Large-scale 5G rollouts will fuel automation

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When it comes to Industry 4.0, 5G will be a major driver in allowing for new operating models. But to be successful, it must be embedded into the industrial automation process.

Automation combined with the lightning speed of 5G will create greater efficiencies and cost savings but will also result in the loss of traditional jobs. Computers can perform tasks, monitor equipment and analyze data more quickly, accurately and efficiently than a human; and at a lower cost.

We’ll see the most change in jobs that require manual labour. “If it’s a repetitive task, it can be automated,” says Michael Dynan, vice president for portfolio and strategic development at Schramm, a Pennsylvania manufacturer of drilling rigs. Meanwhile, tasks that require real-time intervention can benefit most from 5G.

Data collection

Employees once responsible for collecting data will find those tasks automated. SFK & Chalmers University of Tech in Sweden has adopted the 5G Enabled Manufacturing project (5GEM) that sees a network of connected machines aid in the collection, analysis, and distribution of data in real time.

Troubleshooting & Tools

In more and more factories,  workers use AR to detect operational inefficiencies like imperfect maintenance planning and failure diagnostics, focusing more on assessing potential breakdowns before they happen and less on fixing them when they do. AR and VR can also be used for remote maintenance and analysis, which will require that workers are familiar with the technologies.

China Mobile uses connected screwdrivers that don’t require manual and routine calibration, lubrication, and data logging. Now, calculations are automated, reportedly cutting manual work by 50 percent.

Drivers and machine operators

Driverless vehicles could result in up to 200,000 truck drivers being out of jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the nature of the job will change. One pump truck driver told The New York Times that while he previously only had to look at a needle on a gauge to monitor flow pressures, he now has to reset computer screens and even perform some algebraic calculations.

Oil & Gas

The oil and gas industry, historically employing some of the highest-paid blue-collar workers, may be hit the hardest. The Iron and Steel Institute reports that one-fifth of the manpower that was needed in the 1980s is required today to produce a ton of steel. New jobs will open for employees who can build and maintain the network and machines. Qualcomm’s Ryan Gorostiza predicts that 22 million such jobs will be created worldwide in this space.

With automated tools connecting pipes on rigs, seismic testing handled via computer hardware and software, computers directing drill bits, mechanization for drilling and mixing chemicals, and rigs that walk on legs with sensors on wells that can alert head office if there’s a leak or loss of pressure, technicians will require a completely different set of skills. Those skills include collecting well and tank data, and developing algorithms to detect issues and repair valves and other parts before they malfunction. There won’t be a need to physically go to a tank and open a valve to check levels; this task can be done with a few keystrokes from a remote office. And innovations like automated water pumps can save companies from having to deploy trucks daily.

Even equipment and leak inspections on oil sites are being automated through technology like drones, which companies like GE Oil and Gas are already testing. Nabors, a major oil services company, says it now has 100 employees developing software – 10 times that of just a few years ago.

Thus, demand is growing for data analysts, math scientists, communications specialists, robotic design engineers, and engineers with a background in computer science.

Stagnation is not the answer

While almost 88 percent of recent manufacturing job losses can be attributed to productivity growth, if 2000 productivity levels were applied to 2010 levels, we’d need 20.9 million workers versus just 12.1 million. Those numbers are tough to argue with.

“We need to prepare the workforce for the coming world that requires a new set of skills,” said Daphne Koller, CEO and founder of machine learning company Insitro during a panel discussion at Collision Conference in Toronto in May.

Industry 4.0 is here, and automation will ramp up in the industrial sector once 5G networks are up and running. This will create, but also eliminate or revise, tons of jobs. The workforce needs to be ready for it and willing to adapt.

If the same workforce is to occupy these new jobs, whether it’s automation equipment technicians, self-driving car handlers or industrial drone operators, education and training on the skills that will be critical to Industry 4.0 is essential for employees. And employers can get a step ahead by adopting initiatives that promote, and even provide, such education.

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