Wed, 19 July, 2023
Working as part of the Up-Skill project, TWI has been assisting with the challenge of integrating human and machine skills in a collaborative environment to deliver the best results from both for industry.
The project team investigated a number of organisations and created case studies to assess their working practices, outputs and requirements. The findings from these case studies are now being used to help identify technologies that can deliver solutions to manufacturing and production issues, while also being seamlessly integrated with the human workforce to complement overall business strategies and market operations.
Lancaster University have led this exercise by producing a report that highlights best practice technology solutions for each case study as well as showing how to implement them.
Each of the case studies has its own set of study materials, including hardware investigations, software data mining, implementation of finished product and a review of premium, hand-crafted, top of the range artisanal products.
The participating case study organisations are undergoing a thorough review so that Up-Skill researchers can identify detailed business and manufacturing contexts in order to map out a coherent process for implementing technology solutions and training to provide long-term, sustainable solutions to current issues.
The key concepts being identified are:
- Defining the business area within which the case study exists
- Description of the boundary conditions of the defined case study, clearly stating what is within the bounds of the scope
- Hardware requirements for proposed solutions
- Software and data requirements for the proposed solutions
- Infrastructure requirements to deploy the proposed solutions
- COTS vs Bespoke - Categorisation of the proposed solutions in terms of ‘commercial off the shelf (COTS)’ versus customised, bespoke technologies.
- Staff training requirements for the proposed solutions
- Defining company and employee benefits as well as success criteria for the proposed solutions
- Environmental impact of the proposed solutions, such as reduced power consumption, waste, noise, etc
- Analysis of the risks and opportunities associated with the proposed solutions
Of course, some firms are also concerned about the potential loss of specialised human skillsets that are important parts of a production process should employees leave.
This was shown through a case study conducted at Ztift in Eskilstuna, Sweden, who manufacture a variety of products and components, particularly door locks and their related mechanisms, for household, marine and security system applications. These products are often machined, welded, and assembled by hand, using a high level of skill and experience to provide a competitive advantage. The challenge lies in retaining this advantage while introducing complimentary technologies to mitigate the risks associated with the loss of critical, highly specialised skills.
Technologies investigated by Up-Skill’s ethnographers include computer numerical control (CNC) milling and lathe technologies to improve the conformity and quality of parts while reducing waste, and technologies such as scanning and augmented reality devices that can provide real time information to employees on digital displays, linking information from ordering and process control systems, allowing workers to adapt their workflow and transition from one assembly station to another. By introducing fluidity of labour in this way, only the generic CNC operator skills become essential to manufacture a larger range of components, allowing operators to be trained for numerous processes.
While some will see a loss of specialised, technical skills as machines take over some of this work, others will note that workers are acquiring new skills related to machine operation and the interpretation of information provided by the new, joined-up working environment.
There is a belief that, as emerging technologies replace human skills across a range of sectors, those specialised skillsets that have been a marker of career success will hold less value in the digital economy. Instead, human workers will employ a broader and more adaptable skillset that is valued and key to sustainable development within the economy, not just for individual workers, but for businesses as well.
You can find out more about Up-Skill project on the dedicated website, HERE, and also follow the project LinkedIn channel, HERE.
This work was funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) under the UK government’s Horizon Europe funding guarantee 101070666