Globalisation, digital transformation and scarce resources: all these developments mean that the pressure on companies continues to grow. Managers are faced with the challenge of supporting their employees in manufacturing, reaching new customers with innovative products and bringing services to market faster. The solution? Process automation – best for well-designed and flexible processes. Washing machines, robot vacuum cleaners and coffee machines just to name a few – machines are taking over more and more tasks not only at home, but also at work. Automation makes our everyday lives easier and saves us a lot of effort. But will machines take over our jobs at some point? We’ll explain to you what process automation involves and how you can use the potential of Industry 4.0 for yourself.
What can be automated?
The principle of process automation is very simple: carry out monotonous tasks more quickly and easily. Manual work steps that always follow the same, recurring pattern can be reduced or completely eliminated. The aim is to make work easier for you in this way. This allows you to focus on difficult, more exciting topics.
This principle can be applied to many areas. Let’s look at examining a loan application, for example. As a loan broker, you start the manual process with a client interview. You record the customer data, transfer it to the required forms and then apply for a credit check. At the same time, you request loan offers from various banks and compare them. You then send the shortlist with the best conditions to your customer. This is all rather time-consuming and tedious. So the question is: Which steps can you leave up to automation?
Figure 1: The loan application as a manual process
In an automated process, the customer enters their data online in your system – so you no longer need to conduct a personal interview or transfer the data manually. Once entered, the customer data is automatically transmitted to various banks via digital interfaces. Loan offers and possible conditions are sent back to your system in the same way. You can also automate the task of evaluating the offers. You simply determine which criteria are important for the customer. A machine learning algorithm checks and sorts the offers accordingly. Afterwards, the selection of the best conditions is automatically sent to the customer. In this way, you save a lot of time and can concentrate on more important tasks such as personal advice.
Figure 2: The loan application as an automated process
The question of whether machines will replace our work is as old as industrialization itself. From the first steam engine, then assembly line work, to manufacturing robots and interconnected Industry 4.0: production processes have become more and more automated and the amount of manual labor has become less and less. With each new stage of automated production, certain professions were displaced, but at the same time countless new job roles were created.
Industry 4.0: Automation in manufacturing
As more processes in industry and business are made digital, the interfaces are created between the various people and machines involved. With the networking of systems, digitalization is opening up new potential, especially in production: the Internet of Things (IoT), human-to-machine communication and production facilities that are becoming increasingly intelligent are heralding what is sometimes referred to as the fourth industrial revolution: Industry 4.0.
Industry 4.0 describes the comprehensive digitalization of industrial production. Automation forms the basis for this step. Because the special feature of Industry 4.0 compared to traditional production is the networking and sensor technology of the entire manufacturing process. Sensors such as cameras, motion detectors or RFID chips generate information about the product and the current status of the machines. For example, networked machines now report to you independently when they need new material or detect problems. The collected data is then processed by intelligent systems, for example through machine learning or also with classic programming. This ensures that production runs correctly and efficiently. Through previously defined production sequences, the machine knows every necessary process step. Processing and evaluating the data provides the next action steps as a result. These are fed back to the relevant machines. For example, in production these are production machines, robots or motors. These ensure that the materials are processed into the right products.
Networked production makes it possible to manufacture completely individual products at prices that were previously only possible in mass production. Let’s assume, for example, that you want to put together an customized breakfast cereal for a customer. Networking makes it possible to get your customer’s wishesdigitally and store them via an interface. The cereal container receives an individual customer ID on an RFID chip. Using this number, you can assign the container to this customer at any time. But how does the filling station know how to put together the cereal for the customer? This is where the sensor technology helps. In addition to the customer ID, all the information about the customer’s wishes is stored on the RFID chip. The filling station can read the chip using sensors. In this way, the machine knows which steps have already been carried out and whether it needs to fill the container with the corresponding ingredient or not. With the help of automation and Industry 4.0 technologies, it’s possible to put together tailor-made breakfast cereal quickly and cost-effectively.
Automation and jobs: Will humans be replaced?
Experts assume that about 50 percent of today’s jobs will be partially automated. Machines and technical systems will relieve us of repetitive, laborious tasks. Only five percent of jobs will be fully automated with today’s technologies, according to experts.
So automation is revolutionizing the job market. Repetitive tasks will give way to creative problem solving and create space for strategic and conceptual work. Automation therefore creates large quantities of products faster and more cost-effectively – and with consistent quality. The advantages of automation are clear:
high precision in execution
high speed and quantity
work at all hours
The jobs of tomorrow will be different. We will increasingly work with machines in an automated world. Automation does not necessarily mean that people will be completely replaced. The real advantages lie in productivity and efficiency. This is what’s known as the paradox of automation: the more efficient the automated system, the more important the human role in it is. Overall, you as a human being will be involved less often, but your input will be more important. Training and lifelong learning will therefore become much more important. This makes you – more than ever before – your company’s greatest asset.
Would you also like to automate your working environment and let machines take care of repetitive processes? Contact us and we’ll help you and your company use the potential of automation and to gain momentum for the fourth industrial revolution.
Gartner (2019): “Manage Robotic Process Automation” [28.01.2022]