And since the use cases of Industry 5.0 are still in their relative infancy, manufacturers should be actively strategizing ways to integrate human and machine workers in order to maximize the unique benefits that can be reaped as the movement continues to evolve.
To be prepared for Industry 5.0 and its impacts, there are three key elements of the initiative that you must understand.
Don’t mistake the upsurge in robotics as an opportunity to eliminate headcount and replace workers who perform repetitive tasks on assembly lines. Manufacturers who understand the value of human intuition and problem-solving capabilities are positioning themselves to thrive.
“People often think of manufacturing workers as actually a poor substitute for a robot,” Susan Helper, an economist at Case Western Reserve University, told The New York Times. “But in practice, these things are really difficult, and the assembly line worker is making judgments a lot. And it turns out that when you take that person away, you end up with some problems that are hard to solve.” (2)
Even Tesla CEO Elon Musk admitted that “excessive automation” at his company was a mistake, tweeting that “Humans are underrated.” (3)
While robots are much more consistent than humans and better at precision work, they’re inflexible and incapable of the adaptability and critical thinking that define us as humans. Working together with people, robots can fulfill their designated purpose of providing assistance and making our lives better. Universal Robots uses the term “cobots” for collaborative robots to emphasize the importance of people in robotic technology.
“Industry 5.0 will make the factory a place where creative people can come and work, to create a more personalized and human experience for workers and their customers,” said Esben Østergaard, Universal Robots chief technology officer and co-founder, in an article published on Enterprise IoT Insights. (4)
The objective of Industry 4.0 is to interconnect machines, processes and systems for maximum performance optimization. Industry 5.0 takes such efficiency and productivity a step further. It’s about refining the collaborative interactions between humans and machines.
KUKA, one of the world’s leading suppliers of intelligent automation solutions, is finding that diverse business sectors — from the automotive industry to timber construction companies — are benefitting from the principles and products engendered by Industry 5.0. But their gains haven’t been achieved without some initial hesitations. Employees at Müllerblaustein, a timber construction firm that has teamed with KUKA on Industry 5.0-related initiatives, at first were skeptical about using robots that could potentially take their jobs away, according to the company’s managing director, Reinhold Müller. But those fears faded once the efficiency advantages became evident.
“In production operations, they realized that the robots relieve them of physically demanding work and they can concentrate on other tasks,” Müller said. “Craftsmanship and robotics complement each other ideally here.” (5)
Rogers Corporation, a manufacturer of specialty materials used in consumer and electronic products, is another company that evangelizes the upsides of Industry 5.0. The manufacturer reports its capacity to dramatically improve efficiency by integrating robots into its manufacturing processes. The company’s website touts a variety of robotics applications, including one that features a robot performing a task while a camera system records visual data. Using this system, it is possible for a worker to complete several tasks at one time via robots and, if the camera notes any visual discrepancies, the worker is notified so corrections can be made.
“Industry 5.0 recognizes that man and machine must be interconnected to meet the manufacturing complexity of the future in dealing with increasing customization through an optimized robotized manufacturing process,” said Marc Beulque, vice president of global operations at Rogers. (6)
Once you’ve used technology to make a process more efficient, there’s no point in reverting to the old way of doing things. It’s why we use computers with word processing software instead of typewriters. Similarly, Industry 5.0 is the manufacturing world’s event horizon. Given the efficiencies that can be gained, we’re well past the point of going back.
The European Economic Social Committee (EESC) summed it up best: “The proliferation of robotic automation is inevitable.”
Recognizing that Europe trails the United States and China in advancing technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), the European Union (EU) consultative body has called for acceleration of AI and robotics development in the region. “The EU should embrace digitalisation wholeheartedly for the sake of consumers, manufacturers, and employees alike,” it said. (7)
While Industry 5.0’s headway can’t be stalled, there are still essential questions and ramifications that must addressed by manufacturers and policymakers. Excessive automation, for instance, is an issue about which the authors of a research paper recently published in OMICS have expressed concerns — and their apprehensions appear to mirror the attitude shifts of innovators like Musk, whose once aggressive approaches to automation have since toned down.
“Highly integrated systems are vulnerable to systemic risks such as total network collapse,” according to the paper. “Extreme connectivity creates new social and political structures. If left unchecked, they might lead to authoritarian governance.” (8)
Engaging with these and the many other challenges and opportunities Industry 5.0 invariably brings will require planning and preparation commensurate with each manufacturer’s needs and expected outcomes. It’s not a question of whether a manufacturer can benefit from its personnel working alongside robots, but how they can best leverage new technologies to drive optimal outcomes from human/machine interactions.
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