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Technology-augment Nordic manufacturing workers instead of displacing them through automation

Denne idé er en del af The Future of Nordic Manufacturing

17. juli 2017

"The potential for the Nordic manufacturing sector is huge, and more than 50% of our exports stem from the manufacturing sector [1]. However, automation is expensive to implement and it requires specialist skills to maintain, while 90% of all manufacturing companies in Nordic countries employ fewer than 20 employees [1]. Automation lends itself better to high-volume production, of which we have very little left in the region.

Labor costs are high here and most manufacturing companies today work hard at improving productivity, efficiency and financial performance by employing a variety of Lean and Six Sigma techniques, as well as through digitization and automation. However, we feel that the market is now ripe for a key technology to be pushed hard in the Nordic region, with the potential to spread rapidly from here to the rest of the world. We can’t compete with China in supply chain flexibility; we can’t compete with South-East Asia in labor costs; we can’t compete with the U.S.A. in market size; but we can compete with them all in innovation and technology.

The technology I’m referring to is Operator 4.0, where human production operators are technology-augmented to increase their physical and cognitive capabilities [2]. In [2], Martin and Leurent write that pilot programmes utilizing enterprise wearables show up to 25% improvement in operator productivity. As Ingo Ruhmann, special adviser on IT systems at Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research, explains [3]: “Complete automation is not realistic. Technology will mainly increase productivity through physical and digital assistance systems, not the replacement of human labor.”

I believe that the Nordic countries are extremely well positioned to lead the rest of the world in the development of Operator 4.0 related technologies. We are already well-known for our innovative engineering, for our leadership in design and ergonomics, for our strong ICT sector, and for advocating worker welfare. But the fact is that we are also already among those at the forefront of developing Operator 4.0 related technologies through work done by teams such as that of Dr. Johan Stahre at the Department of Product and Production Development at Chalmers University of Technology in Göteborg [4] [5].

For public business consultants in the region to effectively help their constituent companies in this regard, they must:

• Educate themselves on Operator 4.0 related technologies, network regularly with university research teams, and stay abreast of developments and the needs of the local industry through study visits, lab visits, training courses, exchange programs, online discussion forums and user groups,

• Cast their nets wide for Operator 4.0 solutions that their local constituent companies may need, by joining international trade fairs and trade delegations,

• Foster collaborative efforts and knowledge sharing within relevant industries by organizing and leading industry events and workshops, and

• Act as proponents of locally developed Operator 4.0 solutions abroad: again, through trade fairs and trade delegations but also through pilot programs and joint development initiatives.

Not only can Nordic countries excel at Operator 4.0 technologies and radically uplift our own manufacturing sector, we also have an unprecedented opportunity to spearhead world-leading initiatives in this nascent field and export our solutions as a global technology leader!

[1] “Digitalisation and automation in the Nordic manufacturing sector”, Nordic Council of Ministers (2015)

[2] “Technology and Innovation for the Future of Production: Accelerating Value Creation”, World Economic Forum in collaboration with A.T. Kearney (March 2017)

[3] “Man and Machine in Industry 4.0”, The Boston Consulting Group (Sept 2015)

[4] “Towards an Operator 4.0 Typology: A Human-Centric Perspective on the Fourth Industrial Revolution Technologies”, Romero, Stahre, Wuest, Noran, Bernus, Fast-Berglund, Gorecky (Oct 2016)

[5] “The Operator 4.0: Human Cyber-Physical Systems & Adaptive Automation towards Human-Automation Symbiosis Work Systems”, Romero, Bernus, Noran, Stahre, Fast-Berglund (Sept 2016)"