The availability of products and services that use digitized technologies has increased at breakneck speed.
In the workplace, data analysis and visualisation, integrated and networked machines and collaborating human-machine dialogue are becoming established in the same way that personal computers became part of the office environment in the 1980s.
Change in working conditions
South African industry needs to find ways of adapting and using the technologies driving the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution (or Industry 4.0) to remain globally competitive, yet maintain and create jobs in a high-unemployment environment.
Industry 4.0 will influence the conditions of and requirements for employees in many areas. Driven by the application of machine-to-machine communication and an increase in the realisation of autonomous systems, a scenario has arisen in which the demand for qualified production controllers and managers has increased but the demands placed on workers themselves can be reduced.
However, the impact on the general situation of workers and unskilled labour can be positive. On the other hand, their skilled counterparts will have to come to terms with growing pressure on performance and skills.
The world is a far more connected place with a tremendous need for data. Data that informs, assists, guides, helps, prepares and so much more. The age of Big Data is here, the costs for storing, transmitting and receiving such Big Data are also lower and this trend will continue as competition and market demand increase.
Innovation is crucial to fully join this technological revolution. Therefore, education remains key as does a rapidly accelerated installation of infrastructure such as fibre countrywide and communities coupled with cost effective access to such infrastructure.
Looking at the impact of Industry 4.0 it would seem that multiple polarisation lies ahead in which, depending on the combination, individuals, regions and industry will see advantages but also risks that cannot be influenced directly.
The availability of digital infrastructure, an increase in the availability of data sources and a requirement for the efficiency of services and algorithms in line with Moore’s Law are the prerequisites for the change to a digital society and Industry 4.0.
The effects of Industry 4.0 and the further use of robotics in the world of work are many and various, influenced by the availability of infrastructure in a company and global alignment as well as by digital investment strategies and cooperation between social partners.
The knowledge society will experience a new and greater dependency on up-to-date knowledge, while at the same time processes considered monotonous and irksome will be reduced as machines become capable of making decisions autonomously.
In some cases, such a development will mean that even specialist workers will no longer be required in a production environment. It is also possible that Industry 4.0 could bring about “technological unemployment” among both specialist personnel and their low-skilled counterparts.
Omron Industrial Automation, Johannesburg. South Africa.