While Europe alone cannot bring about a global transformation to enable 8 billion people to live sustainably and peacefully, the authors write that there is a special role for the EU in general, and for EU industry in particular: "We believe it [Europe] can lead the global community towards the deep systemic transformation that this and next decades [sic] will inevitably require." For business, then, there are already good reasons to explore the key themes of Industry 5.0, and not only to see where regulations might be headed next.
The three pillars of Industry 5.0 – sustainability, resilience and "human-centric" industry – hint at the deeper approach envisaged, which goes well beyond a purely technological revolution. The aim is not to replace, but to empower workers, as the first policy brief states. Given the growing shortage of skilled workers in Europe, there are deeply practical as well as ideological grounds for such an approach.
The use of robotics in industry has been growing for years. Automated systems are increasingly taking on routine tasks, taking a literal load off workers’ backs or freeing up their time. Industry 5.0 switches the perspective once again: "So far, automation has often been about automating people out of work," says Jessica Fritz, manager for digital technologies and services at VDE. "The big challenge now is to get people and robots working hand in hand." The potential applications range from cobots to smart watches and glasses. The importance of these systems can be as varied as the production tasks themselves, from delivering materials to specifying the next work steps and preparing samples for human review. As with other innovations, hardware costs have fallen significantly in recent years, making such systems increasingly attractive to business. That said, simply buying a new system is not enough. Getting people and machines truly working together rather than simply alongside each other requires clear preparatory analysis. "You need to set things up so that humans and machines make an efficient team, reinforcing each other’s strengths and compensating for each other’s weaknesses," says Fritz.
Training needed to make up for shortfalls in experience
To achieve real efficiency gains with such technology, employees need a good feel for where digital assistants can improve their everyday work. Augmented reality solutions like those used in logistics or maintenance are a good practical example of the challenges at hand. "Our studies of manufacturing staff show that acceptance increases where employees truly understand augmented reality," says Philipp Rauschnabel, a marketing professor researching this technology at the Bundeswehr University Munich. Where experience is lacking, training needs to compensate so that people do not shy away from new hardware. A challenge for industry is thus quickly becoming a mission for the whole of society. The need for new skills is evolving as fast as technologies themselves, as the European Commission writes in its January 2021 report: "European industries are struggling with skills shortages and educational and training institutions are unable to respond to this demand." In concrete terms, this means improving the points where employees interact directly with systems – the human- machine interface – on the factory floor. This can even raise ethical questions, such as when artificial intelligence is used to help prepare decisions. "When industry workers are closely collaborating with intelligent machines, it is crucial to ensure that the tools do not undermine, explicitly or implicitly, the dignity of the worker, regardless of their race, gender or age," the EU report continues. In the future, this means that designers, psychologists and educationalists are likely to have a seat at the table alongside IT specialists and production experts when these interfaces are created. "It takes a lot of brainpower from the most varied of disciplines," says Fritz. For the EU, the next stage will be about not just presenting new concepts, but also raising awareness. The name of the new concept may be catchy, but it’s also misleading and has led to disquiet among some experts. Unlike previous industrial revolutions, where the focus was usually on specific technologies (from the steam engine to cyber-physical systems), Industry 5.0 is first and foremost a broad vision for a change of approach.