Digitalization is changing industrial work, with work tools based on mixed reality, artificial intelligence and robotics. Can the change make industrial work more interesting, versatile and attractive? Many researchers believe that this will be the case and the forthcoming change in industrial jobs has been described as Operator 4.0 visions [Human-Centred Factories White Paper].
In these visions, future factory operator is fluently utilizing mixed reality tools to get contextually relevant support in different work tasks, and the operator can utilise virtual reality in training. Future operator smoothly collaborates with remote colleagues even globally, and works with robots and artificial intelligence based assistive agents. Robots and exoskeletons ease physically demanding tasks. Operator’s individual characteristics, skills and preferences can be taken into account with personally adapting work tools and with artificial intelligence based job allocation.
From Operator 4.0 to smooth human-machine team work
Operator 4.0 vision and concepts are a concrete step towards more human-centred factories, which are expected to have positive impacts both on work well-being and productivity. However, there is still work to do.
Human-centered factories should be designed for smooth human-machine team work. The focus in Operator 4.0 visions has been on individual operators. In practice, the operator is part of one or more work teams. The teams can include human actors at the site, remote human actors, collaborative robots and AI based systems for assistance or supervision. These kinds of human-machine teams should be designed so that they utilize optimally both human and machine skills, and provide meaningful jobs for human operators.
Human-centred factories should provide to the workers individually meaningful jobs and development paths. Future industrial work will require different new skills. Everyone does not need to have all the skills but new work roles will be generated with different skills levels and skills combinations. Even individually defined work roles will be possible. Human-centred factories should support operators in choosing the skills that they want to develop, and then in gradually developing the skills at their own pace.
New industrial work in Horizon Europe
The new European research and innovation framework programme, Horizon Europe, will start in 2021. Regarding manufacturing industry, one of the key objectives is ”Attractive value-added manufacturing jobs in Europe”. To reach this objective, we should extend the research focus from individual tools and individual operators to human-machine teams. We should consider the personal competence development paths that will be needed when introducing new tools. We at VTT are currently setting up consortia to Horizon Europe proposals, aiming to make manufacturing work more attractive and productive. Please contact us if you are interested to join!