Despite its meteoric rise in both notoriety and popularity, mention the word “automation” and some people’s eyes still tend to glaze over, thinking it “doesn’t apply to me.” Businesses of all shapes, sizes, and growth potential are thriving today because they embraced automation and the manufacturing was the first to tap into its power. The automation craze came about during what most of us in the business know as “Industry 4.0.” One of the more complex of our industrial revolutions, Industry 4.0 is about automating parts of the production process to make it safer and more efficient. But for me, there’s one thing that’s missing: the ability to creatively and flexibly adapt to these advancements. Economic volatility and the human worker are going to force companies to rethink their production strategy. To get there, we need to embrace Industry 5.0.
Incorporating robots in manufacturing has been growing in popularity since they were first implemented as part of what was then called Industry 3.0 (defined by programmable logic and advanced manufacturing) in the 1960s. Robots essentially grew up in the car industry, where they were used primarily to weld car bodies together. As technologies matured, so did the robotic systems, evidenced by their early adoption in areas such as logistics and the medical and food industries. In fact, in 2006 more robots were used outside the automotive industry than inside. That pivotal moment fueled the changes in manufacturing that we are seeing today.
Robots Beyond Automotive
Buying a car in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s usually involved selecting a make and model at a car dealership, and then if nothing in the showroom quite fit the bill perhaps ordering the car in a particular color with extras such as Air Conditioning. That was a lot of choices compared to what Henry Ford had to offer. But it’s nothing like configuring a car online today.
Now, car buyers have so many options to choose from that they have a good chance of getting a car that appears as one of a kind. If you live in a city of half a million people and it seems no one else has a car exactly like yours then you are, in fact, driving a car that was designed uniquely for you. And you don’t even have to be a millionaire to get one.
This, in a nutshell, is how Industry 4.0 works. I still believe this is the future of a large segment of consumer goods manufacturing. But it’s not perfect.
From 4.0 to 5.0… and Beyond
For manufacturers, Industry 4.0’s “lights out” manufacturing a term used to describe products that run overnight, around the clock (when they turn the lights off) – provides few opportunities for adding value. It’s all about lowering costs while ensuring product differentiation.
For workers on the manufacturing floor, it’s even worse. Those employed in Industry 4.0 setups are expected to work like machines, as if “programmed” by management to perform an exact number of tasks per hour. This is robotic work that is done by humans, but only until technology advances enough to replace the humans altogether. The Industry 4.0 approach wastes human problem-solving skills, value-added human creativity, and the critical and exclusively human ability to deeply understand customers.
More than that, the vast customization described above and enabled by Industry 4.0 is not enough. Consumers want more. They want personalization, but on a grand scale. This can only be achieved when human touch returns to manufacturing, or what I call Industry 5.0.
This desire for mass personalization forms the psychological and cultural driver behind Industry 5.0 – which involves using technology to return human value add to manufacturing. With this addition, Industry 5.0 products empower people to appreciate the basic human urge to express themselves even if they have to pay a premium price to do so.
Read More: How AI Is Transforming the Role of the CMO
The return of the Human Touch
I believe that the personalized products consumers will demand most and pay the most for bear the distinctive mark of human care and craftsmanship, such as fine watches, craft beers, and designer items of every kind. In the supermarket recently I even saw black salt from Iceland, hand-dyed with local coal.
Products like these can only be made through human involvement and human engagement. I believe that this human touch, above all, is what consumers seek when they want to express their identity through the products they buy. These consumers accept technology – they don’t mind if automation, for example, is part of the manufacturing process. But they crave the personal imprint of human designers and craftspeople, who produce something special and unique through their personal effort. This is personalization. This is the feeling of luxury. This is the future.