Breaking down the barriers
In the 19th century, ice cutters were responsible for sawing up and selling chunks of ice, but the introduction of refrigerators and air conditioners meant ice cutters were no longer needed.
New technology has changed the nature of work for almost every industry across the world, introducing better, quicker and more economic ways of working. These advances grew so rapidly, that many businesses found they couldn’t adapt fast enough. There are three challenges in particular that the manufacturing industry is struggling to overcome on its digitalisation journey.
Engineering is a field often clouded by a misconception of men wearing hard hats and carrying tool boxes. In reality, engineering is becoming more digital, which has allowed an influx of new, interesting careers.
While some roles have become obsolete, according to a Deloitte study, the implementation of automation alone has created 3.5 million jobs in the UK. These are jobs that most people never imagined would exist, let alone considered a major part of modern engineering. They have also inspired the creation of specialised further education courses, like the Human-Computer Interaction course at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.
Although digitalisation is always introducing new careers to the industry, practical, hands-on skills will always be essential. The difficulty is integrating them with the new technologies present in the sector.
A survey by BDO and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers stated only 17 per cent of employers have the right staff and skills to incorporate Industry 4.0 into their businesses.
However, the introduction of advanced communications allows collaboration between different generations to be possible in a way it never was before. For example, augmented reality (AR) technology can now be used for expert maintenance support. The expert can see through the eyes of the technician on-site, talking them though the procedure and annotating or highlighting the specific element that requires their attention. Employees are no longer restricted by their geography — they are able to collaborate and further supplement their colleagues’ existing knowledge from anywhere in the world.
Create the Future, a report on the perceptions of engineering, revealed engineering is regarded as the most vital profession for economic growth, but there is still little interest in the field compared to other science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.
Engineering is generally not introduced at any stage of early education and certainly not modern engineering, which is preventing young children from considering it as a future career.
The Economic and Social Research Council found that children as young as 12 have a strong sense of their personal futures and can reflect thoughtfully on what life might hold for them. Therefore, introducing children to the career opportunities that digitalisation has brought to engineering is vital for future proofing the industry.
Like how the refrigerator changed the industry for good, the digital age has introduced many improvements to the manufacturing industry. However, there are still many barriers to overcome until digitalisation can be fully and successfully integrated.