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Man and Machine Collaborating on the Factory Floor: A Nightmare or a Match Made in Heaven?

Whenever mankind works together with machinery, new methods are needed to cater to human unpredictability—and to ensure that robots can anticipate it.
By Pieter Simoens
Sep 01, 2019

Industry 5.0: Where Smart Robotics Meets Human Creativity
Industry has evolved at breakneck speed during the last 300 years. It all began in the 18th century, when the rural societies in Europe and the United States underwent the process of urbanization and the iron and textile industries started to blossom, in part thanks to the invention of the steam engine.

Just before the First World War, new industries, such as steel and oil, emerged. Meanwhile, the invention of electricity allowed us to start mass-producing goods. That marked the start of Industry 2.0.

Since then, the pace of development has become ever faster. In the 1970s, we witnessed the start of Industry 3.0, featuring digital technology, the automation of industrial processes and the introduction of robots. Now, we are at the dawn of Industry 4.0, which largely builds on the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution: devices of all sorts, including robots, are connected to the Internet and produce a continuous stream of data. This data can be used to generate more insights into industrial processes, and to support those processes' further optimization.

We've evolved from the steam engine to the IoT in only three centuries. Impressive, right? Of course, we have to add a note of caution about these developments. As automation and optimization have become more important throughout the years, human involvement has been increasingly threatened. Yet, it is precisely this threat that will be halted with the coming of Industry 5.0. In a world in which every individual wants to fully express oneself, there will be increasing demand for unique, customized and personalized products. In such an era, the holy grail will no longer be robot-controlled mass production, but rather human creativity.

As such, in the smart factories of 2035, a new collaboration model will need to be put into place. A marriage, you might say, must take place between man and machine, with robots doing the heavy mechanical labor and their human co-workers being the creative architects, inventing new, custom-made products and overseeing their production in tomorrow's factories.

The questions, then, are these: How can we foster a partnership between man and machine in such a setting? And how can we forge an optimal pairing, so that 1 + 1 effectively becomes 3? It will all boil down to effective communication between the different parties.

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