It's hard to escape the headlines and debates peddling the prospect that "digitalization and automation cost jobs." Of course everyone's entitled to their own opinion and there are different slants on the subject. But whichever way you look at it, our lives are being transformed from top to bottom, including the way we work. This lays down the gauntlet, particularly for engineers, to explore technological means of responding to these social trends.
Counteracting demographics with intelligent technology
Our population structure is changing. You can argue about the dimensions, but there's no denying the trend. In the heart of Europe, people are living longer, the "baby boomers" are about to retire, and we are expected to work longer in sectors where automated processes can simplify things by assisting with tasks or taking all the physical strain.
In other sectors, artificial intelligence (AI) performs certain duties that are currently very complex or nigh on impossible. Such as? Imagine you’ve been admitted into a hospital and have the choice between an experienced consultant with no Internet access or a junior doctor who can compare your case, using AI, with all the comparable notes, diagnoses and treatments stored in databases worldwide, and then discuss how to proceed – whom do you trust more?
As you can see, these issues really do exist. AI is also set to find its way into the factory halls of the future to make production processes more efficient and thus less strenuous for workers. Technologies such as mobile assistance systems and edge computing form the backbone of this transformation. This presents a major new preoccupation for production planners, automation managers, assembly workers and IT staff – but planning and implementing the processes, work steps and automation solutions will require a team effort.
The consumer market influences industrial production
Sooner or later, what we use in our homes usually ends up making its way into industrial manufacturing. The main difference lies in the need to ensure stable processes. The kind of errors we merely find a nuisance at home, such as having to reboot our PC or smartphone, can have major repercussions in an industrial setting. Production processes have to be stable and reliable so as to avoid costly downtimes and, in the worst case scenario, delays to delivery (which can quickly get very expensive).
What's more, most if not all of us are getting hooked on increasing personalization. A standard-range car? These hardly exist anymore! A muesli that's made to our very own taste? Bring it on! Customized sneakers in three days? You bet!
Here's where automation technology plays a key role – particularly the associated networking of automated production machinery. After all, to accomplish the many interim steps involved in customization, ordering and production within the desired delivery time, automated production processes have to be networked with the ordering system software. This calls for innovative engineers in IT and automation who are willing to venture down new paths and thereby ensure that the data required for production not only reaches the machine but can also be correctly interpreted by it.
It's not enough for these specialists to be in command of the relevant technology – no, they must also understand users' and customers' mindsets and needs and be able to incorporate these into developments in their own company. These experts form a dedicated interface by acting as local "interpreters" between all the parties involved.
But the workforce also needs technologically skilled support. When it comes to gaining new regional markets and customers, a highly effective team of field and office staff springs into action to ensure existing and new customers can optimize machines and systems, or develop new ones, for their own customers looking to stand out in a rapidly changing market.
While the field workers are the human face of the company in charge of identifying potential new customers as well as winning new orders, back-office staff cover several sales regions and are the technical specialists in charge of consulting customers and planning new orders. These two extremely exciting career profiles use technology that combines specialist knowledge and technical expertise with pinpointing customer trends.
Exciting new worlds of work generated by social change
Both digitalization and automation produce highly discerning, multi-faceted new career profiles. It's not only major companies that set the pace in this field but, even more so, the small and medium enterprises (often referred to as the "hidden champions"), who boldly experiment and create new processes and topics as they go along. They are looking for committed people who aren't afraid to think outside the box, spot potential, but also recognize where technology still needs further development to meet customers' requirements.
If you are keen to play an active role in developing the technology to shape these changes in society, then we should talk.