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Fast Tracking Industry 4.0

Joey Stokes is the Director of Industrial Skills at Peak Performance. He is a former maintenance manager and an OSHA Authorized Instructor.

COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the 4th Industrial Revolution

Covid-19 has created a unique opportunity to force us out of our comfort zone and into Industry 4.0 faster than ever. Industry 4.0 is not a new concept but as we look for ways to cope with social distancing and remote workers, technology and the digital world is the most obvious answer. While very few companies have the expendable income to make large investments, small strategic investments could be the key to survival.

Known as the fourth industrial revolution since the 18th century, Industry 4.0 is an all-encompassing term to refer to the way computers, data and automation are evolving and coming together to change the way work happens, and in particular, manufacturing. Building on the third industrial revolution that included the creation of the PC and the internet, Industry 4.0 takes technology to the next evolution by blurring the lines between the digital and physical worlds. While industrial revolutions of the past were essentially about the advancement of technology, Industry 4.0 is more about the evolution of tech and its impact on everyday lives.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) prioritizes controls by Elimination, Substitution, Engineering Control, Administrative Controls, and PPE. If an OSHA investigator were to show up to investigate a complaint or reportable injury and exposure, they will look for controls in this order to judge it you had asserted a good faith effort to protect your employees. By using I4.0 technology, businesses can eliminate risk.

One of the key items in the move to Industry 4.0 is the Connected Factory. If I can connect to every machine I can see, social distancing is easy (administrative). If I can monitor operations from my office (engineering), social distancing just became normal. If I can monitor operations from my house (elimination), I am now remote working and exposure risks are eliminated.

The first key task that must be accomplished is the connections themselves, the network. Then you must have employees that know how to live and operate in this type of environment. The days of parts changers are over, and we must be able to diagnose issues while looking at a monitor. This way, once the problem is located, a trained operator or tech can then travel to the problem area and change the one part. This reduces the amount of people in the area (administrative) and the amount of time in the area (administrative) so it greatly reduces the opportunities of exposure to infectious diseases.

And then there is always the Hawthorne Effect of what is observed will improve. When the employees see the improvements being made to protect their safety and health, their performance will improve. When you add incumbent worker training to help them do their job more effectively and safer, their performance will improve even more.

While now seems so abnormal, now is the perfect time. So, let’s get started.

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