Anyone who works in manufacturing is acutely aware that finding employees with the right technical skills and production engineering knowledge is a continual and growing challenge. The lack of availability of technically competent individuals is often cited as one of the most significant threats to the successful growth of global manufacturing.
"While many of the benefits that the “fourth industrial revolution” promises are predicated on hardware, software, systems and solutions, they are fundamentally designed to reduce the reliance on certain skills that may have been more readily available in the past"
Many reasons exist for the emergence of the impending skills gap. For one, the age profile of the “baby boom” generation means that companies are faced with the prospect of having unprecedented numbers of their highly experienced, long-serving individuals approach or enter retirement over a relatively short period of time. And, those individuals will be taking their valuable machining knowledge and experience out the door with them. The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that there are not enough young people choosing to enter the metal cutting industry to balance the exodus of older talent and expertise.
Another possibility is that education systems have reduced the focus on engineering or manufacturing as a career path. There still exists a perception of “manual” engineering that is associated with manufacturing—and that negative connotation may come from parents, grandparents and even schools. While this perception is a long way from the truth, many young people today would prefer to see their future in communications, design or software rather than engineering and manufacturing. The irony, of course, is that modern production is heavily based on communications, design and software.
New Skillsets for Industry 4.0
So how do companies remain competitive and grow their businesses in an era when they have less access to competent resources? One way is for organizations to truly embrace the concept of Industry 4.0 and the intelligent factory. While many of the benefits that the “fourth industrial revolution” promises are predicated on hardware, software, systems and solutions, they are fundamentally designed to reduce the reliance on certain skills that may have been more readily available in the past. As a result, adopting the technologies that form the bedrock of Industry 4.0 can go far to mitigate the challenges posed by the dwindling pool of technical talent.
Now, aptitudes that were once considered to be “soft skills” and not necessarily important for those on the shop floor, such as critical and analytical thinking, problem solving and decision making and people skills like teamwork and communication, will now be more valuable than ever. The growing availability and sophistication of process planning software and integrated tool libraries, for example, minimizes the levels of machining skills needed to optimize end-to-end manufacturing processes.
Augmented Workforce of the Future
Using machining process recommendations, manufacturers can quickly and easily identify the combination of machines, fixtures, tool holders, cutting tools, insert geometries and grades needed for a given machining task. And then, by creating a “digital twin” of the machining task made for CAM simulation software, they can ensure they have the best possible set-up for a given production requirement long before real-time machining starts.
In addition, the digital solutions that are emerging in support of Industry 4.0 promise a much greater ability to monitor and record every aspect of the production process. By combining these enhanced monitoring capabilities with advanced connectivity solutions, it becomes possible to collect large volumes of data that may not have been available to a production engineer or machine operator. Combining this data with powerful software analysis tools has the potential to provide companies with unprecedented insight into every aspect of the manufacturing process. In turn, this manufacturing system intelligence allows managers to make informed decisions that lead to improved productivity and security at the same time as reducing unplanned stops in the production and overall reliance on skilled personnel.
The remote monitoring and control capabilities that the industrial Internet of Things (iIoT) will also augment the skills within a manufacturing organization. Take, for example, a scenario where connected solutions might allow key tool parameters to be set via a modern touch screen. This technology is bound to make manufacturing more attractive to the younger generation entering the workforce in the coming years.
As we move towards a fully augmented workforce, where a synergy exists between people and machines, advanced hardware and software solutions for process planning, simulation, control and monitoring will not require the same in-depth machining knowledge required by the previous generation. Instead, new skillsets and different ways of working will emerge for production engineers and machine operators to help them analyze and interpret machining data so they make better decisions for an optimal manufacturing process.
Sean Holt has more than 25 years of engineering, business development, sales and executive management experience. Joining Sandvik Coromant in 2000 as a sales engineer, Sean has built his career as an Application Development Specialist, Aerospace Manager and Vice President of Engineering. Now as President of Sandvik Coromant responsible for North and South America, Sean’s international business experience provides a critical foundation in an era where manufacturing and production transcends geographical borders. Focused on improving the customer experience, Sean actively works to deliver high-value solutions. He recognizes the importance of digitalization and fully drives and supports the future of manufacturing.