Industry 4.0 – The employee’s role

Many great things are being attributed to digitalization. In particular, negative predictions for people’s work and personal development in factories are becoming ever more frequent. Will all employees in a digitalized Industry 4.0 factory really be running on autopilot in the near future? Will cognitive processes be increasingly automated? Will there still be any room at all for empathy for the work carried out in the smart factory?

It is true that digitalization in Industry 4.0 covers all business processes. However, this will by no means eliminate human labor. Nonetheless, it will need to redefine itself. To implement real-time data sharing and networked production, teams combining the various disciplines will monitor processes and spearhead their value creation.

At the heart of the digitalized factory – people. Managers of assembly units are becoming architects of value creation – a cognitively and socially demanding task.

From specialist to operators between the digital interfaces

The status quo is being shaken up in the transformation process for Industry 4.0, and the reliability of all established processes is being placed under the spotlight. Those who view change processes as a challenge can only win, while those who look the other way will lose. When smart machines are able to automate traditional processes, the requirements of employees change and there is an increasing need for mentally creative rather than physically demanding activities. Flexibility, media skills, an interdisciplinary mindset and self-organization become more important.
Production employees, previously highly specialized machine operators, become flexible 4.0 operators between the digital interfaces. These new types of employees assemble, organize and communicate. For them, the machine is no longer merely a tool but an equal partner that networks processes, prepares various operations and issues instructions. Instead of being afraid of being squeezed out, people in the smart factory have the opportunity to harness its flexibility and thus benefit from the economies of scale in value creation.

The employee remains a decision maker, problem solver and innovator

New cornerstones of value creation are created in the Industry 4.0 factory through digital process networking, combined with intelligent collaboration between humans and technology. While the digital native generation finds itself in a familiar environment, traditional, experienced specialists face new challenges.

As might be expected from the advance of digitalization, an increasing proportion of value creation will take place in the virtual arena in the near future. A solid understanding of IT processes is thus vital for 4.0 employees. Provided the necessary openness exists, exciting worlds will emerge that revolutionize workflows and define new areas of responsibility.