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Kuka_Robocoaster.PNGAlready in my last blog I was excited about the abundance of robots at the Hannover fair. I encountered even more. Festo’s fantastical insectoid robots including bionic ants and butterflies have amazed me and gave me a shiver at the same time. I was reminded of Stanislaw Lem’s The Invincible and Hitchcock’s Birds. But you ain’t seen nothing yet.

When I entered I heard screams and when I approached closer I saw a large group of people gathering round a huge industrial robot gone berserk.Two girls screamed a the top of their lung, when they were able to breathe in. Welcome to Kuka’s Robocoaster. Any fairground ride I have seen is harmless against a robot with 6 degrees of freedom of movement. I am quite conviced the two girls (most likely exploring possible future employers) will not forget the name Kuka ever.

 

Have you ever wondered how the next level of automation with Industry 4.0 and efficiency improvement promise will affect the workers? I have read a number of blogs and interviews that claim that we will not see empty factories. On the contrary I saw many companies presenting their new collaborative robots that no longer required safety fences. Still I doubt we will meet them in the process manufacturing industries soon.

 

As a 80% part-time worker and happy dad of 3 myself, I was much more excited about an Industry 4.0  research project KapaFlexCy- a very German inpronounceable abbreviation for a really smart and humane idea.

The name stands for self-organising flexible capacity in cyber-physical systems. The research project developed a capacity planning enables a highly flexible shift plan. What does it do? It uses social media like capability, and let’s the workers collaboratively & flexibly agree on how much they can take. In a private context, you may do this with a tool like Doodle. With KapaflexCy the shift planner sends a resource request for overtime on the week.end to a group of workers.

They receive the “mobile shift doodle request” on their smart phone – at home to decide – with their family – whether to accept the request or decline. This feedback goes back to the shift planner – he finally decides to send a confirmation to the respondents he selects.

What makes this Industry 4.0? It’s the use of smart phone and social collaboration.

Why bother? This adds more flexibility to deal with peak demand, and enables a better, more flexible work life balance for the employees.

 

Solutions like this, make me run simple.

 

A re-occurring pattern in discussions is “insight to action”. All dashboards and beautiful visualization will not help, as long as there is no action.

In my next blog I will talk about this in more detail.

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