Manufacturing 4.0: Optimising Business and People in the Age of Automation

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The impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution on labour and the eventual disruption of commercial activities within industries will be vital for manufacturing companies. While Manufacturing 4.0 brings many prospects, such as mass automation and scaling, it also raises apprehension regarding the loss of existing jobs. As we are pushed to hybrid and virtual work methods, I have tried to enlighten myself regarding the opportunities and challenges posed by Manufacturing 4.0. To understand more on the issue, I decided to have a tete-a-tete with my friend Arif Ahmed, the Managing Director of Light over Light Company Limited. I wanted to consult with Arif and get his views as an advocate of HR automation and Artificial Intelligence on what lies ahead for people and processes in the coming age of automation. Below are some takeaways from our conversation.

 

 

ARIF AHMED
Managing Director
Light over Light Company Limited

 

What is manufacturing 4.0 to you? What changes do you foresee will occur in manufacturing because of the 4IR?

We have to understand how the 4th Industrial Revolution came about. It was to achieve a better way to communicate to guide our external parties at scale to solve a problem. We needed more people, more support and a better process. We thought, why don’t we use better tools? Hammers and nails helped us build an infrastructure followed by cement to make it better and stronger than the wooden ones.
This journey from a mechanical to a digital infrastructure has led us to the next level where computers can potentially behave like humans. To me, Manufacturing 4.0 and Industry 4.0 is an intensive information transformation. We are not making things just for the sake of it, but to improve the lives of everyone.

 

What is the evolving role of HR in Manufacturing 4.0?
As someone who has been involved with the people side of education and the technology side of HR Automation and AI, this has become a norm for me. But the fear of change remains. For example, in 1589, William Lee invented the stocking knitting machine, but he could not get a patent for almost 100 years because the Queen of England prevented it. It was due to one fear – they felt the citizens involved in jobs of the knitting industry would become unemployed. However, this industry does exist now, and it has created one of the best sources of revenue for Bangladesh – the garments industry. With that, the industry has offered the most significant employment opportunities for young people and previously marginalised women. So what happened? The challenges are job displacement and skill development.
Nevertheless, the fear of employment or unemployment is not valid because employment prospects will in fact be more in this industry 4.0. The part where human resource management comes in is in scaling businesses, training workers, and adapting to this new industry to do more human work. The question is whether it is indeed human work or is it manual labour.

 

 

Keeping in mind the status quo, will automated machines threaten the workforce? What would be the net effect on employment?
Definitely, but at the same time, but it will also be an opportunity for employment. I say this because the majority of jobs right now are labour intensive. There are a vast number of people in the semi-skilled labour force. However, many individuals are in the educated labour force, such as in data entry.
The future workforce can specialise in data analysis and data science. These data scientists can understand trends, predict future trends and utilise the data to make better-informed decisions. For these reasons, humans need to be better skilled and not be complacent at being mere labour but instead, move towards becoming talents. As such, we would have more jobs for humans as we nurture these talents. However, we will have to go through a retraining process. Not everyone will like it, but everyone could ultimately be a part of it.

If we were to speak to CXO level decision-makers in developing nations like Bangladesh, what would you suggest them to do to upskill the existing labour force who are heavily dependent on jobs in labour-intensive industries?
I would give a two-tier response. First, what would happen to the labour? Let me explain with a story. I was working with a company while I was in Malaysia. It was a wholesale company earning millions per month. This company was started by one labourer going from Bangladesh to Malaysia. He had no educational background and did not grow up in a privileged environment, We all know the challenges that the labour force faces in a foreign land. So how did he convert himself from a labourer to a business owner making millions and providing employment to many others? Well, when the environment changes, it forces us to change as well.
This leads to the second answer, what can managers do to support their human resources in this new journey ahead. The beauty of the labour class is that they are technicians. We have to do one thing for them. Make them managers! The second we add a managerial role to their arsenal, they can have ten other technicians like them and manage them. What that does is it increases the scale of the production cycle. We would ultimately be building a better version of Bangladesh where we are improving the living standards of the labour class community.

Moving on from people to processes, how do you optimise these business functions as the 4IR advances?
The two sides of a coin in any transformation are people and process. However, what is important is how we transact that coin of people and processes to generate impact. It is now the 4th Age where Manufacturing 4.0 isn’t just about big data, analytics, IoT, cloud security, etc. but about people. The more we educate ourselves, the more we realise how humans can do things we never deemed possible before. In such instances, process refers to how we utilise those human brains. That utility requires three things:
1. A clear purpose: What values do we need to create to achieve the desired culture.
2. A value-based initiative: It has support for the stakeholders, employers, board, community and social innovation arm. The future is 50% upper and 50% middle class than the previous 10:90 ratios.
3.Culture: It is the marriage of people, and processes and systems
We will achieve a better process when we better understand these three aspects.

 

There are a vast number of people in the semi-skilled labour force. However, many individuals are in the educated labour force, such as in data entry. The future workforce can specialise in data analysis and data science.

 

Why is HR automation so important in Manufacturing 4.0?
There are two currencies more critical than the fiat currencies we currently deal with: human and data. The latter gives you information about anything while the former is dynamic. Human currency is a variable that can change at any time. While data can point out what may be ‘good’ for someone, the choice of power in an individual allows them not to make that decision too far beyond reason. Therefore, we need processes and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to be established within organisations. With human SOPs, we can identify the kind of benchmarks, skills and talents with the same value and culture. This, coupled with automation and business intelligence has to be adapted to match the needs. With my experience with Fortune 500 companies, we have identified a few factors which are important to consider in this case:

  1. What kind of people do we need?
  2. How fast do they accommodate in the organisation?
  3. How to track performances?
  4. How to manage talent and move from labour-intensive to talent excellence?
  5. How to optimise company-based productivity and hybrid-based productivity?
  6. Leave Management
  7. Claim Management
  8. Proper exit policy

AI or automation can help as it assists with processing all these data in minutes compared to hours or days.
We need to move papers from the office as they do not speak, and we need paperless automation. Paperless HR is one of the global solutions that offer these solutions.

What are the here-and-now technology and training that people should take to optimise their business potential?
The marriage of 3 aspects should be kept in mind when choosing tech or skilling:
1. Dynamic aspect of people
2. Objective aspect of automation
3. Intelligent understanding of decisions
As such, training and mentoring for employees is critical.
By developing people and processes with automation and AI, we can reduce high capital expenditure, save time, do work better, work cost-effectively, and create a culture of growth to create better interpersonal relationships. Moreover, compliance issues from developed markets will enforce the need to run smart machines and be savvy for manufacturing units to thrive. Therefore, today’s automation is William Lee’s stocking frame of the 16th Century. The question that lies ahead is whether we want to create the next wave of industries in Manufacturing 4.0 or become obsolete?

The interviewer is the CEO of MCFG and the Executive Director of Global Chamber Dhaka. He can be reached at maimun@globalchamber.org.

 

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