Work 4.0 – “And that’s how it’s split between automation and humans”

In the old days, HR departments were always desperately looking for committed assembly workers. Now they’re focusing on multifunctional specialists whose all-round skills enable them to master processes, what is known as Work 4.0. But how are multifunctional work processes handled in the networked factory?

A personal account

Effizientes Teamwork in der Praxis: Unser Mitarbeiter berichtet von der Zusammenarbeit mit Robotern und seinen Erfahrungen mit dem automatisierten Wandel in seinem Berufsalltag.
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Effizientes Teamwork in der Praxis: Unser Mitarbeiter berichtet von der Zusammenarbeit mit Robotern und seinen Erfahrungen mit dem automatisierten Wandel in seinem Berufsalltag.

It is 9:36 a.m., and Thomas Dolger is loading the latest customer order onto his screen: an S series helical-worm gear unit, an order placed the previous day and configured to customized specifications. With the support of an assembly assistant, Dolger begins putting the motor together. Thirty minutes later, he has already finished the assembly and has completed the test run.

Why use humans and robots?

“Yes, robots, at first it was hard to imagine at all. Robots? Whatever would a robot do here? But then we got used to the idea. Then the first mobile assistants came along, and then the first presses. And then we just built an island and worked from inside it, which turned out to be actually pretty good, the whole thing.”

One-piece-flow reduces throughput times

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Within a very short period of time, the gear unit is coated, packaged and ready for shipping, complete with its delivery documentation. These kinds of fast and flexible production processes, which can also be found in the SEW-EURODRIVE assembly plant in Graben-Neudorf, do present challenges to production employees.

How does the technology reduce stress?

It’s just easier. I press the button and the whole workbench still moves to the next workplace. At the same time, I can look at the order. I can take out a part. All that wasn’t possible before. Back than, you had a fixed workplace. You had to turn around bend down and carry up the heavy stuff.

Monotonous assembly line work is old hat

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The role of machine feeder has been obsolete for a long time. Employees in production and logistics now handle more than just single process steps. Like Mr. Dolger, they can deal with entire processes. They receive support in this from mobile logistics and assembly assistants, pick-by-light systems and cutting-edge media such as tablets with intuitive controls and smart glasses.

Digital skills are not a problem for the younger generation, which has grown up with the Internet, tablets and smartphones. Many staff members learn on the job, such as trainees, who are already assembling actual gear units for delivery. They are not under any time pressure, however.

What has changed?

So work has not become more boring. It’s more interesting now, more diverse.

Training and continuing education are key

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Digitalized working thrives on mutual motivation and support among the team. Anyone who needs a little help catching up with the latest IT technology – such as some of our older employees – receives targeted support in the form of training courses, seminars and training programs. Learning and interdisciplinary thinking and doing will become the key functions of tomorrow.

Alongside more wide-ranging fields of activity, assembly work has become a lot easier for production staff. They no longer have to lift heavy parts. Assistance systems have taken over these kinds of activities that do not generate immediate value, and in turn this creates opportunities for new, more exciting tasks. Shift supervisors control and coordinate the processes, and thus become directors of value creation. They can see on their screens which orders are currently in production in the assembly islands, can follow their status and rapidly identify potential for improvement.

Are humans being sidelined?

“Everything that is automated simply runs automatically, so there's no need to worry about it as a machine operator. And for everything else where I have to play a role, there I have to think on my feet, that’s my job. And that’s how it’s split between automation and humans.”

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