Markets New technologies and new skills: How our enterprises will change
Marco Taisch is full professor of ‘Operations Management’ and of ‘Advanced and Sustainable Manufacturing’ of the School of Management at the Politecnico di Milano, Italy. He is committed at the forefront with regard to the issue of Industry 4.0 and of IoT application to the manufacturing industry.
His commitment is one of the reasons why he was appointed as President of the Technical-Scientific Committee of M&MT, business event focused on motion, mechatronics, automation, embedded electronics, robotics and on all technologies related to Industry 4.0, which obtained the support of “Politecnico di Milano”.
Industry 4.0 is also defined as the "fourth industrial revolution". What is true in this definition or, to say it better, what is the real meaning of revolution in this case?
One of the most revolutionary aspects of Industry 4.0 is, first of all, the impact it had on the Italian “economic” stage. In a very short time, this new approach allowed to bring the manufacturing industry back to the centre of attention of Italian institutions and economic players with an explosive effect, to say the least. In this framework, the Government's action played a crucial role, by giving our country a plan of industrial policy conceived to support and encourage the investments in technology and innovation.
In my opinion, Industry 4.0 combines technological innovation - which materializes in the spread of IoT technologies within factories – with a deep organisation change. In other words, the real revolution is primarily cultural: processes, tasks, professional profiles are changing and so are the required skills.
Therefore, professional training is fundamental …
Of course, it is. Professional training has always been an essential asset and Italy has excellent universities. The "Politecnico di Milano", which I am honoured to be part of, is a shining example of excellence. In any case, technological training is made not only in polytechnic universities and other kinds of universities. It is important that even technical institutes should work on programmes, so that they may be as close as possible to the requirements of the industry world.
Let's come back to technologies and to the impact of Industry 4.0 on the Italian industry.
Italy is the second manufacturing country in Europe. To maintain and, if possible, even to improve this position, it is necessary not only to pass through a generic traditional innovation, but, on the contrary, there must be a process of factory digitalisation. The aim is to facilitate and support the spread of the enterprises' connectivity. In practise, this means the creation of "smart products", i.e. the production of products and services with the support of Information technologies, i.e. "smart manufacturing", the creation of new business models. This is an intense programme, which can however definitely be sustained by the Italian enterprises, provided that in the approach to this issue our peculiarities are respected.
The Italian manufacturing industry is recognised worldwide for its quality and strong customisation of product offering. On the contrary, in the German model, the part characterising the "Made in Italy" is missing and we must enhance the importance of this part. As a country we can work towards a digitalised manufacturing industry for an advanced design, where the leading role is played by the person, who must adequately be trained and updated. We must concentrate on this aspect. On the other hand, in some sectors, for example that of machinery and production systems, there is already a lot of innovative technology related to Industry 4.0, at least partially. The challenge is to increase the connectivity level, for example that of machines, so that they can more and more collect, treat, process and allow data sharing even remotely.
Are enterprises able to do this by themselves?
Starting from the assumption that the innovation level is not homogeneous, it is reasonable to suppose that some companies need assistance. For this purpose, universities, professional associations, territorial and extra-territorial institutions have already taken active steps to provide “information” in a wider sense. Particular attention is given to the SMEs' world.
What are the real opportunities for the SMEs to get informed?
In a situation of communication overload, it may become difficult to orient oneself, there's no point denying it. However, I would stress that there are numerous opportunities to reasonably debate and closely verify the possible applications of the new Industry 4.0 approach also with regard to our industry. Relying on qualified people considerably simplifies the selection process, also because today everybody considers himself an expert in the field.
What are the opportunities to get information? Meetings, collection of annotated, specific information material, specific studies, but also demonstration events, which, to be more effective, - I underline once again - must be set in the context and thus studied according to the enterprises' requirements.
A last question: what are your expectations for M&MT?
I am very confident, because I see a harmonic teamwork between institutions, associations, the research world. The Industry 4.0 Plan is an excellent opportunity for the enterprises that will be able to take advantage of it, understanding that purchasing technology is not enough, but it is necessary to work on skills.