HANNOVER, Germany–How industrial companies can leverage 5G is an overarching theme at the Hannover Messe trade fair this week. But beyond simply connecting factories with the latest and greatest in cellular, there’s a more fundamental underlying shift that’s potentially just as important as the connectivity piece–catering to a new generation of worker who has spent the majority of their life with an internet-connected device in his or her hands.
Thorsten Schroeer, IBM’s director of Industrial Sector, likened the shift as bringing an Amazon-type experience that you have in your private consumer life to a manufacturing floor. “The workforce is pushing heavily towards mobile devices, new edge apps,” he told RCR Wireless News.
Schroeer said industrial sector decision-makers “see the value of having all the information at your fingertips” that comes with mobile devices but, at the same time, are cognizant of potential risks. “They know how much easier things can be. It’s a burden you need to overcome in order to succeed with these kinds of new solutions.”
He also pointed out that monolithic organizational structures within long-standing industrial companies can hinder digital transformation. Although it’s not necessarily a panacea, one route to enact change can be through the appointment of a chief digital officer.
With a chief digital officer in place, Schroeer said, “The first step is to find a business unit that is supportive…that sees the pain and views digitalization as a lever to overcome the challenge.”
A disconnect between ingrained processes and an increasingly mobile native workforce is a trend that cuts across all of the industries Rockwell Automation engages with, Chirayu Shah, manager of IIoT and software partnering, Global Business Development, said.
“The people that are managing control systems for decades, they are retiring. We see a new age workforce coming in–they are used to doing everything on a tablet. That shift is consistent across.”
One way Rockwell Automation is addressing this shift through its own product development process is by establishing an internal team dedicated to using common libraries to unify the user interfaces across its portfolio.
As it relates to 5G for manufacturing, the immediate focus is a more robust, real-time medium for collecting, analyzing and deriving insight from the massive amount of data streaming out of industrial machines.
Tying together actionable data insight and a new generation of workers, Shah gave the example of using augmented reality to complement human intelligence. “It’s more to do with the domain expertise that is lacking,” he said. “From an AR perspective, we can actually build out some of that domain expertise in a central repository. As a worker goes out and performs a task, they are being helped with those instructions, those workflows, from that domain expert who is not present. That’s how we are looking at it. How can we provide more context to an operator based on historical data and real-time data.”
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