Industry 4.0 setups enable manufacturers to operate with ever-smaller batches, resulting in greater product diversity and exclusivity – perceived by individual consumers as personalization. Because manufacturing systems are interlinked and linked to consumers via the internet, Industry 4.0 enables computer buyers, for example, to “build their computers” online, giving them the kind of personalized product they demand today. Even after a purchase, Industry 4.0 enables electric car manufacturers, for instance, to continue improving and upgrading their products via downloadable updates, creating a sense that the car responds to its owner’s wishes, almost like a living being.
At Universal Robots, we believe that the next phase of Industry 4.0-powered mass-personalization will – once again – involve human workers working personally on the goods they produce. Because for all their capabilities – their speed, precision, and ability to record data – industrial robots and other Industry 4.0 technologies really aren’t that “smart.” They can do what they’re told, and they can collect data while they’re doing it. But human workers – including production line workers that robots threaten to replace – can do much more. Human workers understand processes, craftsmanship, and consumer needs and wish in ways that robots never will. They can use their sense of aesthetics to judge finishing work, for example, and their creativity to think up improvements. Robots don’t have a sense of aesthetics and they don’t possess creativity. Yet these are exactly the values – human values – that today’s consumers yearn for.
This is one reason why Universal Robots has bet the farm on collaborative robotics, where “cobots” serve not as human replacements, but as tools in the hands of human workers. We believe that Industry 4.0 is setting the stage not for the replacement of factory workers with machines, but for the return of human beings as an indispensable force in global manufacturing. In other words, we think Industry 4.0 – at least as an automation platform – will eventually be its own undoing. And that is the second and greatest irony of Industry 4.0.
Want to find out more about cobots and Industry 4.0? Download the whitepaper here