Kaspar Ludi, Head of Manufacturing Europe, Infosys Consulting, has some projections for 2022
Leading on from COP26, the issue of sustainability will – and must – continue to be a focus in the next year (and in perpetuity). However, predictions of a green revolution in manufacturing are still somewhat distant – especially in carbon-heavy nations like India and China, but also in more climate-progressive nations too, including the UK. Plans for sustainability in manufacturing are centering around the promise of Industry 5.0 which the European Commission terms ‘the transition to a sustainable, human-centric and resilient’ industry. The hope has been that these principles should be well seeded to bloom in 2022. So, how far might we come in reaching the ideals of Industry 5.0 in 2022? What is really set to change?
Maximising Industry 4.0 to ready for the next phase
In 2022, Industry 5.0 will still be a vision rather than a reality. Having dealt with a year of crisis and uncertainty, movement towards this future has stalled for a number of reasons.
Firstly, manufacturers are still digesting Industry 4.0, and next year focus will coalesce around data for optimisation and resilience. Precious resources will continue to be absorbed by M&A activities, with many segments still busy completing the last decade of post-merger integration.
Secondly, before manufacturers can make any step-change in getting substantial benefits from AI or robotics, they need to first fully appreciate and understand how to better manage and utilize their data to turn it into assets.
Thirdly, customer integration is everywhere, as B2B2C, B2C, or anything in-between. This presents very real and substantial demand in business and IT transformation work, which is largely based on Industry 4.0 technologies.
Chips; a conundrum spanning resilience and sustainability
With this in mind, a very concrete problem that looks like it’s here to stay for a while is the global chip shortage. This dearth has seen car production stall and even Apple, with a notorious chip-stockpiler recently warning of delays to its latest iPhone. Building new fabs takes years, and tensions between China and Japan are raising even more concerns. While IT and network applications still absorb the lion’s share of semiconductor production, the era of Smart Everything has just begun, and demand for consumer applications will continue to grow. As a consequence, manufacturers will have to live with this uncertainty, and this might further stall sustainability initiatives like EVs and the associated enhancements to electricity grids, just to name a few obvious ones.
However, there is a shadow lurking behind this reliance on chips for sustainability. Are we robbing Peter to pay Paul? While electronic controls support better efficiency, there’s a new industry with huge liabilities towards the countries we get these resources from, like China, Africa, Chile, Bolivia.
In 2022, there must be moves to balance the impact of chip production on sustainability against the reasons why we require so many chips. What this shows us is that there are many dimensions of sustainability. Our sights in the next 12 months shouldn’t focus on one dimension – technology – as a panacea for the issues we’ve created.
Support for talent is the definition of human centricity
So, we can see that in 2022, sustainability will require creative thinking and an appreciation of data that will inform our next move. In tandem, realising Industry 5.0 means a focus for manufacturing in terms of positive human impact – not just in respect of the planet but also in terms of the careers and opportunities it offers its workforce.
The UK will continue to suffer talent shortages. It’s an easy prediction to make that this will continue through 2022, especially with Brexit having put the brakes on recruitment from overseas. Despite increased automation, skilled manual labour is still essential – Industry 5.0 is not about replacing human labour but freeing them from monotonous and unrewarding tasks to undertake more supervisory and analytical roles, alongside robotics and automation. This should make manufacturing a more attractive industry to work in, but we are not there yet. Right now, the industry must create real opportunities for non-academic jobs, supported by stronger investment in skills from the government.
Germany, France, and Switzerland are a strong model, demonstrating resilience and increased productivity as a result of their long tradition of non-academic education in engineering. In Switzerland, only around 25% of young people go to university. Meanwhile, 75% start their career as apprentices, which greatly accelerates career progression and immerses them in the industry early on.
Even Ewan Blair, son of former PM Tony Blair who famously espoused the merits of university, has spoken out against the UK’s dogged focus on getting an academic degree. This year he turned a company connecting school leavers with apprenticeships into a £multi-million business, leaving behind the notion that industry success is intertwined with degree-level attainment. In 2022, bypassing university for rewarding work in industry must be made an attractive route for more young people.
We are getting closer, with schemes such as Kickstart – which many are calling to be made permanent, but next year must see greater investment in making these opportunities as attractive as possible to young people. Quality education and careers that are geared towards peoples’ strengths are the definition of human-centricity, and must form the backbone of Industry 5.0.
From a reimagining of commercial aircraft, to expansive windmills fashioned from highly advanced materials, to EV motors, one of the biggest changes we’ve seen in the last 10 years is that of materials innovation. And this will continue apace in the next year.
Competition is heating up in material science, involving highly complex software to simulate innovations and outcomes – this is gathering pace. Software, material tech, electronics, grid and power distribution will all come together to transform how we create, while complex supply chains and future logistics support all of this – all underpinned by data.
In the aviation industry, we are seeing the use of synthetic kerosene and a re-engineering of existing models with hydrogen or electric-powered engines. Composites have already replaced aluminium as the material of choice for fuselage and structures, and next-generation clean-sheet designs are underway. While this might not fully fall into the category of Industry 5.0, it shows a mature industry having flexibility and capabilities in engineering to take on next-generation products based on new materials that will have an impact across sustainability, innovation and people.
While principles such as lean manufacturing and reduction of waste are somewhat ingrained, other concepts such as the circular economy are still more of a consumer trend than an industry norm. This isn’t really set to change in the next 12 months. Harnessing new technologies and putting worker-centric cultures at the heart of manufacturing and creating green resiliency is, unfortunately, still a too-slow work-in-progress. In 2022, the onus is on industry and government to work together to expedite the ideals of Industry 5.0 while also ensuring resilience through its current iteration.
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