Series: Modernizing Industry with IIoT, Part 2

As technology progresses, it brings with it both positive and negative aspects. Our world becomes more efficient. Machines take over all the hard jobs, leading the globe into an era of power and promise. Everything we’ve ever worried about dissipates in a cloud of smoke, and humans are safe and secure forever in the grasp of machines – right?


Solving the Problems of an Aging Workforce and Higher Labor Costs

The correct answer is “yes and no.” The growing trends of machine-learning and A.I. are no exception. Sure, there’s a lot of good that comes with technological growth, but there are also a few problems that many have failed to predict.



Perhaps the biggest is the destruction of a human-based job market. With so many machines slated to take over manufacturing, one must wonder if humans have a place anymore. What will we do? What will become of us? How will we survive or make a living? These questions and more run through our heads like frightened rabbits, and the answers aren’t easy to decipher.


Read: Smart Manufacturing Solution Overview


Machines will undoubtedly replace people; there’s no sense in denying what’s already happening, but how much replacement will occur is open to interpretation. Financial powerhouses like the Bank of England predict that anywhere between 80-95 million jobs will be handed over to robots within 20 years, and 50 percent of the workforce is at risk for unemployment. Other sources, however, claim that certain positions will always be held by humans, no matter how technologically-savvy we become in the future. Humans will still be required to monitor and run our machines, and focus on the real creative problem-solving that businesses need. It’s nice to know the fate of humanity and manufacturing isn’t all about pressing buttons and recording stats.



It appears that horizon is still growing brightly, but what about our aging workforce? The days of running an assembly line by hand are long gone. Following WWII, veterans and civilians alike sought factory jobs to help their countries rebuild. This has stood as a way of life for many ever since, but the fact is that these veterans and workers are moving on or retiring. America’s labor force is aging rapidly (seniors account for nearly 40 percent of its total), and younger generations are not taking the time to learn the trade, much less train in it. Manufacturing jobs are considered by some to be a “dying art,” and could likely fall into the hands of machines everywhere.



This all leads to bigger problems, such as higher labor costs. Younger workers are requesting higher wages than their predecessors, and manufacturers are struggling to meet their growing demands. That’s why robots appear more enticing with each passing day – they don’t need salaries to survive. They simply shut down and fall asleep for the night without having to feed themselves, and rate increases are proving too powerful to stop.



So, what can we do? While an aging workforce may seem problematic at first glance, there are ways of incorporating IIoT applications without losing one’s veteran employees. Philosophies behind the IIoT suggest that smart machines are better than humans at collecting and communicating data with each other. This allows companies to pick up on problems much sooner, saving them time and money (some solid defense against increased labor costs) while also supporting business intelligence efforts. In manufacturing, applications can also assist with quality control, along with supply chain traceability and efficiency. The IIoT can replace humans’ needs to gather data themselves, as this usually takes long periods of time and results in less than half the data machines can accrue.



But here’s the clincher – the IIoT also comes with a few major concerns, the first being how machines and devices will communicate with each other when they possess different structures and use different protocols. A manufacturer’s aging workers likely have the know-how and experience necessary to make this happen, given they’ve spent years getting to know their respective factories. Thus, they can be put in charge of creating the standards required for allowing machines to interoperate and function on the same architectures. They can then monitor these machines and systems to ensure functionality and efficiency remain in place. This creates a world where humans and machines not only need each other, but work off each other.


Regarding labor costs, many business owners are facing insurmountable pressure from both technical advancements and changing trends in manufacturing. In the U.S., more than five million manufacturing jobs have been lost since 2000, and roughly 400 plants have closed every year since 2011. Labor costs have a lot to do with these results, but the IIoT is a savior for manufacturing companies as it can save employers quite a bit when it comes to training present workers and hiring necessary specialists.


For one thing, the IIoT gives manufacturers the opportunity to invest in new skills and processes that allow both human and digital labor to work together. Implementing the required changes that support collaborative and autonomous working relationships between humans and machines saves on labor costs because it offers plants the machines they need to get tasks and processes done quickly. It also ensures workers have long-lasting knowledge and abilities they can use for future applications. This means present employees can stick around, and manufacturers don’t need to hire new faces. This saves money on future training as the current workforce already has the skill-sets it needs, and employers can minimize labor costs.


Perhaps the final benefit comes in the form of machinery replacement costs, which become virtually non-existent. The IIoT allows the retrofitting of old machines instead of calling for full-on replacements. This eliminates a company’s need to hire new people to operate them. Instead, current employees are simply trained on the new systems, thus increasing their skills and making them more valuable to their companies. This tactic works to assist both young and aging members of one’s workforce, and helps them retain their jobs.



 So, as the world and technology change, we can do so along with them to make sure our businesses, industries and economies always stay afloat.


Read: Smart Manufacturing Solution Overview