Automation in Manufacturing; Challenges and Opportunities

Nibedita Mohanta
Nibedita Mohanta Mar 13 2019 - 4 min read
Automation in Manufacturing; Challenges and Opportunities
s projected by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) report, around 15% of the global workforce, or as many as 400 million workers, could be displaced by 2030.

In the last two decades, automation has made giant strides in the manufacturing sector. From changing the factory shop floor to the nature of employment, it has been rapidly transforming the traditional processes of manufacturing.

Today, as the fourth Industrial Revolution dawns upon us, advancements in the field of AI (artificial intelligence), machine learning and robotics have given rise to machines that are capable of a wide array of work activities. In fact, these machines can outperform humans not only in manual labor but also in tasks that require cognitive abilities. Needless to say, the manufacturing sector has benefited immensely following the arrival of automation. However, the question is, if these developments will be the reason for numerous job losses.

While integration of technology has undoubtedly made a colossal impact on the workforce, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Contrary to popular belief, automation will create more jobs than it will destroy. Of course, tedious, repetitive jobs will be displaced, but new jobs that didn’t exist earlier will come up. In the manufacturing industry, in particular, the adoption of automation and modern technologies has opened many new avenues for both companies and employees.

According to a recent McKinsey study, manufacturing is one sector that can be fully automated in the near future. Over the next few years, along with increased productivity, automation will also allow for seamless operations across production and distribution chains, simplifying the process of getting products from the assembly floor to the customer. Workers will have to do less physical labor as well as more complicated tasks like data collection and processing. On the other hand, people will have more time for making critical decisions, solving problems and developing new ideas based on the data collected. All of this means that automation will replace the human workforce for mundane jobs, enabling them to focus on creatively demanding tasks, which in turn will boost the overall productivity and output. Given the obvious advantages, automation has to offer, manufacturing companies around the world have begun embracing it with open arms.

Will automation take over jobs?

Automation will displace some workers in the manufacturing sector. As projected by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) report, around 15% of the global workforce, or as many as 400 million workers, could be displaced by 2030. However, the adoption of automation will also give birth to innumerable new employment opportunities. Moreover, many jobs will evolve into different forms that we may be hard-pressed to imagine right now. It is expected that partial automation will become more commonplace rapidly – humans will work alongside machines for maximized results. The same report reveals that in the next decade, 8-9% of the total global workforce will work in new job roles that do not exist at present.

Employees will require massive upskilling

Shortage of skilled employees still remains one of the main problems faced by the manufacturing industry. Especially in India, there exists a huge skill gap. And, as a result, the majority of workers in this sector end up in physically exhausting tasks that take up to 12-14 hours of manual labor. With a shift towards automation, this scenario will change for the better. In the upcoming years, the demand for physical and manual labor will go down. Instead, the requirement for advanced technology skills or even technology usage skills will continue to go up at a rapid pace. Simultaneously, cognitive skills including problem-solving, critical thinking and complex information processing will be in high demand. In other words, those who will be able to blend their technical expertise with human values will sustain in the ever-changing job roles of tomorrow. This explains why the need of the hour is the introduction of upskilling and re-skilling programmes.

What does the future hold?

The manufacturing sector is one sector that has been directly affected by the emergence of automation. While technology will still dominate every sub-sector, human intervention will be necessary. However, the new-age job roles will require workers with new skill sets. The workforce will also have to be more adaptable than ever. Amidst these changes, it will be imperative to reskill midcareer workers. The future in the manufacturing industry is likely to bring forward several challenges, but it will also open more doors and opportunities. Automation, if implemented strategically, has the potential to entirely revolutionize the manufacturing sector. In India, this could have a non-linear positive impact on the government’s stated Make in India initiative, thus boosting manufacturing output with our large available talent pool.

This article is authored by Ankit Garg, Co-Founder& CEO, Wakefit.co.

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