We have come a long way since the first, second and third waves of industrial revolution, when progress and success in manufacturing was based on replacing people with ever more sophisticated machines.
Incredible technology was created, from mechanical looms to industrial robots that could do repetitive operations better and faster than a human being. The fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, will dramatically change how humans and machines work together: this time it will be human creativity, innovation and inspiration that will create value and success.
These new systems are collaborative and fully integrated in our factories. They can respond in real time to changing factory conditions, and apply IoT technology to analyse data and resolve inefficiencies. In short, these are highly sophisticated pieces of technology. Yet without human creativity, innovation and inspiration, this would all be meaningless.
Naturally, there is concern about the possibility of the rise of automation technology putting people out of work. I believe this is unfounded, particularly in Scotland where our strength lies in innovation, rather than mass production. Smart manufacturing will benefit our industry tremendously, but only if we engage our current workforce, encouraging our employees to adopt these new technologies. Certainly, some manufacturing jobs will change significantly but smart manufacturing must begin with people, not machines.
I came to Scotland in 2012 to start my own manufacturing company, Vert Rotors, and develop a line of groundbreaking new air compressors. As a small manufacturer, I knew I could level the playing field by fostering smart manufacturing skill sets within my workforce, rather than attempting to replace the workforce with smart technology.
I started to build my team drawing on the pool of highly skilled engineers coming from Scotland’s oil and gas industry. Some employees have more than 30 years of experience in this field.
To bring my compressor design to fruition and make it as efficient as possible, our measurements had to be accurate to the level of microns. While developing our compressor, we were unable to source the parts externally, so we decided to engineer everything ourselves in-house. I worked hard to bring state-of-the-art technology to our Edinburgh workshop, installing the most precise kind of milling machinery to be brought to the UK - the DMG Mori HSC-20. I realised the potential of combining years of experience with new, smart manufacturing technology, which was new to all of us.
It is vital we nurture the incredible potential of our workforce by allowing them to up-skill and develop a symbiotic relationship with the new smart machines, to create value and commercial success.
Olly Dmitriev is CEO at Vert Rotors, Edinburgh