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Hannover Messe – Man and machine: the perfect team?

Posted by: Helen Southern on 15 May 2017

A truly ‘digital world’ is still in the distant future. But it is inevitable, as the recent Hannover Messe showed.

Although many may think that we already live in a digital age, we have only scratched the surface. We still must turn on our devices, wait for our apps and emails to load and switch between each device, dependent on our needs at any given moment. A truly digital age will mean our devices are continuous and truly automatic, blurring the lines between what is and isn’t reality. You will be able to choose a digital world which you inhabit, where people, services and places travel with you. Your digital life will always be there, always open, always yours.

As we slowly move towards this whole new world, it is important that companies try to stay on top of each digital shifting trend, and accept the reality of constant change in order to find a place in the digital future.

As I walked around Hannover Messe, one of the world’s largest industrial fairs, this message had never been more apparent. The theme of this years’ exhibition was ‘Industry 4.0 and the role of humans in tomorrow’s integrated factories’. For 5 days, Hannover served as a global hub for all things related to industry 4.0 and every sector involved in the digitalisation of industry was on hand to showcase its answers to the key question faced by industrial enterprises everywhere: how can I best get my company into shape for the digital future?

One of the most talked about areas of Hannover Messe were the ‘cobots’ – i.e collaborative robots, that are about to fundamentally transform the way that factories work. Their connectivity, artificial intelligence, innovative sensors and intuitive operation allow them to communicate directly with humans, as they learn autonomously and swap instructions with other cobots. Cobots will be part of the future ‘smart factory’ where innovative automation technology, digital twins and artificial intelligence are all part of a companies supply chain, with over 1.4 million new industrial robots to be added to factories by 2019 (as forecasted by the International Federation of Robotics).

This rising number of robots have left many questioning what role this leaves for humans? There are worries that sectors such as warehousing, hospitality, secretarial and parcel service jobs in particular could all be eliminated by robotisation. However, according to a study by the Centre for European Economic Research in Mannheim (ZEW), robots are replacing tasks, not jobs. Unlike robots, people can gain experience and access it when they need to, and although it is true that machines are increasingly able to learn, applying knowledge in completely new settings is still beyond their reach.

For now, the answer is that companies must use people and machines to work collaboratively in order to achieve the most effective and efficient results. In the future? Who knows.

Categories: Fox musings

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