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Interview: Frank Piller on people, smart factories and Industry 4.0

  • Posted by admin on January 19, 2018

nalysis: Frank Piller on people, smart factories and Industry 4.0

Professor Frank Piller talks Internet of Business through the workshop he’s preparing for our Internet of Manufacturing event in Munich in February. 

Analysis: People, smart factories and Industry 4.0

Professor Frank Piller

At many manufacturing companies, the time for IoT pilots and experimentation is over. Technologies have been chosen, business models have been defined. The challenge now is people-focused. In other words, it’s time to help employees get productive in smart, connected factories.

That’s the view of Frank Piller, professor at RWTH Aachen University in Germany and co-founder of the Smart Customization Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Professor Piller will be chairing a workshop at the Internet of Manufacturing event in Munich on 6-8 February and he’s keen, he says, to get attendees thinking about these people issues. Even if their own organisations are still piloting and experimenting with IoT technologies, he adds, it’s never too early to think how the workforce will get the most from them, in terms of boosting efficiency and becoming more productive.

Read more: Analysis: Four smart factory trends to watch in 2018

People, process and technology

It’s worth bearing in mind, after all, that getting workers to accept and adopt new technologies can be the hardest aspect of any technology deployment.

“Absolutely!” Piller agrees. “That’s always true – and there are some really interesting new challenges emerging as we start to think about the role of people in smart factory of the future. Some people say that algorithms are better decision-makers than humans, so we should outsource decision-making to machines. Others say that humans can exercise better critical judgement and should therefore be cooperating with algorithms.”

And then there’s the issue of robots, he adds: many organisations will need to decide how to allocate tasks between humans and robots, based on whether they’re complex, repetitive, error-prone, dangerous and so on. In many cases, robots and humans will collaborate on tasks – and human workers will need to become accustomed to working side-by-side with robotic colleagues and perhaps even helping to programme them.

Read more: Analysis: A manufacturer’s guide to IoT monetization

Job for humans, jobs for machines

Piller’s research work takes him to many factories worldwide every year. But, he says, “in all the smart factories I’ve visited, I can tell you that there are always humans there – always! I’m not seeing 100% automated factories.”

“There are jobs for humans and jobs for machines,” he continues, “and it’s really important for manufacturing companies to carefully consider how they can best combine human expertise, experience and knowledge with automation.”

The aim of his workshop, he says, is to get attendees thinking about these issues, hearing how other companies are tackling them and leaving the event with the start of a plan for preparing and skilling staff for the Industry 4.0 era.


Our Internet of Manufacturing event is coming to Munich on 6-8 February 2018. Attendees will get the chance to learn more about how connected technologies open up new paths to increased productivity and profitability for industrial companies. 

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