Workforce 4.0 – A method to analyze the impacts of Industry 4.0 applications on value chain and work activities

Blog authors: Marc Vetterli, Peter Qvist-Sørensen, Center for International Industrial Solutions, SML, ZHAW

Digitalization has attracted much attention across the Swiss industrial landscape. The Machinery, Electrical and Metal Industry (MEM) is directly confronted to challenges stemming from this emerging digital age. 

In a report on behalf of Swissmem (see Arbeitswelt 4.0 – SwissMEM ), the impact of digitalization on MEM companies’ value chains and working environment is investigated. Interviews of Swiss MEM executives highlight the approach to and implementation of digital enablers over a 20 years’ period. 

During the last 20 years, the Swiss MEM companies constantly thrived for cost reduction by using continuous improvement methods and implementing new technologies to keep up with the competition and stay at the forefront of innovation. The combination of the novel disruptive technologies and continuous improvement methods is of utmost importance to further help companies consolidate their leading position on the market. Most companies are taking advantage of the novel technologies to provide new services to their customers but do not specifically use these for generating new revenue sources. 

The results imply that the workplace in the MEM sector will be greatly impacted by the adoption of Industry 4.0 applications. Some of the effects are visible on the market today where companies are seeking to hire data scientists and network software engineers, both positions being crucial in connecting the whole supply chain in real-time. A certain shift exists between Swiss MEM companies regarding their adoption of novel applications. A slight trend subdivides the companies in three different groups leading to various success prospects on the market. However, such trend must be further investigated to confirm causality. In this regard, MEM companies should consider exploring future scenarios when faced with diverse disruptive technologies to ensure a continuous and positive development of their operations.

The disclosed method delivers a broad and deep insight of companies in their adoption of Industry 4.0 applications, the impact it achieves on the value chain and specifically on the workplace transformation along the various processes. 

Working with scenarios, the report identifies the challenges for especially the SMEs to effectively adopt novel technologies and methods. It is recommended that these companies to build knowledge clusters in order to compensate for the limited in-house digitalization resources.Finally, the present work also delivers recommendations regarding the education of a new generation of employees and the vocational re-training of older employees. While the machine park and its processes become increasingly automated and data-driven, harnessing software development is mandatory while statistics and data science are bound to establish themselves as key disciplines, from shop floor to management level. Through more entangled networks, information must flow within and across departments to secure an interdisciplinary knowledge transmission. Such elements must particularly be well transmitted through education and continuous education systems to ensure that the Swiss MEM sector secures its position on the global market thanks to its highly qualified workforce.

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