Industry 4.0: Securing A Collaborative Future

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Author: Shermine Gotfredsen, General Manager SEA & Oceania, Universal Robots

Technology is dramatically changing how we live, work and interact with the world. Many of these changes we see in our day-to-day lives, but many, including the emergence of the next industrial revolution, or ‘Industry 4.0’, are transformations that are unseen by the vast majority of people.

Yet despite occurring behind the scenes, Industry 4.0 promises to be just as revolutionary. In a recent report on the future of manufacturing, Deloitte describes Industry 4.0 as “the marriage of physical and digital technologies, such as analytics, robotics, artificial intelligence, cognitive computing and the internet of things (IoT)”. These technologies will combine to help automate many routine tasks, promising great benefits, but only if businesses embrace the future and adapt to a changing industrial landscape.

Worryingly, Deloitte’s report found that Australian executives are less confident than their global counterparts about their organisations’ readiness for the changes associated with Industry 4.0. In fact, the research found Australian executives to be the least confident in the world about their organisations’ readiness for technological and societal change, with just 2% of execs in Australia expressing confidence compared to 14% globally.

The rapidly advancing technologies driving Industry 4.0 are set to bring significant economic changes, with implications on specific business manufacturing needs, such as lead time optimisation, supply chain regulation and asset utilisation. So why are Australian executives seemingly not equipped to embrace the concept? Is it merely a lack of understanding of how they should act to benefit from those changes, or worse still, a lack of vision?

The abilities of Australian manufacturing employees does not appear to be the issue. Australian business leaders were the MOST confident of anyone globally in the ability of their current workforce to adapt to Industry 4.0. Nearly twice as many Australian executives (71%) said they had the people in place with the right skills to maximise their potential, compared to an average of just 40% globally.

Somewhat alarmingly, the unpreparedness of Australian businesses seems to be a result of a lack of understanding of the benefits technology can bring, and a lack of vision about how it can be used. Only 4% of Australian executives said they considered technology to be a key competitive differentiator, compared with 20% globally. With the well-documented struggles of Australia’s manufacturing industry, this should set alarm bells ringing that we need corporate leaders who appreciate the productivity gains, health and safety improvements, and increased competitiveness that technology can deliver. If we get it right, Australian manufacturing could experience the same renaissance that has seen ‘reshoring’ American businesses use automation to bring manufacturing jobs back home.

Business leaders and governments need to be at the forefront of shaping Industry 4.0, so the clear disconnect amongst Australian execs must be addressed and reconciled. Too often, technology is seen as inaccessible, complex, or expensive, but the reality is that new technologies – such as collaborative robots, or ‘cobots’ – can deliver automation at a fraction of the price of traditional technologies like industrial robotics.

There is a clear need for Australian businesses to invest in new technology to better prepare for change and to compete with developing economies that are investing heavily in technology. So how are Australian businesses currently automating and what needs to be done to adopt more and create greater efficiencies?

According to Telsyte’s 2017 ANZ Robotic Process Automation Study, business investment in robotic process automation, which is already sizeable in areas such as manufacturing, insurance, finance, banking and telecoms, is set to increase dramatically in Australia and New Zealand, from $216 million in 2017 to $870 million by 2020.

There are other positive signs that attitudes are changing: Australia has seen triple-digit growth in the market for cobots, according to data from the market leader, Universal Robots. This is enabling automation in areas previously considered too complex or costly, while increasing production efficiency and quality. Promisingly, this is being seen in businesses of all sizes, from the likes of global multinationals such as Astra Zeneca, to smaller or family owned manufacturers, like Prysm Industries in Victoria.

To realise the benefits that automation can bring, Australia needs more organisations to shift the focus from the short-term to the long-term, and to take a more proactive approach to exploring new technologies. Business leaders, boards and owners need to come together to identify areas of weakness – such as the lack of awareness Deloitte’s research revealed – and work to find solutions. The risk, if we fail to do so, is that Australia will face further manufacturing and industrial decline.

Universal Robots makes robot technology accessible to all by developing small, user-friendly, reasonably priced, flexible industrial robots that are safe to work with. Since the first collaborative robot (cobot) was launched in 2008, the company has experienced considerable growth with the user-friendly cobot now sold worldwide.  Find out more at www.universal-robots.com

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